For those not in the know, The Last Guardian is a recently-released Playstation 4 title by critically-acclaimed game director Fumito Ueda (known for previous titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus). The Last Guardian stars a young boy who awakens to find himself in a distant and foreign land, next to a gigantic griffin-bird-dog-cat-like creature named Trico. At first, Trico is actively hostile to you, the player character. Badly wounded, the creature acts defensively and unpredictably. However, upon bringing Trico a few snacks and after removing the spears embedded in its side, you begin to earn Trico’s trust, and thus begins not just the journey to escape this place, but an emotional bond that has stayed with me far past the game’s ending.
The objective in The Last Guardian is very simple: together, you must find a way out of this dark and foreboding landscape. The only way to accomplish this is to work together with Trico to leap across massive chasms, scale towering castle walls, and burrow deep below the earth. This seemingly simplistic mechanic is a clever disguise for what the game is actually trying to accomplish: cementing your symbiosis with Trico. On your own, you can do very little at all. In teaching you to guide Trico, the game also teaches you to depend on Trico. And this is the most significant aspect of the game by far. Games that feature escort quests are a dime a dozen, the difference here is that by building your dependence on Trico into the fabric of the gameplay itself, the game teaches you to trust Trico. In doing so, you connect with the beast, and every time the game asked us to part ways, I genuinely felt bad for leaving Trico alone to howl out of loneliness. I know of very few games that have been able to evoke such a keen sense of emotion with almost no dialogue, I was overcome with an almost primal compulsion to return to and assist my partner. For anyone who has ever owned a pet, this game will speak directly to your heart.
Recently, The Last Guardian has come under fire from critics for technical issues in which many criticize the game’s dated control scheme, awkward camera angles, and Trico’s hesitance to follow your directions, resulting in some oftentimes frustrating periods of waiting while Trico contemplates your commands. I will not defend The Last Guardian for its control scheme and camera angles, these are legitimate complaints (though the game did have a long and troubled development history which spanned 10 years and across two consoles). It is complaints about Trico’s reluctance to instantly obey your commands, however, that interest me the most. To me, these critics miss the point entirely, and perhaps have unintentionally revealed a deeper truth about the state of triple-A videogames. Trico is a beast, and, like any animal or pet, is unpredictable. They have their own agency and deep inner lives all their own. If Trico were to instantly follow my commands, there would be no relationship, no bond, no respect for the character of the creature. It would just be another video game power trip; Trico reduced to a mere vehicle for accomplishment, or at worst, a weapon to be wielded rather than a companion. It is exactly the beast’s hesitance before making a jump or playful pondering that make Trico so believable. Hands down, though he doesn’t speak at all, Trico is one of the most memorable characters to come out of video gaming in possibly a decade.
And that really says a lot about the state of mainstream video games. There is no room for anything that doesn’t feel like a fast-moving power trip. Anything that might require some downtime, thoughtfulness, or just outright patience is seen as so outside the status quo that it is to be considered “broken.” The Last Guardian is not a perfect game. But it is a piece that exemplifies the expression that sometimes something can truly be more than the sum of its individual parts. What’s more, The Last Guardian gives us a glimpse of what the medium is truly capable of, with the meaningful interactions between the boy and Trico only possible in video games. The Last Guardian is an imperfect masterpiece that sacrifices some technical aspects for a grander artistic vision that succeeds on a very deep and emotionally resonant level. The Last Guardian has recently received a permanent price cut due to poor sales so if you are interested, now is a great time to pick it up.
For anyone who has ever owned a pet, or shared a special bond with an animal, this game will speak directly to your heart in a way few other games are capable of. Just be patient with it, spend time with it, and nurture your relationship. The Last Guardian isn’t perfect, but that’s exactly what makes it so endearing.