Post Script

The power of Team Ico’s spar­ingly told yarns (con­tains spoil­ers)


There isn’t a sin­gle au­dio di­ary in earshot, nor any logs to read through. Cutscenes, mean­while, say only as much as they need to, never out­stay­ing their wel­come. Di­rec­tor Fu­mito Ueda and his team at GenDe­sign, formerly the core of Team Ico, have al­ways tack­led sto­ry­telling in a re­strained way, but while The Last Guardian’s nar­rated jour­ney and broader ge­o­graph­i­cal reach con­trib­ute to this feel­ing like the most ex­ten­sively ex­plained – and di­rectly told – Ueda story to date, it also rep­re­sents the pin­na­cle of the team’s sin­gu­lar ap­proach.

Much of that is down to the un­prece­dented ex­pres­sion pos­si­ble through the ex­tra­or­di­nary Trico. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing with AI char­ac­ters has hith­erto been a re­duc­tive process. Press a but­ton to trig­ger di­a­logue; stand nearby when you’re ready for them to un­lock the door they’ve pa­tiently waited be­side while you faff about else­where. Even El­iz­a­beth, who we de­scribed as “the most hu­man-seem­ing AI com­pan­ion since Alyx Vance” in our re­view of BioShock In­fi­nite, is ready to ca­pit­u­late to the player’s whims when needed. She may be an­i­mated with flair, but out­side of cutscenes, the il­lu­sion of freewill is pre­car­i­ously thin.

Trico is dif­fer­ent. The crea­ture ap­pears to be driven by its own de­sires and in­ten­tions at all times, and when it does work with you, you feel the de­ci­sion was en­tirely its own. Even when, a lit­tle way into the game, you gain the abil­ity to is­sue di­rect or­ders, Trico rarely re­sponds im­me­di­ately, and may even need a de­gree of coax­ing to get it to do what you need to progress.

It’s in th­ese sit­u­a­tions that be­ing able to read Trico’s fa­cial ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage be­comes so im­por­tant. The crea­ture might look to­wards the ledge you’re try­ing to en­cour­age it to reach up to, then back to you be­fore tilt­ing its head slightly in con­fu­sion. Or it might sim­ply be in an un­help­ful mood. It’s like try­ing to ex­plain a sim­ple con­cept to a tod­dler that has nei­ther the con­text of life ex­pe­ri­ence nor the vo­cab­u­lary needed to parse your in­struc­tions. And it comes with both the same feel­ings of frus­tra­tion – when what you un­der­stand im­plic­itly isn’t un­der­stood by some­one else – and the sense of sat­is­fac­tion when you find a way in which the pair of you can com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively.

Things are fur­ther ob­fus­cated by the fact that what you’re ask­ing of Trico is of­ten a be­spoke, one-time ac­tion. In one sec­tion, for ex­am­ple, you must en­cour­age it to dive down into deep wa­ter to get through a sub­merged tun­nel. In an­other, a rick­ety cart must be used as a cat­a­pult, with Trico the coun­ter­weight. The grad­ual in­crease in your un­der­stand­ing of the crea­ture’s mo­ti­va­tions and whims com­mu­ni­cates a de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ship quite un­like any other that has played out in a videogame in the past.

En­vi­ron­men­tally, too, The Last Guardian is a mas­ter­class in un­forced nar­ra­tive con­struc­tion. Like the cas­tles, struc­tures and sur­round­ings of Ico and Shadow Of The Colos­sus be­fore it, The Nest is an evoca­tive lo­ca­tion, con­trast­ing brightly lit ar­eas of shim­mer­ing grass and trees with dank, life­less in­te­ri­ors whose majesty has long since crum­bled. The pur­pose of the vast net­work of tow­ers and cham­bers is never fully ex­plained (though a chill­ing, won­der­fully odd rev­e­la­tion hints at its re­la­tion­ship with the wider world). Nor is the rea­son for Trico’s dis­tress at see­ing the omi­nous eye sym­bols ever made clear. You’re left con­tem­plat­ing what could’ve hap­pened to in­stil this fear, what that eye sym­bol rep­re­sents, and how much his­tory must have passed be­fore your ar­rival. But, as with ev­ery other as­pect of the game, Trico’s re­ac­tion to th­ese glass bar­ri­ers is nei­ther guar­an­teed nor bi­nary. Just as Shadow Of The Colos­sus in­cluded heart­stop­ping ref­er­ences to Ico – the Queen’s Sword, for ex­am­ple, and the hid­den beach – The Last Guardian also ref­er­ences the wider world of the three games. It’s there in the bleached stone of The Nest’s ar­chi­tec­ture and pea-green fo­liage, and the way the game’s en­e­mies at­tempt to drag you back to some sor­cery-con­jured por­tal if caught. But sharp-eyed play­ers will also spot SOTC’s vi­tal­ity-giv­ing lizards scur­ry­ing about the place (here they serve no game­play func­tion), and one par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing mo­ment sees you en­counter the same dis­tinc­tive, dan­gling cylin­dri­cal cages in which Ico finds Yorda im­pris­oned. SOTC gave up its se­crets slowly, so there’s likely more to dis­cover here.

No se­ries – bar Dark Souls, per­haps – so ef­fec­tively in­stils a de­sire to bet­ter un­der­stand the world be­yond its playable area’s bound­aries, whether that’s pin­ing for the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the main­land in Ico, trekking to the distant sil­hou­et­ted struc­tures on Shadow Of The Colos­sus’s hori­zon, or scal­ing the en­com­pass­ing cliff wall that en­closes The Nest. Ueda con­sis­tently finds the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween say­ing too much and of­fer­ing too lit­tle. Each is told from a per­spec­tive of youth­ful naivety that con­trasts with the mourn­ful re­al­i­ties of adult life in a uni­verse of su­per­sti­tion-driven cru­elty and pow­er­ful, though phys­i­cally limited, magic.

In its cen­tral re­la­tion­ship, The Last Guardian is Ueda’s most emo­tion­ally un­guarded game yet. The bond you de­velop with Trico is last­ing and gets its hooks into you to such an ex­tent that it’s al­most up­set­ting to find it ab­sent upon start­ing a sec­ond playthrough. And while each el­e­ment of the game is del­i­cately con­structed from the least ma­te­rial pos­si­ble, the re­sult­ing whole is one of the most af­fect­ing videogame sto­ries ever told.

As with ev­ery other as­pect of the game, Trico’s re­ac­tion to th­ese glass bar­ri­ers is nei­ther guar­an­teed nor bi­nary

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