Plot Explained: The Last Guardian

To be among the chosen ones… In my dream, I was flying. Flying through the darkness…


  • Written and Edited by ~ IphisAria
  • Date Started ~ 02-10-2018
  • Revision Number ~ 2.2
  • Date of Last Revision ~ 07-28-2019

Contents

  1. Plot as Revealed in-Game
    1. Opening
    2. Flashbacks
    3. Ending
  2. Connecting the Dots
    1. Main Theory
    2. Additional Points
  3. How to Credit Images

Track 01 Overture: Lore, by Takeshi Furukawa

Plot as Revealed in-Game [1]

Opening [1.1]

After witnessing a gray, dim vision of floating runes and a white light far off in the distance, a boy wakes up within a grassy cave. His older self narrates, “To be among the chosen ones… In my dream, I was flying. Flying through the darkness…” Views of a large feather and, a chain embedded within the stone floor fade into sight. “I awoke to find myself within a strange cave. I noticed with a start that I was not alone. Beside me lay a great man-eating beast–‘Trico.’ I did not know how, why or when it had happened– but my skin was covered with peculiar markings.” The young boy asks, “Where…? Where am I…?” before watching as the beast quickly awakens, roaring at him in fear and anger, eyes glowing red. The narration continues, “I thought I was still dreaming… I believed that I would soon wake…” The boy backs away from the creature, only to discover that it has been injured by spears and is in pain. Removing them from behind its back and, feeding it barrels of a glowing substance, the boy elicits a surprisingly calm and trusting response. He thus unchains the poor creature and together they leave the mouth of the cave. “I had heard of these great man-eating beasts many times from the elder. Yet in spite of the terrifying tales, I felt no fear. None at all…”

Just up ahead the pair comes across a dead-end. A large door high above is boarded off, but a small hole in the side of the rock is open and, just large enough for the boy to squeeze through. So he does. Once inside he discovers a chamber, the stone of which it is made is unusual, smooth, covered in runes, and white. A shallow, circular pool is in its center, and at the far end is a body-shaped coffin of sorts. On top of it is a large metal disc. He picks it up. “This mirror, with its mysterious light… It was made from a substance I had never seen before. It seemed important. I decided to…borrow it for a while.” Leaving the cold room, the boy returns to the tunnel where Trico was now napping. At the boy’s entrance the beast wakes and turns to look. Immediately its eyes begin flashing between yellow, white, purple and red. Trico is transfixed for a moment before regaining awareness. “The beast at my side, I raised the mirror…” A great white flash and a roar of buzzing breaks through the room and, a large bolt of electricity arcs toward the spot where the mirror shines. “The lightning that flew from the beast’s tail took me greatly by surprise. Could it really have been summoned by the mirror?” The boy goes to test this a few more times, aiming the mirror at various points about the space. And then it dawns on him. Aiming the mirror at the boarded door, lightning blasts the wood apart, opening the way.

Soon enough they come across a very tall wall. The boy scales Trico’s back and climbs through a hole in its face, standing up on the other side. “Well, this is good-bye. I must go home to my village. Farewell!” But just as he jumps and lands on the ground, Trico jumps up onto the top of the wall and peers down, whimpering. “No! Stop following me! Go home!” It ignores him and jumps down, running on ahead and sliding to a halt at the edge of a cliff. It roars at the great tower above. “We had escaped the dank confines of the cave– and emerged into a place the like of which I had never seen.” Trico rears up and beats its wings futilely. “…Oh. You can’t fly? Are your wings broken?” He narrates, “I would not realize until much later– but I was now in the heart of the beast’s lair. “The Nest.””

Flashbacks [1.2]

Interspersed between battling suits of armor, hostile Trico beasts, and navigating tricky passageways, the boy comes across a unique type of room, one like a great cage. Where they enter is elevated so that one has to jump in order to access the rest of the chamber. Once down there, however, a pulsating energy comes out of an emitter from under where they stood above. Trico’s eyes begin flashing many different colors, just as they did when he first saw the Mirror. Then he becomes aggressive, roaring and swiping at the boy, and attempting to swallow him whole. The boy evades the beast’s assault for some time, but he is inevitably grabbed and gulped down.

