E3 2015: Exploring the Connections Between Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian

This year’s E3 finally saw the long-anticipated re-emergence of the Team Ico game The Last Guardian. Initially announced way back in 2009, the game is the development company’s latest project after Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. So how are the three games connected?

Wait, these three games are connected?

Yup! It’s long been known that Ico and Shadow of the Colossus take place in the same world, albeit, thousands of years apart. (Spoiler alert for a game that came out 10 years ago) At the end of the latter game, the princess you’ve been trying to resuscitate is seen giving birth to a boy who has horns on his head very similar to the ones that the boy in Ico has.

Now, this may be a bit of a stretch, but if you look at the design for the Griffin in The Last Guardian, you’ll notice that he appears to have some kind of nubs at the top of his head, almost as if he has some underdeveloped horns. Additionally, much like Ico, this game features a young man, and he also seems to be wearing apparel that seems similar to the clothing that the boy in Ico wears (at least, underneath his tunic).

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I’m not sure what the tangible connections might be, but is it possible that the elders who cast out boys with horns in Ico do so because they fear the resemblance it bears to creatures like the Griffin? And perhaps the Griffin himself bears some familial relationship with the Colossi, after all, we do see the young man climbing him much like the protagonist of Colossus climbs the titular creatures.

One way or another, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that there will be some kind of oblique reference to the previous two games at some point in The Last Guardian, though whether it will place this game thousands of years before those two, or after them, or somewhere in between, we can’t say for sure. What we can say for sure, though, is that if they aren’t connected narratively, they’ll at least be connected thematically.

Thematically? Watchu talkin’ bout?

Well, there seems to be some pretty key themes present in most Team Ico games: loneliness, companionship, sacrifice, discovery. Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus involve characters who are alone in the world, either overtly designated as outcasts, or more subtly implied to be such. Both main characters also have a companion who accompanies them on their journey (Yorda in the first game, Aggro in the second).

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Sound familiar? It might if you’ve seen any of the footage coming out of E3 regarding The Last Guardian. Like Yorda, the boy in Guardian finds the griffin that will accompany him throughout the game, but like Aggro, the griffin has a mind of its own and will not always respond exactly to your commands.

The boy character that the player will assume control of even echoes the young protagonist in Ico. Even if the game itself does not take place between Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the main character appears to be about halfway in age between the protagonists of those two games.

As if the thematic tissue didn’t connect these three games together strongly enough, all you really have to do is look at the artistic direction for each of the games.

Woah, artistic direction?

It shouldn’t be surprising, though, considering the fact that lead designer Fumito Ueda previously stated that the artistic direction for Ico was heavily influenced by Spanish artist Giorgio de Chirico, and it’s not hard to see. Even the cover for Ico (anywhere outside the U.S.) reflects this influence.

But it can be felt through Shadow of the Colossus and into The Last Guardian as well. all three games depict a landscape scattered with ruined, dilapidated fortresses and castles. Things crumbling, and falling apart, around the characters adds a sense of urgency to the puzzle solving that occupies the player during most of these games.

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It’s easy to imagine that these stories all exist in the same world. Is it really so hard to imagine that the crumbling castle we’ve seen in The Last Guardian is the same castle from Ico, just hundreds of years later? Or that either of these castles could exist in some, as-of-yet undiscovered portion of Shadow of the Colossus‘ epic, large overworld?

Beyond even that level of analysis, though, just taking a look at each of the three games, you could almost be fooled into thinking that they’re the same game, just updated with each console generation. Over-exposed bloom lighting that gives a soft glow to the main protagonists and a sense of mood to the environment could just as easily describe any of the three games.

Okay, so I guess the three games totally are connected. What’s the point?

The point, my friends, is that this is a game that’s been in development since 2007 – nearly nine years! For a game to be in development for that long and still manage to feel so connected to a “series” whose last entry came out in 2005 is a truly remarkable task. If nothing else, Team Ico needs to be applauded for managing to sustain such a beautifully imagined world for all three of these games over the course of roughly 14 years.

Love them or hate them, you have to admit that that is a monumentally impressive task, and in a world filled with sequels that don’t even feel cohesive with the previous release less than two years ago even more so.

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