5 storytelling techniques that help The Last Guardian pack an emotional punch on PS4

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5 storytelling techniques that help The Last Guardian pack an emotional punch on PS4

Fumito Ueda gives his masterclass in how to tell a great story

Team ICO titles – that’s ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, to date – are among the few games out there to have genuinely made gamers shed a tear, thanks to their emotional, impactful narratives. And that’s an approach that The Last Guardian is looking to continue, as it tells the story of a young boy and his large and loveable animal friend, Trico. You’d have to possess a heart made of colossi stone if you’ve not been moved by some of the beautiful game footage shown so far.

But if you’re wondering how Team ICO has mastered the dark art of the emotional gut punch, we’ve got you covered. PlayStation Blog had a chat with the game’s creator and director, Fumito Ueda, to learn just how The Last Guardian is shaping up to deliver another journey that will have you insisting to your significant other that you’ve merely got ‘something in your eye’…

1. The power of visual storytelling

It’s easy for any storyteller to fall in love with their own words in telling a tale, but Ueda san is more for letting the pictures do the talking, especially given the boy and Trico have no common language.

“They can only communicate via gestures, motion and reactions, so visual storytelling was the best approach to making the game and showcasing the tale,” he says.

“I’m always looking at ways to convey human emotion with technology but at the moment I thought a great way to achieve a range of emotions and expressions was via an animal.”


2. Team ICO’s first voiceover

While there’s a strong emphasis on visual narrative, The Last Guardian does something no other Team ICO title has done before.

“At the start of the game we use a voiceover of the boy when he’s older,” explains Ueda-san.

“It helps provide a sense of context when much of the communication is non-verbal. It brings the player closer to the boy because you can get direct access to his thoughts. It also gives us a natural way to deliver hints, information and exposition to the player.”


3. Make the player and character as one

The Last Guardian’s human protagonist may not have a name, but there are other ways to bring you closer to him as a person.

“One of my favourite things about the game are the ‘eureka’ moments; when the boy is trying to get Trico to understand something and he finally gets it,” says Ueda-san.

“That not only binds the characters, but also you as a player because you feel the same nice moment of accomplishment the boy does.”

“We also wanted to give you more of the young boy’s backstory to discover, compared to ICO and Shadow of the Colossus.”


4. Save the cat-bird!

Anyone who’s studied film will have likely heard of “Save the cat!” – a term popularised by screenwriter Blake Snyder. It’s a technique where the protagonist of the story does something kind to endear you to them. And the first thing The Last Guardian asks you to do is to pull two broken spears out of poor Trico’s body, instantly making you a hero but also putting the genesis of their important relationship directly in your hands.

“Their developing bond is the key theme across the game,” explains Ueda-san. “But the big difference between this and the relationships in ICO and Shadow of the Colossus is that there’s a more dynamic range between the boy and Trico. From that first moment in the game, the boy is uncertain if Trico will be a friend or foe, and you immediately start trying to work out how to bridge that communication gap.”

“But rather than the more straightforward relationships seen in ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll see both dramatic peaks and troughs in their relationship…”


5. Enemies aren’t just obstacles

The frightening foes of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus often reflect the strong themes of Ueda-san’s tales – which is why there aren’t lots of them compared to other action adventure games.

So what do the enemies in The Last Guardian represent?


“Partnership,” smiles Ueda-san. “The boy doesn’t possess combat skills, so you need to work together with Trico to overcome these threats.

“With ICO we focused more on the puzzle elements to keep Princess Yorda safe, and in Shadow of the Colossus we focused on driving you to defeating colossi, at a cost. With The Last Guardian we examine the changing relationship between the boy and Trico, and the challenges that represents as you try to discover the game’s mysteries.”

“But we also achieve a lot of that during the quiet moments of the story – without those peaceful beats we probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve the scale and variation of their relationship, and their payoff moments.”

There’s no doubt we’ll see more examples of just how The Last Guardian will deliver its emotional story when it launches on 25th October 2016, but in the meantime Ueda-san personally challenges you go back to the E3 2016 trailer and get analysing.

