The Last Guardian
With a pedigree of heavy hitters like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, expectations don’t get loftier than those for The Last Guardian, the latest art house adventure from Team Ico. Last month, I saw the first live play session demoed by legendary designer Fumito Ueda. While I can’t speak to the overall experience of the game, I can already see elements that should please fans of Team Ico’s PS2-era -releases.
Outside of some visual similarities, the biggest thread that The Last Guardian shares with the previous games is the theme of partnership. Ueda explains that he becomes attached to AI characters and wants to continue exploring new ways of interacting with them in his games.
The Last Guardian offers surprising methods of working together with Trico, the giant cat-bird hybrid that serves as the protagonist’s partner. Unlike Ico’s Yorda or Agro, the horse from Shadow of the Colossus, Trico is the member of the duo with power. The unnamed main character relies on the creature constantly, whether to seek protection from heavily armored enemies stalking the desolate ruins or as a makeshift ladder to reach higher levels of the environment.
Ueda says he wants the player’s relationship with Trico to feel like the bond you would form with a pet. In other words, Trico doesn’t always follow your orders. Often the boy needs to hunt down vases full of a mysterious liquid that Trico adores. In one early area, the boy tosses a vase onto a balcony he needs to access. Trico pulls itself up by its front paws to investigate the item, at which point the boy can climb up its feathers in a manner that looks very similar to how Wander scaled giants in Shadow of the Colossus.
At another point later in the demo, the boy needs Trico to join him on a small ledge. He calls over and over again, but like a haughty feline, the creature simply ignores him. "It seems like he’s in a bad mood today," Ueda jokes. After a few more shouts, the beast finally leaps up and perches next to the boy on the ledge.
The occasional lack of cooperation is intentional, and the team wants Trico to feel like a real, living creature with a will of its own rather than the traditional "useful sidekick" that mindlessly follows orders. Ueda acknowledges that they need to walk a fine line by making the creature realistically follow its own whims without frustrating the player. As the game progresses, Ueda says the bond between Trico and the boy grows naturally, and this will be reflected in how well the creature follows orders.
In another portion of the demo, the boy separates from Trico to explore a passageway too tiny for the creature to squeeze through. On the other side, he discovers a guard, revealing another key element of The Last Guardian: The main character has no means of fighting.
The boy attempts to sneak past the lumbering guard, a shadowy creature reminiscent of the adversaries in Ico. The one advantage the boy has is agility; since the guard is decked out in bulky armor, the boy outruns him, clambering up a wall and out of the bad guy’s reach. The boy may discover a weapon later in the game, but for the beginning, at least, he must rely on stealth and his feathery friend to do the fighting.
After witnessing the first 15 minutes of The Last Guardian, I still have plenty of burning questions. Team Ico’s games are known for their sparse stories, but Ueda and company still haven’t revealed even the most minor of details, such as who the boy is and how he met Trico. An unidentified narrator provides voiceover in Team Ico’s traditional made-up language throughout the course of the game, but Ueda says this will be used more for guiding players rather than storytelling.
Whatever the origins of this surprising duo, The Last Guardian is shaping up to be an intriguing tale of friendship. Team Ico has mixed the platforming and environmental puzzle-solving of Ico with the majestic creature-climbing of Shadow of the Colossus while adding in some new mechanics to help set the formula apart. All that’s left is to play the game for ourselves.