Gamesuperchampion : The Last Guardian's Connection to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus

The Last Guardian’s appearance during Sony’s press conference meant the world to fans of Fumito Ueda, the iconic Japanese developer who’s responsible for and , two pillars of the PlayStation 2’s library of games. Will The Last Guardian follow in their footsteps? Ueda certainly thinks so. During a presentation by Ueda earlier this week, he made it perfectly clear that The Last Guardian is, in many ways, a combination of the two games’ core design principles: “we tried to take the best of both worlds.”

“We” is important, because beyond Ueda, there are a number of other developers working on The Last Guardian who’ve also had a hand in designing Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. “This is a collaborative effort between Japan Studio and genDESIGN, where Fumito Ueda is the Creative Director of The Last Guardian,” said Ueda’s translator. “genDESIGN is a game creation studio that is formed primarily by the original developers of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.”

This isn’t terribly surprising, as The Last Guardian looks like a distant cousin of Team Ico’s previous work, with ancient, man-made architecture set in the midst of lush, desaturated landscapes. Even animation peculiarities of the boy, where he moves fluidly, swaying and stumbling with equal parts grace and imbalance, recall memories of Ueda’s former hero characters.

“we tried to take the best of both worlds.”

To hear Ueda describe the story for The Last Guardian, which is still largely a mystery, deepens the connection to Ico even further. Ueda pointed out that The Last Guardian is “all about a young boy who’s been kidnapped under mysterious circumstances.” The pair “take an incredible journey together. They encounter ancient ruins. Their ultimate goal is to escape from this environment somehow, and that’s for the player to experience as the story unfolds.” Details aside, this is broadly the same tale that was told in Ico, where Ico is locked away and he attempts to escape a fortress with Yorda.

Players are expected to read the environment that they’re in, to utilize the strengths and weaknesses of each other characters. The boy is weak, but he has a logical mind–your mind. Trico, the hybrid animal, can’t be directly controlled–like Yorda–but it obviously possesses greater physical strength than the boy. Finding a solution to the puzzles in The Last Guardian will require equal parts of the boy’s mind, and Trico’s physicality.

“Looking back,” Ueda said, “Ico was more or less about the cooperation between the boy and Yorda. She was a non-playable character, so we’ve taken elements from that. Looking back at Shadow of the Colossus, he continued, “it was more about the dynamic interaction with the giant creatures.”

Based on the demo at E3, The Last Guardian not only embraces height; it thrives on it to instil emotions into the player that solidify our perception of the symbiotic relationship between the boy and trico. Ueda’s translator noted that “Ueda’s games always have a sense of height and depth, in Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and in a different way for The Last Guardian. The difference here is that you have Trico there beside you to cling onto as a safety net. It also helps the player overcome the psychological stress when standing on ledges, and to overcome those challenges, therefore leading to a sense of accomplishment.” In other words, height is the source of fear and stress, but it’s also an opportunity to feel a real sense of relief, something that should be very familiar to fans of Ueda’s past work.

Ueda and The Last Guardian have escaped a prison of their own, in a way, resurfacing from the rubble of political strife and years of missteps. To see Ueda appear on stage was the relief that many of his fans were looking for, who for years have feared his absence was a sign that the game was no longer in production. In that sense, perhaps there’s a deeper connection to be made. The Last Guardian is, by Ueda’s admission, a combination of his past games, but perhaps it’s also an allegory for his journey developing the game. Be that true or not, I’m just relieved to see that the game is still alive, and that Ueda is committed to pursuing his vision.

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