*This post contains some mild spoilers for The Last Guardian. You have been warned*
I’ve played countless great games over the years in almost every genre imaginable. Thrilling action adventures, terrifying horror stories, mind bending puzzle games, and tear jerker dramas. It’s true that there really is a game for any style of player. There’s one style of game though that I feel is drastically underrepresented in gaming, and that’s the classic fantasy type story that the entire family could enjoy together.
There are countless classic movies and books that I recall watching or reading as a child, stories that I now enjoy with my own children and that they will probably enjoy with theirs. But I had never found a game that captured that same sense of wonder and enjoyment until I played The Last Guardian. It’s a game that my family sat down and played together, and it left an impression on us that makes it stand out as something really special.
Like previous games from developer Team Ico (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus), The Last Guardian is lighter on direct storytelling than most games and prefers that players piece things together themselves as they play. As you begin the game, the young boy you play as awakens in a dark cave next to Trico, a massive bird/cat type creature who is chained to the floor beside you. You don’t know who this creature is or how the two of you got here, but together you must find your way out of the massive fortress you find yourself in and uncover the mystery of how you got there. From that opening scene my daughters were completely enthralled. They pelted me with a barrage of questions “Why is he in chains?”, “What happened to his horns?”, “Is he nice or mean?”. I assured them that I didn’t know any more than they did and we’d just have to find out together.
As we made our way through the beginning of the game, my girls would watch intently, hypnotized by this strange creature and every move that he made. They gushed over how cute he was when he would scratch his ears with his hind legs or shake off water after going for a swim. They gasped when he would mistime a jump and nearly fall from a steep ledge. And they cried out when he’d get hurt by the stone creatures that pursue you throughout the game. They would gradually fall in love with Trico over the course of the game and I have a feeling that if such a creature really existed, we would probably have been on our way to PetSmart afterwards to pick one up.
It wasn’t just the cuteness of the creature though that attracted them to the game, they became invested in trying to figure out the mysteries of the story as we played. It was great watching them try and figure it all out, and they impressed me several times when they’d pick up on subtle clues that even I didn’t catch at first. They even asked to play the game themselves, which at first I was hesitant about as they have a tendency to get frustrated with games if they can’t do something, but I’d find an open, peaceful area for my youngest to run around in, and my older daughter even surprised me by figuring out a puzzle that I was stuck on when I stepped out of the room. It was a pretty proud moment I must say.
Even when we weren’t playing the game itself, the girls would play on the floor and pretend that one of their stuffed toys was Trico, or jump on each others back and act out scenes from the game. It was hilarious listening to one of them try and use the made up language of the boy while the other one tried to make sounds like Trico (how did I not get that on video?!).
As Trico and the boy made their way further through the beautifully detailed fortress, we solved puzzles, made daring leaps, and fought our way past our stone pursuers. All the while the game is being narrated by an older man (presumably the boy, later in life) which adds to the classic storybook feel of the game. It feels like a tale that would be passed down and retold through the generations. And my girls remained transfixed, anxiously awaiting what would come next just as they would with a favorite book or movie.
The further along in the story that we went though, the more precarious the situations became. As the danger increased I could also see the stress increasing in my girl’s faces. At one point late in the game, Trico finds himself under attack and quite injured. My 5 year old started crying and was so upset that she had to crawl into my wife’s lap to be consoled. It was at that point that I started to think about the different ways in which the game could possibly end and it occurred to me “Oh god, what if this game ends up traumatizing my girls?!”
Without spoiling the ending of the game, I’ll just say that thankfully my children didn’t end up scarred for life and The Last Guardian actually concludes with one of the most satisfying endings to a video game that I’ve ever played. It really caps off what is a one of a kind experience. The game is thrilling, mysterious, emotional, and the character that they’ve created in Trico really is an amazing accomplishment.
So many of the video games that I play throughout the year are inappropriate for my kids to watch, and a great deal of the ones that ARE suitable for younger kids are pretty shallow experiences that we forget about not long after finishing. It was refreshing to play something that we could all enjoy together, but was also an amazing piece of art that told a fantastic story. With the impression that he left on my children, I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing Trico again someday soon.