I was just a kid when I got my first pet. My first real pet, not counting some bunnies that my parents actually took care of, and I was really too young at the time to remember now. But this pet, a half Pekingese/half poodle I named Gizmo, I loved him more than anything else in the world. This cute little creature, who showed me nothing but love, and unbound kindness, it wasn't like anything else I'd ever experienced. I used to be afraid of dogs before him. Not anything like a phobia, just the sort of thing that I'm sure a lot of kids go through.
I've known a lot of dogs in my life, and loved so many of them. My other dog, a pug named Chloe that we got a year after Gizmo, Ruger that massive rottweiler, all my grandmother's dogs, Hoagie, Baby (who was quite old), Frankie, and eventually Ruby, who I helped take care of for the better part of a decade, until she had to be...
I played The Last Guardian recently, but as I'm sure is obvious, the game itself isn't what compelled me to write this. What compelled me is Trico, and how he's a better representation of spending a lot of time with an animal than I've experienced in any other game. All those moments of joy at spending time with a creature just different enough from you that it's novel in a curious way, but close enough that you can feel, really feel that bond between you forming.
But it also has all those frustrations that come with real, living animals. I love video game animals like D-Dog in MGSV, the dogs in Fable II and III, or any other number of horses out there, but they all feel like video game animals. D-Dog may animate like a real dog, bark like a real dog, and enjoy being pet like a real dog, but I've never known a dog that was half as obedient. I know dogs can get there with enough training and practice, but MGSV sidesteps all that in favor of giving you a useful Buddy to take on missions, and that's the right decision for that game. The closest to an exception I can think of, appropriately enough, is Agro from Shadow of the Colossus. But even there, Agro only ever seems to act on his own to help, like a video game animal.
The Last Guardian isn't any of those games. All the time it takes to try to figure out how to work with an animal that fundamentally isn't as intelligent as you are, even if he might be more keen in other senses, that's what The Last Guardian is about. There's puzzles to solve, and environments to traverse, but all that is just in service of the bond forming between a lost kid, and this mysterious giant creature. Trico, which looks like a mix between a bird and a dog, but acts more like a cat than anything else.
Let me tell you, I don't have much experience with cats. And it probably shows, given how much I struggled in this game. I would say "in the early hours," but even up nearing the end, I was still running into trouble in some spots. Though in some cases, it often felt more like I was pushing up against the limitations of the game, or some things were just not working right. Like the time Trico turned around, traveled backward a couple puzzles, and stopped to stare at a pot forever. Nothing I could do broke him out of this trance, and I had to reload a checkpoint to continue.
I don't know how I feel about this game. I love Trico, I want to hug Trico, I want nothing but happiness for my large feathered friend. Yet I had so many frustrating, infuriating moments that I repeatedly wanted to stop playing. The controls and the loose, awkward "feel" of the game that make even the simplest jumps feel perilous, the swimmy camera that gets stuck on everything, and even Trico, who skirted that line between believably obstinate animal and inconsistent AI character.
And yet as the credits rolled, as I watched the post credits scene, all I could think about were all my old pets. How as easy as it is to only remember the good times, when they could be just as frustrating too. Gizmo, with his long hair, never wanted to sit still after a bath so I could brush him, and keep it from getting all tangled and matted up. Trico also never seemed to want to sit completely still while I pulled spears out of him, and wiped the blood off his feathers.
That's maybe the thing that struck me the most. That horrible feeling when I know my pet, my friend is in pain, but I don't have the means to convey to them that everything's going to be all right, that I'm going to do what I can to help, because they're animals. I can tell them that, use a soothing voice, be gentle with them, and some amount of that is conveyed, and hopefully they understood at least a little, but I know they don't. Not fully.
I felt that way about Trico, quite a lot, because this game doesn't shy away from putting him in danger. Whether from regular enemies with swords and spears, or other, bigger dangers, this game was tugging at my anxiety with what it puts Trico through. More than once I had to pause the game and look up what to do, not because I was hopelessly stuck (though that happened too), but because what was happening to Trico hurt me too much, and I couldn't bare watching that while I spent another five minutes missing the obvious thing, because I was too busy worrying about my friend.
Because it reminded me too much of the months I spent hoping Ruby wouldn't have to be put to sleep, hoping I could spend more time with her. Even though I knew all along it was coming eventually, and I'd have to say goodbye at some point.
The one scene that has stuck with me the most, though, is one that was just a cutscene. The part where the playable character is completely out of it, totally unresponsive, turning grey like he's dying, or dead, but Trico just won't give up. He doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how he can help, but he still tries anyway, and it just got me so hard.
It's been a little over two years since the last animal I spent a lot of time with passed. I hadn't thought about it until recently, but aside from a few years at college, I'd spent most of my life with at least an animal close to me. My dogs growing up, helping out with my grandmother's dog, but it wasn't until I played The Last Guardian, that it hit me. How much I've missed having an animal friend in my life.
And the worst part is, with everything going on in the world, I don't know when or if I'd ever be able to have another one.
At least I'll always have the memories of all my old animal friends, whether they were real, or fictional, like Trico.
I know this wasn't exactly my usual fair, but sometimes you just need to get this sort of stuff out there. Thank you for reading.