The Last Guardian returns to themes and gameplay mechanics introduced in Ico, depicting the escape of two characters from a cryptic fortress hideaway and the necessity of mutual effort despite an inability to communicate. The game is unhurried, with Trico ambling leisurely at its own pace because the creature doesn’t understand the stakes of the game and the boy’s need to return to his village. Trico is content regardless of the boy’s wishes to escape and rejoin his family, thus causing a disjuncture in urgency. The boy (and thus the player controlling him) wants nothing more than to progress through the labyrinthine ruins, contrasting Trico’s decelerated aloofness and bouts of mischief. Videogames are a medium where players have come to expect direct consequences for their actions, and a lack of feedback is often cause for complaint that gameplay is “unresponsive” or that an AI is “stubborn” or even “broken” without considering the possibility for deeper meaning. Instead of straightforwardly criticizing these systems, perhaps they can play into broader themes of the game. In The Last Guardian, the lack of feedback reflects the characterization of Trico. The winged beast maintains its own agency outside the interests and desires of the player, and players’ frustration in commanding Trico falsely assumes that the creature can even understand the boy’s language and his goals.
Read the full column at Haywire Magazine.