Shadow of the Colossus (titled Wanda and the Colossus in Japan and for this soundtrack release) is a behemoth of a soundtrack, befitting the gigantic beasts for which the game is renowned. The orchestral prowess on display is uncommon in a game score and at first is no less than stunning, though a shortage of memorable themes prevents that outstanding initial impression from lasting.
The album begins in fine form with "Prologue ~To the Ancient Land~". A sense of melancholy that persists throughout the soundtrack is established here with somber strings, a lonely solo flute and a subdued but effective choir. The soundtrack's most memorable theme is introduced here as well, an angelic three-note choral motif that though powerful the first time around, is simply immaculate in its reprise in "Epilogue ~Those Who Remain~". These two somber yet at times uplifting bookends to the score are reminiscent of the opening-ending theme combination in the original Panzer Dragoon - not quite as heart-stirringly beautiful but close enough.
The remainder of the album is dominated by the "Battle with the Colossus" action cues. Rife with orchestral power and a sense of impending doom, their effectiveness in portraying the scenario of confronting some massive, vehement beast is impressive, though the sensation begins to get old after numerous similar-sounding repetitions. "Revived Power" and "Swift Horse" are the only action cues to really deviate from the formula - both possess an exhilarating sense of adventure that I think would have further benefited the score in greater amount.
Fortunately there are respites from the sometimes monotonous boss battle themes, such as the solemn, ethereal "Sky Burial" and the quiet, peaceful "Prayer". "Sign of the Colossus" superbly foreshadows an impending battle by combining a feeling of desperation with hints of lingering menace, while "The End of the Battle" sounds almost eulogistic in its beauty. It's rare for such melancholy to be a highlight in a game soundtrack, but composer Ko Otani's knack for creating atmosphere serves the score well.
As impressive as the arrangements and performances in the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack are, only occasionally do the themes themselves stand out enough to make a lasting impression. Orchestral music fans who can appreciate the sheer power of the battle themes or the somber quality of their interludes will find much to enjoy, but those craving memorable themes might look to other soundtracks first.