The recent news of Sony abandoning The Last Guardian trademark had left many incredulous, and wondering if the long-gestating Team ICO project was finally canceled. Of course, Sony quickly dispelled those rumors stating that the game, which has been in development since at least 2009, is still indeed being worked on. This further suggests that The Last Guardian as folks know it, thanks to the infamous 4 minute E3 trailer, no longer exists but is, what should be obvious to most, taking on a completely different form. But, after nearly six years of silence and false hope, should people even care anymore?
Perhaps the easier question to answer is: Why have people cared so much about it in the first place? Well, the development team that’s behind The Last Guardian, the previously mentioned Team ICO, is something of a crown jewel within Sony’s Japanese first-party studios thanks to the developer’s impressive first two outings: ICO, and the much revered Shadow of the Colossus. Both titles took on a life grander than video games, they were the first evident examples of how games can be much more than just jumping on virtual enemies, and saving a princess that the player never really cared for from the start. Team ICO was able to deliver somber, quaint, and deliciously peculiar experiences that bravely avoided mundane, and cliché game design and narrative beats. They were, and still are the most effective pieces of art within the games medium.
In ICO, the player is solely tasked with looking after a princess, of whom you know nothing about, as a young boy with horns on his head. Apart from the opening cut scene, which subtlety implies that the young boy has been excommunicated by his people and locked up for, perhaps, his unusual physical appearance, there’s no other exposition, spoken dialogue, or cut scene for the rest of the game. ICO is eerily quiet, prides itself with its atmosphere, and devoid of any substantial combat or gameplay apart from solving platforming puzzles.
Fast-forward a few years later, and Team ICO delivered arguably one of the finest video games ever made: Shadow of the Colossus. The game is quite similar to Ico with its design, as it is also atmospheric, touching, somber, and mechanically simplistic. But, the studio delivered a more refined, interesting, and focused experience in Shadow of the Colossus. The main premise is familiar: Save a princess from her never-ending slumber as her lover, but, the player has to kill 16 innocent Colossi in order to do so. The studio managed to make players care about the Colossi they’re tasked with killing, the main protagonist and his horse Argo, and the princess yet again without dialogue, or exposition.
Perhaps now it becomes clearer as to why everyone is dying for any news about Team ICO’s next outing, and why the industry was glued to its seat salivating once that initial E3 2009 trailer rolled out. But the truth of the matter is, the studio hasn’t delivered anything at all for nearly a decade. Most of the major players behind both of Team ICO’s titles, including producer Kenji Kaido, executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama, and more importantly creative director Fumito Ueda, have moved on to other projects. That magic has waned, and all people are left with are grand memories, and nostalgia that’s still keeping them going to this day, but that’s quickly waning as well.
The Last Guardian looked to be like a continuation of greatness, a grand reminder of why video games truly are their own, exquisite art form; or at least people understandably just deemed it that. But other developers and games, such as Thatgamecompany’s Journey which retains that same simple, but effective design as Shadow of the Colossus, are filling this creative void that was once solely occupied by Team ICO. People are just not relying on The Last Guardian to meet their narrative demands. So, instead of watching that E3 trailer over and over again, everyone’s too busy playing games like LIMBO and Journey, and that’s quite fine.