It’s been a long time coming, but after nearly 10 years and many periods of radio silence from Sony and director Fumito Ueda, The Last Guardian is finally released, although on an entirely new generation with a very cleaned up look. For a long time there it seemed as if it were never to be. Like many games before it, fans believed that Ueda’s game fell into development hell and we would just need to move on. It was easy to see simply the years spent working on the game as The Last Guardian’s largest hurdle, but there was something else looming in the background, Team Ico’s previous game which is considered to be a masterpiece to nearly everyone who touches it: Shadow of the Colossus.
Now it may sound a bit odd to compare a game released now, at the tail end of 2016, to one released two generations ago. But if you know Ueda’s previous works, such as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, it’s easy to see that similar themes and mechanics run tightly through each. It’s through those ties that we can see how far this latest title has come, or how much it may have fallen short.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to play Shadow of the Colossus, you take on the role of Wander, a young warrior on a quest to revive a maiden who was sacrificed as part of her destiny. In order to achieve that goal, Wander must enter the Forbidden Lands in order to appease a powerful being who has the ability to bring the dead back to life. His task? To slay the colossi that dwell within these lands, roaming about the mountains, ruins, and fields for all eternity. Your only companion is your horse, Argo. He carries you to and fro, ensuring that you reach your objective, and he waits patiently for your return whenever you enter a locale too treacherous for his hooves.
There is an unspoken bond that doesn’t go unnoticed as Wander moves through the world with such a daunting task. When a Colossus is far too swift, Argo carries you in pace with the hulking beast, allowing you to bring it crashing down to the earth. The horse is always there, even in the end.
That bond is something that is magnified in The Last Guardian. In the 11 years since Shadow of the Colossus’ release, Ueda and the folks over at genDESIGN and SIE Japan Studio have learned a thing or two about building those bonds. While your quest and the matters surrounding it aren’t as clear in the beginning of this latest release as they were in Shadow of the Colossus, you still have your silent companion in tow helping you, supporting you through this world. Trico, a half bird/half kitten, griffin-like creature is with you for the ride. “Kitten” may seem like an odd description for a creature as large as Trico (its body fills most rooms you find yourself in), but it’s the closest to Trico’s actual nature – something you realize as soon as you meet for the first time.
I say meet because you and the young boy share your first encounter with this magnificent beast. It cowers not in fear, but in suspicion of your motives. It glares at you, and claws viciously in your direction if you attempt to close the distance between yourself and this massive, beautiful being. That initial moment of uncertainty, as you realize that you’re currently sharing a fate with this majestic beast becomes a driving force throughout The Last Guardian, and that is the game’s shining feature.
Unlike Wander and Argo, whose relationship is set in stone before the game even begins, you’re able to witness a bond being formed between Trico and the young boy you control. It’s here that Ueda has created an experience that surpasses what was conveyed in Shadow of the Colossus, or even Ico. From that first moment of fear and wonder as Trico lays chained in a cave, to each time you learn a new way to interact with your feathered, feline friend, there’s a natural growth that is nothing short of endearing as Trico really does become your friend, pawing at curiosities and watching over you in a fierce yet loving way.
However, even with the wondrous way that The Last Guardian conveys this budding relationship between the boy and Trico (which we’re sure won’t be matched for some time), there are ways in which its predecessor excels. One that is definitely of note is the world of Shadow of the Colossus. This is not a matter of beauty by the way, although both worlds are equally gorgeous in distinct ways, but how the world itself is utilized.