Weakness in The Last Guardian

Personal reflections on Ueda's latest game

I’ve lately been playing The Last Guardian, Fumito Ueda’s long (very long) awaited followup to his arthouse PS2 classics, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The game, true to Ueda’s style, is a rather oblique fantasy scenario where very little is explained to the player. You play as a boy who awakens to find himself trapped in some decaying ruins alongside a rather large animal called Trico. Trico looks like an assemblage of feline and avian features, but mostly behaves like a large dog. Although initially fearful of each other, the boy and Trico quickly realize that they need each other to escape their mysterious prison, and eventually come to see each other as affectionate companions on their journey. Much of the game is little more than a series of simple logistical puzzles in getting both the boy and Trico from point A to point B.

The game feels purposefully clumsy. The controls are awkward, causing the boy to stumble gracelessly about like the small child he is. Trico is not always responsive to the player’s commands, sometimes seeming either confused or just plain not listening. Although the game features enemies, combat is nonexistent: the boy is obviously too small to put up a fight, and many of these encounters are resolved by hiding behind Trico to let him do the work. If video games are stereotypically seen as offering wish fulfilment and power fantasies, then The Last Guardian runs in the opposite direction: it gives the player an experience of weakness and the need to trust in another.

This hits home for me. Personality-wise, I tend to be a lone wolf. I enjoy my own company and can often go through periods where I put the bare minimum into my social life. While this can have its own benefits, it’s also not without its own dangers. A risk I always find myself running is convincing myself that I can be self-sufficient. Related to that is how I hate to appear weak or needy to others. Even if I’m hurting I’ll often try to project an image of stoic indifference or ironic detachment. If I need help or advice I’m often loathe to ask for it.

And yet to be a Christian is to confess that one needs help – in particular, that one has a problem with sin and needs God’s help to break free of it. At its core is the necessity of recognizing our own human weakness and dependence. If I’m not careful my own stoic, individualistic attitudes can harden into pride.

As an adult convert to Catholicism, learning to pray to God and to introduce the sacrament of Confession into my life was a process of breaking down some pretty tough walls I had built up over the years, walls which were ostensibly meant to prevent me from suffering, but which had eventually caused my own wounds to fester. It was probably the first real point in my adult life where I just opened up, something that was both liberating and disturbing. Much of my early years as a Catholic felt like intense emotional and spiritual therapy.

Now that those days have largely passed by, I need reminders that, as John Donne put it, no man is an island. With the sense of urgency gone, I could easily wind up closing myself off from God and my fellow humans again if I’m not careful.

That latter category is also important too. We need God, but we also need friendship in our Christian walk; people who we can share our burdens with. The Last Guardian is, at its heart, the story of a boy and his dog, a relationship which is rather different from a friendship between peers. But it did make me think from time to time that yes, trust and friendship are not luxuries that can be dispensed with even when they can be frustrating and difficult.

Especially if you have to escape from an impossibly complex dungeon.

Josh W's academic perambulations have taken him from the isle of English literature all the way over to the distant realm of Biblical criticism by way of philosophy and theology. When not geeking out over those subjects he can often be found geeking out over video games, science fiction, and all things animated.
3 Comments on this post.

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  • T. Martin
    27 February 2017 at 10:27 pm

    This reflection hits close to home.

    Your description of the game’s design also makes me want to play it more, DANG IT

    Leave a Reply
    • JoshW
      28 February 2017 at 12:02 am

      My bite-sized, pre-review is that it’s basically Ico 2. Whether better or worse is very YMMV. Probably the most downright charming of the three games.

      Leave a Reply
  • Man’s best friend | Res Studiorum et Ludorum
    3 March 2017 at 5:02 pm

    […] my recent post at Beneath the Tangles summarized the premise of The Last Guardian, I’d might as well quote […]

    Leave a Reply
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