“There are so many little details which are hidden in this trailer – so look through it closely and you may discover a few things which we’ve not talked about yet…”


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  • Hello, Trico ! Long time no see !

  • Can’t honestly say I’m looking forward to it as I found Ico and SotC extremely boring on both my PS2 and PS3 (after giving them a second go due to PS Plus freebieness) but hey it may surprise me and be actually fun. Maybe.

    • I think its a safe bet for you to just pass and miss out then. If masterpieces ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are “boring”, then I don’t see how a blend of elements from these 2 very games will be any more appealing to you.

    • Ah ok. Fair enough. I’ll save my monies then. Already bought a proper PS4 masterpiece back in May.

    • Hahaha wow.

  • would have preferred not knowing the second thing… :P

    • Corey Brotherson

      Heh, sorry – well yes it’s a very minor spoiler I suppose, but you find out at the very start of the game ;-) And to be fair, anyone wanting to stay entirely pure of any details in the game should probably steer clear of all write-ups ;-)

  • Can’t wait until a couple of weeks before October 25th when we find out the *actual* release date!

  • Shadow of the Colossus (closely followed by Ico) is my favourite game of all time. I am extremely grateful to both Sony and Ueda-san for continuing to believe in The Last Guardian and for finally making it happen. This means more to me than you will ever know. Thank you!

  • Can’t wait. Must get my hands on the Collector’s Edition. :)

  • Thanks to this post I’m having a look at the contents of the Collector’s Edition for the first time.
    I fall in love with it and look for more information online. Most links lead me to announcements in the US where the CE is up for preorder at $119.
    “That’s amazing. Only around 85 pounds here in the UK then.”

    I keep digging and eventually find that the Collector’s Edition is now up for pre order from two retailers here in the UK… for £104…

    What’s up with the crazy price disparity?

    I know the UK always tends to get shafted when it comes to game prices. But a ~£24 difference is insane.
    And unfortunately will be giving the CE a miss if that’s the actual price.

  • Haven’t gotten a CE in ages but I REALLY want that statue :o Hope it becomes available here but I doubt it..
    So can’t wait for this. I’m not a big people person and prefer the company of animals so this got to me instantly.
    Non-verbal communication also intrigues me. And SOTC is one of my all time favourites, I love how much they can do with such a simplistic approach. The interview with Ueda was good to see as well, put things a bit in perspective on why it took so long.

  • I am so excited that this game is finally coming out!played hundreds of games on the ps2 but Ico and SOTC were my all time faves by a mile :)
    Shame that collectors edition is so expensive as I’d also love that Trico statue..
    Will there be a steel book only edition too?

  • So excited for the release of the last guardian this year! Really happy they decided to keep pushing it and give it a chance, I’m sure it will be amazing. :)

  • I’m calling it now … the cat-bird dies at the end to save you.

    Seriously, I hope that the writers don’t go down this route – it’s about as obvious a plot twist as could ever be conceived, and the Internet is pretty much putting bets on it long before release.

  • How about ICO and SOTC brought to PS4, either a fresh remaster or ps2 to ps4 classic at 60fps?

    I’ve never played SOTC!! (Please don’t say PS Now to me).

  • ICO is still in my top 3 games of all times, it was so full of emotions, I literally never run (outside of combat) when I was holding her hand, it didn’t feel right to drag her along as if she where just a quest item, she looked so fragile that it make me care about her fate, such a warm feeling…..
    and then shadow of the colossus, also in my top 10 game of all times, with the exception of the final boss (it was a little underwhelming in comparison), the rest was so epic

  • Please don’t make me live through another AGRROOOOOOO.
    Day 1. Collector’s sooo enticing.

  • Not reading a single ting. Don’t want to spoil myself but just wanted to say I’m really looking forward to it :)

  • Seriously we need the collector’s edition in Europe too! I really don’t understand why it’s not available in Europe. The first Ico sold pretty much the same numbers in US and Europe. After 10 years of hype, that’s all we get? Disappointing.

  • Uhm… I pre-ordered The Last Guardian in the PlayStation Store. It stated that I would get a dynamic theme. I payed for it, but no PS4 theme.

    Could you please look into and let me know on how or when to obtain The Last Guardian theme?

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