The Last Guardian: emotion matters more than technique

Note: This article has been translated from Italian by ChatGPT and may contain errors.

To me, ICO was quite disgusting. OK. Hold on. Calm down. Don’t run away. Let’s try again: ICO didn’t grab me at all. Panic-inducing controls, a bratty kid to babysit, and various lies made my experience with the game frustrating and boring. The emotional impact was practically zero. I’m not saying this to be contrarian, because I genuinely feel sorry when a game is hailed as a masterpiece or emotionally moving and I don’t feel that emotion. It was a different story with Shadow of the Colossus, which was epic and engaging. There, some emotions emerged, mostly because I became fond of Agro (the horse). By the way, horses (besides being grumpy creatures) are among my favorite animals, but that’s another story. Yes, but what about ‘The Last Guardian‘? My fear with ‘The Last Guardian’ was just one thing: ending up with a sort of ICO 2.0. When I saw it in some trailers, I have to admit I thought, “Here we go. Another colossal flop like ICO.” But as the years went by… no, nothing, I cared less and less about the game, probably because it had become more of a legend than anything else. However, in the end, ‘The Last Guardian’ was finally released, and I decided to give it a chance. Did I make the right choice? Spoiler: Damn right I did.

You help me, I help you

It’s unbelievable, but ‘The Last Guardian‘ never bored me. Not even in the slightest. The fact is, ‘The Last Guardian’ managed to strike the right chords. In general, I can say that I’m a huge animal lover, but I’m not some kind of extreme animal rights vegan! I just have an unconditional affection for them. I think it’s a common sentiment for many. Besides, I adore cats (hello, Joker!) and yes, Trico reminds me of a big and cuddly cat in many ways.

For these reasons, it was easy to resonate with ‘The Last Guardian’. Before I realized it, I suffered when the creature got hurt and rejoiced when it overcame obstacles. The fear of ending up with an ICO 2.0 melted away like snow under the warm winter sun because our friend doesn’t need protection or hand-holding. Trico protects us, and we protect Trico. The difference is enormous, believe me. There’s cooperation and a much more genuine and sincere relationship. It’s incredible to see how everything fits together perfectly: gameplay, narrative, mechanics, unintrusive and well-placed music. Everything is balanced to offer a unique experience in the gaming landscape. ‘The Last Guardian’ knows how to tell a story, fully utilizing its nature as a video game, with rare delicacy and style. The relationship with Trico is not only “aesthetic” or narrative; it’s part of the gameplay itself, session after session. What’s wonderful is that ‘The Last Guardian’ manages to be cinematic and spectacular while never compromising on gameplay. ‘The Last Guardian’ must be experienced.

Technical Shortcomings

If I have to nitpick (and there’s probably a lot to pick from in Trico’s fur), the control system and the camera risk ruining everything. For this reason, I can’t blame those who couldn’t get into the game’s spirit. In this sense, ‘The Last Guardian’ lags behind by more than ten years. The controls for the boy are clumsy, and those for Trico can be frustrating. Fumito Ueda warned players that the animal wouldn’t always obey commands. Of the five runs I did for the platinum trophy, some went smoothly, while in others, Trico was a bit capricious. However, after gaining some experience with the game, I believe I can confidently say that in most cases, Trico obeys commands without problems if you learn to understand its behavior and give it its time (after all, it’s an animal, and this is depicted well in-game). There are situations where I’m sure many cursed the game without realizing that they were the ones making mistakes. In other cases, there might indeed be some problems. In the end, I understand why this ambiguity in the control system is considered one of the game’s major flaws, even though I absolutely don’t share this thought (personally, the controls are just fine as they are). Another significant issue, at least on the regular PS4, is the often unstable frame rate. Some moments are truly unbearable. You can tell that the game bears the burden of a development process that was too long and troubled, which, let’s remember, started on the PS3 about nine years ago. And the camera? The initial impact is discouraging, but you learn to live with it.

