Legendary recreation developer Fumito Ueda, director of Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Final Guardian, not often lets his video games get sentimental.
That doesn’t sound correct, does it? The video games of GenDesign (previously generally known as Group Ico) stay in our emotional recollections. After I consider Ico, it’s the highly effective bond between the 2 essential characters that springs to thoughts first. Greater than any single element about Shadow of the Colossus, I keep in mind what it felt wish to soak myself within the story’s themes of mourning.
However the video games themselves don’t typically handle these themes immediately. The few strains of dialogue in Colossus by no means acknowledge the emotions behind the characters’ motivations. Whereas the 2 youngsters spend hours collectively in Ico, not as soon as do they share a joke and even smile.
Ueda’s third recreation, The Final Guardian, is essentially the identical. The sport is constructed round your relationship with Trico, your monumental dog-cat-bird companion, however it by no means tells you to fall in love together with your feathered good friend.
Your relationship is made from natural little moments, mutual belief constructed by way of fast animations and diegetic interactions. You’re by no means informed that the 2 of you might be shut; you might be given the chance to develop shut by taking part in. The emotional change occurs within the participant’s coronary heart — the sport itself trusts you to get there.
However simply earlier than its climax, The Final Guardian offers a novel second in Ueda’s ouvre: It lets itself, only for a minute, get sentimental. And that minute is considered one of my favorites in fashionable gaming.
This essay on The Final Guardian was written as a companion piece to the video above, additionally created by Jacob Geller.
I don’t fault anybody for not reaching the conclusion of The Final Guardian. Not like most video games, which put the facility to succeed or fail immediately within the participant’s management, The Final Guardian as an alternative asks you to not directly management one other creature: a giant, clumsy, cussed beast named Trico.
The expertise can be a breeze if Trico might be managed immediately. It will flip the sport into an influence fantasy — you, a powerful and agile creature, bounding round historical ruins. As a substitute, the sport places you within the sneakers of a small boy and asks you to coach this temperamental creature. You’re not powerless, however you’re actually not in management.
Trico, accordingly, is as keen and distracted as a pet going by way of an obedience class. Merely repeating directions is never efficient; you must study one of the best methods to work with Trico to make it by way of the sport’s many obstacles.
It’s this delicate stability of encouragement in your half and conduct on Trico’s that makes the animal really feel so alive. It’s a must to learn to accommodate this beast with a thoughts and coronary heart of its personal, and it has to study to accommodate you. Very similar to the frustrations and rewards of coaching an actual animal, the story of The Final Guardian is considered one of mutual taming.
The controls of the sport replicate this: You’re all the time in a position to shout instructions at Trico, however the beast’s responsiveness varies over the course of the sport. At first, it barely listens to you in any respect. By the center of the story, you possibly can depend on Trico to determine what you’re asking pretty shortly. Within the remaining few hours, although, Trico not often even must be instructed. Your bond has moved past phrases. It’s not that you simply’ve tamed Trico into submission; as an alternative, you merely perceive one another’s wants.
In trademark Ueda style, nothing within the recreation immediately tells you this. There isn’t a cutscene the place Trico makes googly eyes at you and also you say “I like you” again. As a matter of reality, the previous few hours of the sport barely offer you time to breathe, not to mention categorical your affection for one another. Set-piece after set-piece rockets you towards the end, together with the largest battles and the scariest jumps. In these remaining few hours, you hardly get an opportunity to understand how robust your bond with Trico has grow to be. However then, simply as you summit the huge tower in the course of the world, proper earlier than the climax —
Nothing occurs. For nearly a minute.
I take into consideration this minute so much. On an aesthetic stage, it’s virtually unsurpassed; the wind rustles by way of each considered one of Trico’s hundreds of feathers, the white marble glows orange within the fading gentle, the setting solar burns a line throughout the horizon. Particulars fade into silhouettes on high of the tower, and there’s no music to distract you from no matter you’re feeling. The grandeur of this second is staggering, particularly for a recreation that has largely averted dramatic lighting.
However there are many video video games which have stunning sunsets. What elevates this second above its visible enchantment is that it enables you to simply be with Trico. For nearly a minute, there’s nothing else that must be achieved. You’ll be able to cease and scratch Trico’s ears, or tickle its stomach, or simply lie down together with your good friend within the wind and the fading gentle. For a minute, you possibly can simply be a boy together with his good friend. So many video games let you know the way to really feel. So few provide the time and instruments crucial for these feelings to happen organically.
Lengthy earlier than The Final Guardian got here out, the web was already ready for the anticipated heartbreak of the sport. In 2009, seven years earlier than the sport’s launch, Penny Arcade joked that there have been solely two methods the sport might finish: “The Boy Dies” … or “The Child Gryphon Dies.”
Whereas the sport’s true ending isn’t fairly that predictable, the bigger hunch was proper. This isn’t the sort of story the place Trico and the boy can stay fortunately ever after. Their worlds are simply too completely different.
So even on my first playthrough, after I reached the highest of the tower, I understood the finality of this minute. Nothing within the recreation tells you this; there’s no warning message a couple of level of no return.
However for Fumito Ueda, whose earlier video games ripped away our companions with out a lot as a goodbye, this minute is extremely sentimental. It’s a recognition by the sport that the bond between you and Trico is the one most essential a part of the entire expertise. As such, the kindest factor The Final Guardian may give us is simply time to indulge that bond. It didn’t have to inform us, and even ask us, to say goodbye. We knew what we have been doing.
There’s no lack of spectacle in The Final Guardian. Lightning flashes, monsters combat, towers crumble. However even now, a number of playthroughs and dozens of hours later, I do know which half I’m trying ahead to probably the most. If I shut my eyes, I can see it: a boy and his beast, shadowed beneath a fiery sky, in a position to consolation one another one final time.