While unconscious, the boy experiences flashes of vision and memory. The first time he sees nothing distinct. Scared breathing, the sound of chains, and bright lights are all he can discern. It is some time before they encounter another Cage Room. During this time he discovers other little clues. At one point Trico is afraid to pass between two stained-glass eyes. “What’s the matter? Are you frightened?” the boy asks. “It was a striking design, akin to an eye in shape… The beast seemed transfixed by it… and at the same time terrified.” There are many of these eyes placed around the ruins, as if in a preventative measure.

The second time the boy is swallowed by Trico, he sees the visions clearly. On a rainy, thundering night, the boy and many other children are sound asleep. They are in a multi-story house and are on the second, if not third, floor. A blue, glowing butterfly flits around the room, keeping around the boy for a while. He is asleep like the others but, is reacting in fear to a dream. Meanwhile, something is flying high above the woods. The camera switches back and forth between the boy’s increasing fear and the approaching creature. An armored Trico, with full horns and majestic wings, alights on the side of the house and presses its head through a window. Before him is the slumbering boy. It looks around at all the children before gazing down at the boy, eyes a deep red. As if in response, the boy’s body calms and his eyes open–still asleep–these too, colored the same red. As the Trico beast leans in to swallow him, it knocks over a lantern, waking the caretaker of the children. Screams and cries of fear go up as the woman’s panicking wakes everyone up. Trico hurriedly gulps the boy down before trying to pull his head out of the window. But his head is stuck. Men come running out of their homes and one pounds on a warning gong, torch in-hand. Within the house, men with spears face the beat’s head directly, keeping back from its mouth. It breaks out of the window, however. Swiping at those gathered below, it takes several spears and arrows before it is able to fly to safety. The rain grows heavier. The village elder speaks, “Be among the chosen ones…” Trico flies through rainy skies. Nearing the Nest, it is struck by lightning and it falls, hitting cliff walls in its descent. Armored Knights come and chain it up, taking it to the cave of the game’s opening. Still unconscious, Trico regurgitates the boy who is covered in a bubble of a glowing, blue-green substance. It bursts, leaving the boy’s body covered in glowing runes.

Both times, when the boy wakes from witnessing the visions, he finds the markings have increased in number, detail, and coverage. Their pattern is the same as those he sees when unconscious and watching the symbols cover his field of view, blocking the white light far away. These are also the same symbols that the Armored Knights conjure and send at him, muffling his senses and littering his vision with runes. In fact, these same symbols rise into the air over a knight when it is crushed and destroyed by Trico, their color not white but black.

Another interesting detail is the color of Trico’s horns. This glowing, blue-green color is the same as the substance in the barrels, as the light coming from the eyes and horns of the Knights, and as the runes on the boy’s skin when they light up in response to the Knight’s spells.

Ending [1.3]

Having finally entered the door to the Citadel, the boy and Trico ascend its heights until they reach the uppermost, interior chamber. It is here they witness a supernatural Entity. “I know now… …that this was the master of the valley.” It is a glowing, blue-green, rune-covered orb, made of something like ferro-fluid. Surrounding its innermost sphere is an outer, shadowy sphere that, when under the light of the Mirror, shrinks down into its center. If the boy holds up the Mirror’s light for too long, however, it sends rune spells in a wall between it and the mirror, overpowering the boy if he lets his weapon down. “It seemed that the light of the mirror suppressed the great darkness somewhat.”

The boy navigates the rotating platforms making up the structure above the Master itself, reaching the top of the tower and halting their movement to let Trico through. Seeing the tops of the Nest’s valley walls for the first time, they explore the top, only to trigger the Master’s power. Birds from the forest atop the valley walls scatter into the air. Then many Trico beasts arrive and come over to a stone structure on the tower’s surface. Here they regurgitate their captives into a hole of the structure, each encapsulated in the blue-green substance the boy had been in. In exchange, a barrel is shot into the air, and the beasts clamor to get to it first. Then they spy the boy. One comes up to him and looks him over before swiping him into the air. Trico comes running over to defend the boy and the other beasts savage him, biting him and ripping off his tail. The boy takes the tail and drags it into the chamber with the Master. Aiming the mirror at the Master, the tail fires, destroying it. Swirling, pulling clouds of energy, darkness and runes come flying at the boy, rendering him unconscious. Trico stands and limps over to the boy, picking him up and taking him out. The other beasts fall out of the sky, dazed, and the tower begins to crumble from the foundations.

