This was the article that nobody thought would ever come. Partly because The Last Guardian actually came out two months ago, but also because not only was this review unlikely to ever see the light of day – so was the game. This story about a boy and a giant winged creature was first announced in 2009, but only now, one console generation later, can we finally experience it. When a game spends that long in development expectations for its quality start to creep pretty high, so I’m not sure that The Last Guardian was ever going to meet the lofty expectations of some fans. By the time I was done with this game, however, it became apparent that whether or not it delivered on gameplay was largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Whether or not it’s mechanically “good”, this game is something very special.

Trico shrouded in darkness

No, don’t worry, those glowing eyes aren’t terrifying at all, Trico.

Firstly, there’s something you need to know: when I was younger, I was “the horse girl”. I didn’t own horses, nor did I get to be around them that often, but for some reason my pre-pubescent self felt a pull towards these animals that were far more powerful and far wilder than I would ever be. I read books about wild horses and dreamed of being a horse whisperer, or at least the type of person who was able to create the kind of profound horse-human bond that I’d read about. I wanted so badly to be someone that wild animals thought that they could trust, because that seemed like a trait more boast-worthy than being trustworthy to people. I know how these statements might sound to some people, and I get it. These aren’t thoughts that have crossed my mind in years – not in any serious way, anyway – but playing The Last Guardian brought it all flooding back.

Trico is stuck

Buddy, I think that hole might be a LITTLE small.

It wasn’t like that from the start. The game begins as a boy wakes up on the floor of a cave, battered and bruised and with little memory of what got him there. Before long he learns he is not alone, but instead shares his cave with a tethered beast known as ‘Trico’ – a creature he had only encountered in fables. Trico is frantic, frightened and clearly injured, but with a little perseverance, the beast is soon set free and the two become unlikely (and often unwilling) partners.  Understandably, Trico doesn’t instantly trust you. But, bit by bit, food barrel by food barrel, you manage to coax the creature into at least not killing you, which is quite the feat given Trico’s sheer size. Realising that your goals probably align, the two of you start working together (though awkwardly) and eventually, after hours and hours of trying to hope that Trico will do what you want them to, they start to listen to you. Mostly.

Forest Trico

It almost looks like we’re playing hide and seek?

As a game mechanic, not being able to control Trico in any meaningful way is frustrating to say the least. Sometimes they wander aimlessly, sometimes they will find their way to the spot you want it to be in just as you give up and leave that spot, sometimes they straight up ignore you. Even when you start to learn commands to direct them, it’s rare that your directional arm waving will get the beast to do what you want it to do first try. The thing is, that stopped being annoying to me when I realized that the way I was venting my frustration was to talk to Trico like a pet. No, they weren’t listening to me, and I was yelling at the TV, but I was doing it in a tone laced with affection. The Trico is troublesome, but it’s a wild animal – it would feel wrong if they catered to your every whim.

Petting Trico

That ‘pet’ button is the best thing ever to happen to a game. Ever.

And sometimes it works. Sometimes, the two of you will be on the same page, and you’ll spam that ‘pet’ button and smile to yourself and say “yeah, Trico! We did it!” And it really does feel like a team effort. Yes, this is a game with a beautiful soundtrack, a vast and picturesque world and some interesting puzzle design (all without loading screens!), but at its heart it’s a game about Trico. It’s about reminding us of that bond we can share with animals, and wow does that make it an emotional game. Trico the dog-cat-horse-bird-griffon is, to me, the best AI I’ve ever encountered in a game, not because it always knew how to target the enemy or take cover effectively, but because it made me feel something I hadn’t felt in years. The controls were frustrating, yes – and that’s why this isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a special game. When I think about The Last Guardian in the future, I won’t remember that the controls didn’t feel intuitive, or that the little combat there is isn’t particularly well explained. I’ll just remember Trico.

PlayStation released this video of animal behavioural expert Dr. David Sands talking about Trico’s behaviour and how it relates to the behaviour of some other species.

About The Author

Jess is a psychology researcher by day and is determined to find a way to merge her gaming and professional lives. She loves point-and-click adventures, games with strong narratives, and her love of puzzles in all forms has actually caused her to use the phrase “that reminds me of a puzzle” whilst in a furniture store. She can generally be found on Twitter @zammitjess talking about games, feelings, and her life as an anxious mess.