Of all the themes video games have never really fully explored, one which surprisingly fits this category (at least to my knowledge) is the relationship between a person and their pet. While I’m hesitant to label Trico, your lovable dog-cat-bird-griffin hybrid companion from The Last Guardian, as a “pet”, that is certainly what he reminded me of. Trico exhibits various clever little idle animations that immediately reminded me of my own real-life dog, and the two of them are as dopey as each other.
I suppose that’s why I loved my time with The Last Guardian as much as I did. Call me biased, but I will say right off the bat that if you are a pet owner or simply an animal lover like myself, then you will likely adore this game. The way Trico behaves, from the moment the game begins all the way to its thrilling conclusion, is scarily similar to that of a real animal.
At first, he is either incredibly cautious of The Boy (your playable character), or he doesn’t acknowledge him at all, just like the way an animal would act upon meeting a new person. The first few hours are tough, but not in terms of game difficulty. Instead, your patience is constantly challenged as Trico proceeds to walk the wrong way, jump to the wrong platforms, or ignore your beckoning entirely. Do not be mislead, however. These opening moments are perhaps some of the best in the game, as they are absolutely reminiscent of owning a pet yourself. Trust must be established between the two parties, but it can only be done gradually. It wouldn’t make sense – in fact, it would be very video gamey – for them to entrust their lives to one another immediately. This was an issue I had with the player’s relationship with Dogmeat in Fallout 4. Yes it is a cute dog and yes he will always be a good boy, but I found myself immediately taken out of the experience when he began obeying every one of your commands without question. The Last Guardian does this aeons better by incorporating it into the main gameplay mechanics.
As The Boy and Trico spend more time together, they begin to develop an important co-dependant relationship with one another. It’s made evident very quickly that you cannot escape your prison without each other’s individual qualities. Trico cannot reach the various switches and levers to open gates, whilst The Boy is unable to traverse the crumbling ruins by himself.
They need each other to survive, and this all culminates in the exciting bridge scene. The Boy is on a platform that is slowly falling apart beneath him. He has nowhere to go, but Trico looks as if he’s prepared to catch him. The Boy runs, jumps, and Trico just misses him. All hope seems lost, but as the game transitions into slow motion, we see Trico’s tail swoop around a catch The Boy at the last second, saving his life.
That blew my fucking mind.
The game just gets better from there. Intrigue develops, everything in the game begins to make sense, all piling into an incredible final act which nearly drew me to tears, something very few games have been able to achieve. What began as a terrifying man-eating monster became one of my favourite companions in any video game.
The soundtrack makes moments like these even more majestic. There are rising, exhilirating songs for the action set pieces, and the more sombre, quiet pieces for the exploration sections. Every piece of music complements the tone and mood of the scene, and it is honestly perfect.
Speaking of action, the way they develop over the course of the game is also fantastic. Initially, the only way to defend yourself from the scary stone soldiers is to run away, climb on top of Trico and watch as he beats the everliving shit out of them with ease. However, around halfway in, the game throws a curveball your way, meaning you’re forced to run around on the ground knocking shields and weapons out of the hands of enemies, putting yourself at risk in the process. What was initially an attempt to protect myself from enemies became a frantic effort to protect Trico from harm, which was just another sign of the co-dependant relationship not only blossoming in the game, but also in the player. The relationship is created through the gameplay. This is the kind of story that can only be made effective through the interactive medium of video games. There are cutscenes, but the important parts which lead up to those pivotal plot moments are created by the player.
Is The Last Guardian perfect? Far from it. The game is riddled with performances issues, with framerate drops galore, weird repeating lines of dialogue and a strange glitch where I was forced to reload a checkpoint because Trico refused to progress to the next room (also the ragdoll physics are supremely funny at times). These flaws are prevalent and aren’t exactly subtle in their presence, but they never really took away from the overall impact of the final product. This game is flawed for sure, but there isn’t anything like it out there, and honestly, that’s all it ever needed.