In one last effort, Trico soars into the skies, crash-landing in the clearing of the boy’s village. Men come out with spears to defend against the beast, but Trico surrenders the boy over to them, gently pushing his body forward. A man comes and scoops the boy up before the others threaten Trico. “There was nothing else I could do. I had to send the beast away. Reluctantly, I said the words.” The boy weakly points toward the forest and mutters a command. Trico gives one last look before leaping over the crowd and galloping off, just barely clearing the tops of the trees as he soars into the air. The elder remarks, “I doubt it has long to live.” The boy’s eyes close. “And that is how it ended. Our extraordinary story.”

The boy, now a man, walks up to some children who are marveling at a shiny object in the dirt. It is the Mirror. That night he shows it to them. Holding it up into the air, a beam of light shines out and pierces the clouds. The camera winds through the Nest just as the boy and Trico had journeyed, arriving back at the cave of the game’s start. Two pairs of eyes glow in the dark. One can faintly hear the coos of an infant Trico.


Connecting the Dots [2]

Main Theory [2.1]

It is unknown just how long the Master had control over the valley, but it must have been quite some time for his influence over the knights and beasts to have been so widespread and unmatched. Nothing but small lizards, wild birds and butterflies now live in its ruined expanse. Magnificent, temple-like structures lie in decay. Bridges that once connected the individual complexes crumble and fall into the abyss. No humans remained to challenge the Master’s power. Until the boy, kidnapped and deposited within a buried cave, managed to wake from his spell. At first the powerful Entity took little notice, simply allowing what soldiers the boy encountered to wake up and chase him. But when this proved futile, more knights were sent in as backup. Eventually it required using other Trico beasts to assault them, this too a thwarted effort. The Master’s control was being pushed to its limits and this both scared and infuriated it. For the first time in possibly millennia, there was the chance that the Master’s dominion be overthrown.

Approximately four hours into the story we are shown how the boy entered the Valley. He is swallowed by Trico and flown into the sky where they are struck by lightning. Trico falls to the earth, his horns and wings shattering in the process. While it is true that the Master’s control over Trico was what caused the boy to be kidnapped, there is also something different about the boy which made him the candidate and, not any of the other children. Note the blue butterfly. For one, it glows with the same luster as the substance within the barrels. It is not made of the same material, obviously, but there’s got to be some connection between the two. In ‘The Last Guardian: An Extraordinary Story’ Official Art and Guide Book, Ueda states that the butterfly is to mark him as having been chosen. The boy’s frightened, feverish state seals this notion. As the camera switches between the village and Trico’s aerial approach, the boy grows increasingly fearful. He can sense a Presence approaching, singling in on him and, it feels uncannily wrong. We cannot see what he sees, but it is reasonable to guess he is trying to escape. The battle is lost upon opening his eyes; already being influenced by the Master, Trico’s crimson gaze is too much to resist and he succumbs to a trance.

If all had gone according to plan, Trico would have landed atop the white Tower and regurgitated the boy into the bird-shaped funnel, placing him at the mercy of the Master where (as insinuated), he would be consumed. That the boy is kept alive means the Master seeks something more than sustenance. When a person dies, their body ceases to live and it becomes an empty shell, releasing the soul of the person from its lifetime bondage. It seems the Master wants not the boy’s body but, his soul, to feed on. Its influence over the minds of Tricos, animation of the hollow armor and, creation of the runic markings, all suggest that the Master’s power is not physical. It is entirely possible that the Master doesn’t need the boy’s body at all but, instead only consumes his soul. The remaining corpse would then be converted into the blue-green substance which the Master uses to control the Tricos. Gory, I know, but it makes sense. The Master could be infusing the liquid with something that makes the minds of the beasts more susceptible to Its power. The side effect is that it glows. Creatures which consume it have their horns glow with its light and, the same property with which the liquid is infused is the same characteristic which causes the Knights’ eyes and horns to glow. They don’t eat the liquid but, they seem to be crafted out of the same power.