For the rest, in my opinion, ‘The Last Guardian’ is a true next-generation title. It’s only retrogressive in appearance because it can offer visually spectacular and stylistically refined moments in an uncommon way. Elements like physics, wind, and lighting make ‘The Last Guardian’ a small technical gem. For those who approached the game superficially, it might sound like nonsense, but ‘The Last Guardian’ is among the best things I’ve seen on the PS4. One of the reasons is undoubtedly Trico. The game wouldn’t have been the same if the developers hadn’t meticulously cared for every detail. They did everything to make it come to life not only behaviorally but also visually and sonically. I adore its beautiful feathers!

The plumage is exceptional

Genuine Emotion


Flaws faded into the background during the most emotional moments of the adventure. Seriously, there are some truly beautiful moments. For example, when the boy seems dead and Trico tries to wake him up, finally carrying him into the puddle, do you remember? Well, there, hearing Trico’s cries was a gut punch. In my head, I was thinking, “Come on, wake up! Wake up, you little brat!” while randomly pressing buttons to try and move him.

And then there’s the ending. I hoped for an epilogue like this because having one of them die (especially Trico) would have been too commonplace and gratuitous. Towards the end, though, I admit I feared that Trico would die. Instead, they separate, forced by fate. The farewell is a moment of great sadness and intensity, handled with delicacy and without excess. There’s no opportunity to say goodbye properly. There’s only time for one last look. Trico’s melancholic gaze, it’s enough to tug at the heartstrings. “I don’t think he has much time left,” says one of the villagers. Sadness takes over, a tear falls during the credits. Thoughts drift to the entire just-lived adventure, and I hardly notice the passing time until the real ending reveals itself. The music embraces my heart with its power. A knot tightens in my stomach. Shivers run down my spine. The camera takes us back to where it all began. In the meantime, I think, “He’s still alive, he’s still alive.” How many years have passed? Ten? Twenty? It doesn’t matter. Trico is alive. We see only his eyes piercing the darkness… and he’s not alone! Judging by the cries, it seems he’s also had offspring. Both are in their place, with their families, in their home. Both remember their adventure and friendship. So distant, so different, yet so close and similar. A sweet ending, and yet in my opinion, also very bitter, because ‘The Last Guardian’ is the story of a forced separation, of a deep bond broken before it fully formed. Of a friendship that transcended prejudice and differences but still fell victim to them. The boy, now a man, feels deep down that Trico is alive? In all these years, they haven’t seen each other, never experienced the joy of playing together in harmony. Maybe they’ll never see each other again. And that’s why I like to think that someday, thanks to the power of the shield/mirror, they’ll meet again to start a new extraordinary story…

The Last Guardian (END OF SPOILERS)

In terms of gameplay, I still consider ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ to be Ueda’s best work, but in terms of narrative and emotion, ‘The Last Guardian’ wins hands down. ‘The Last Guardian’ is an incredibly simple story, but one that deeply engraves itself within. A story that needs nothing more than Trico and his little human friend to work. A captivating, poetic, delicate, evocative, touching story. Adjectives that often arise when a work possesses a strong personality. But I wouldn’t use them if they didn’t truly come from the heart. Like I mentioned a bit earlier, animals have a strong appeal to me. Especially dogs and cats, they bring out incredible tenderness in me. With such a premise, perhaps it was impossible for ‘The Last Guardian’ not to touch the strings of my soul. The adventure of Trico and the spastic kid sincerely moved me. Probably many won’t be able to overcome the technical issues; others will find the story and gameplay boring and won’t connect with Trico. And that’s okay. When dealing with emotionally-focused titles, subjectivity is everything. And nobody can afford to annoy others. I won’t go on here with the cyclic discussions of “Is ‘The Last Guardian’ art?” and I also don’t want to convince anyone to get the game by saying things like: “A masterpiece!” or “Do yourself a favor and buy it,” or “If it doesn’t move you, you’re dead inside or you have no heart,” because we all have different sensitivities. There’s no need to get upset if many don’t see anything special in ‘The Last Guardian’; after all, I remained totally indifferent to things like ICO or the highly acclaimed Journey, which didn’t resonate much with me. In the end, what matters is what each of us feels and experiences. And I feel that ‘The Last Guardian’ was one of the most emotional journeys I’ve ever embarked upon, one that I will never forget. I feel that Trico was the best Christmas gift I could receive…

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