The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico are three games that have captivated and moved millions of players around the world. They are the creations of Fumito Ueda, a visionary Japanese game designer who leads the studio genDESIGN, formerly known as Team Ico. But are these games connected in any way, or are they just standalone stories that share some themes and aesthetics? In this article, we will explore the evidence and theories that suggest a deeper link between these games, and what they mean for Ueda’s artistic vision.
The Last Guardian: A Spiritual Successor to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus
The Last Guardian was released in 2016 for the PlayStation 4, after a long and troubled development that spanned almost a decade. It tells the story of a young boy who befriends a giant half-bird, half-mammal creature named Trico, and together they try to escape from a mysterious valley filled with ancient ruins and hostile soldiers. The game is widely regarded as a masterpiece of emotional storytelling, immersive gameplay, and stunning art direction.
The Last Guardian features elements from both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus — Team Ico’s past two games — though it is unclear whether the events of The Last Guardian are chronologically related to either one. According to Ueda, he tried to take the best of both worlds from his previous games: “Ico was more or less about the cooperation between the boy and Yorda. She was a non-playable character, so we’ve taken elements from that. Looking back at Shadow of the Colossus, it was more about the dynamic interaction with the giant creatures.”
The game also has some subtle references and nods to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, such as:
- The boy’s horned appearance, which resembles Wander’s transformation at the end of Shadow of the Colossus, and the horned children from Ico.
- The mirror shield that the boy uses to direct Trico’s lightning attacks, which looks similar to Wander’s sword that can reflect sunlight in Shadow of the Colossus.
- The blue butterflies that appear near save points and barrels of food, which are also seen in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
- The stone coffins that contain suits of armor that attack the boy and Trico, which resemble the sarcophagi that imprison Wander’s colossi in Shadow of the Colossus.
- The Master of the Valley, a mysterious entity that controls the valley and its inhabitants, which could be related to Dormin, the god-like being that grants Wander’s wish in Shadow of the Colossus.
Shadow of the Colossus: A Prequel to Ico
Shadow of the Colossus was released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, and later remastered for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. It is widely considered as one of the best video games ever made, and a landmark in video game art. It follows Wander, a young man who travels to a forbidden land to resurrect a girl named Mono by slaying sixteen colossi — gigantic creatures that roam the land. The game is praised for its minimalist design, epic scale, emotional impact, and haunting soundtrack.
Shadow of the Colossus is confirmed to be a prequel to Ico, Ueda’s first game that was released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2. Ico tells the story of Ico, a horned boy who is locked away in a castle by his village as a sacrifice. He meets Yorda, a pale girl who is also imprisoned by her evil mother, the Queen. Together, they try to escape from the castle while avoiding shadowy creatures that pursue them. The game is acclaimed for its atmospheric setting, innovative gameplay mechanics, and touching relationship between Ico and Yorda.
The connection between Shadow of the Colossus and Ico is revealed at the end of Shadow of the Colossus, when Wander is reborn as a baby with horns after being consumed by Dormin’s dark power. He is taken away by Lord Emon, a shaman who knows about Dormin’s curse and tries to stop Wander from killing the colossi. Emon also seals away Dormin by destroying an ancient bridge that connects to the forbidden land. It is implied that Wander’s rebirth is the origin of a lineage of horned children who are sacrificed by their villages in Ico.
There are also other clues that suggest a link between Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, such as:
- The architecture and design of some ruins in Shadow of the Colossus resemble those in Ico’s castle.
- The symbols and glyphs that appear on Wander’s body when he kills a colossus are similar to those on Yorda’s body when she activates a door in Ico.
- The horned statues that represent the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus are similar to the horned idols that hold Yorda’s cage in Ico.
- The beach where Wander and Mono end up in Shadow of the Colossus is possibly the same beach where Ico and Yorda wash up in Ico.
The Team Ico Trilogy: A Unified Vision of Art and Emotion
While The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico may or may not share a direct narrative connection, they are undoubtedly connected by Ueda’s artistic vision and philosophy. Ueda has stated that he creates games that are “not about the story itself, but about the emotions that the player experiences when playing the game.”He also employs a “design by subtraction” approach, where he removes any elements that do not contribute to the core theme or emotion of his games
The theme that unites Ueda’s games is the bond between two characters who overcome obstacles and challenges together. In The Last Guardian, it is the friendship between the boy and Trico. In Shadow of the Colossus, it is the love between Wander and Mono. In Ico, it is the trust between Ico and Yorda. These bonds are expressed through gameplay mechanics, such as holding hands, riding, climbing, calling, feeding, and protecting. They are also tested by external forces, such as enemies, puzzles, environments, and plot twists.
The emotion that Ueda’s games evoke is a mixture of awe, wonder, sadness, and joy. His games present a beautiful but lonely world that invites exploration and discovery. His games also challenge the player’s morality and expectations by presenting ambiguous situations and consequences. His games ultimately reward the player with a bittersweet ending that leaves a lasting impression.
The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico are more than just games. They are works of art that transcend their medium and touch the hearts of their players. They are the products of Ueda’s unique vision and talent, and they deserve to be experienced by anyone who appreciates video games as a form of expression and storytelling.
Is The Last Guardian related to Shadow of the Colossus? The answer is not clear-cut, but there is enough evidence and speculation to suggest a possible connection. However, what matters more is how these games relate to us as players, and how they make us feel. The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico are games that have enriched our lives with their artistry and emotion. They are games that we will never forget.