Speaking of souls, the distant light the boy sees when regaining consciousness is very similar to the tunnel Wander enters after absorbing the shadowy tendrils. In both cases, their senses are dulled to the physical world, and all they can perceive is light, darkness, and any voices or spells produced in the spirit world. Markings like those on the boy’s skin cloud his vision and he must fight them to clear a way for the distant light to appear. The more he struggles, the closer it becomes and, eventually he is freed to wake up. These symbols are the same as those created in the stunning spells the Knights send after the boy; in both cases, the more runes that cover his field of view, the more his senses dull, the brighter the markings on his skin glow, and the harder it is for him to move. I find it interesting that the boy’s markings increase with complexity each time he is regurgitated, much in the same way that the pillars of light increase in number throughout the Forbidden Lands. This is not to mention that both characters undergo their own forms of deterioration. The more markings the boy gains, the more susceptible he is to the Master’s power; it is almost like a sickness, branding him as the property or slave, essentially, of the Entity. This is very much like Wander’s absorption of Dormin’s essence; by the collapse of the last idol, Wander’s body is sickly and blackened. Dormin describes theitem ‘Cursed Wander Skin’ as follows, “That is the ‘Curse of the Colossus’… By using it, thou shalt resemble one in service of Dormin…” Here too there is the sense that a person’s appearance and actions display their allegiance, whether willful or not.

The Tower and the Tomb in which the boy found the Mirror are the only two structures in the Valley made of smooth, rounded, white stone. Compared to the rest of the architecture, they look foreign (NeverEnding Story, anyone?). The placement of this material and the Mirror potentially indicates something about the Valley’s history. Long ago the Mirror was created by someone who wished to control or interact with (harness) the power of the Trico beasts. Maybe these beasts had always hunted humans but, it was only until the Master came that they were used for a more nefarious scheme. The Mirror could have been created by the Master himself, either out of a bargain with a desperate villager (in which case the Master was always in its current form) or, out of the Master’s wish to selfishly gain power (in which case he was once human, just like the rest of the people who used to inhabit the Valley). Regardless, the Mirror was created and the Tricos suddenly became less of a threat. Maybe the beasts and Man lived in harmony for a time. But eventually life as they knew it was destroyed. With the death of the man who made the bargain and/or with the death of the Master as a human (or a supernatural, physical, humanoid like the Queen in ICO was), the Mirror was buried and sealed away. A travesty must have been committed. The Tomb is too hidden to have been made for public remembrance. It looks like it was made out of a need to appease, giving proper burial rites to the deceased so that they would not come back to haunt with a vengeance. Sometime after, the deceased’s soul began to gather power to itself, enough for it to re-enter the physical world. [If the Master was human and it was he who made the mirror, this gathering soul is only the Master. If there was a villager with which he made a bargain, he could have consumed the man’s soul in the process of reviving himself from the dead.] The Master now had all that it wanted; power above all Men, invulnerability to physical injury, and most important of all, control over the beasts. This could have been enough but, the Master had this undying hunger for more souls, so he used the Tricos to bring child after child to himself. With enough souls, maybe he would have been able to change into some semblance of a physical form or, something at least more humanoid. With the boy having stopped all this, we will never know.

There does seem to be some remembrance of what happened, though. The manner in which the elder speaks, “Be among the chosen ones…” is too declarative, proud almost, to lack some sort of background. As with Lord Emon, the shaman of Wander’s people, this elder has a great knowledge of history and lore. This is confirmed by the fact that Wander remembers Emon’s words in Shadow‘s opening and, that the boy recalls how the elder had spoken of “these great man-eating beasts many times,” in the form of “terrifying tales.” Both Emon and the boy’s elder garner a lot of respect. It would not surprise me, then, if knowledge of this kind was kept in its entirety by the elders but told to fellow villagers in part. This way the elders could prevent those stories from ever happening again, they knowing what to look for. And, it would keep the villagers from knowing enough to do what Wander did, acting on fragments of truth and many assumptions.

Additional Points [2.2]

[A] In Shadow of the Colossus, every time Wander slays a Colossus, one more shadow comes to stand beside his unconscious body and, one more white dove comes to land beside the altar. Each bird represents that part of Mono’s soul that has been restored to her. In The Last Guardian, though there is not this process of slowly restoring a soul, there is the situation with the Master seeking to devour the souls of human children. With it being unknown just how long this has been going on (especially considering how many broken barrels are lying around the inside base of the Tower), the Master could have devoured hundreds, if not thousands of children over millennia. The sheer number of white birds flying around the Valley could easily reflect the numbers; a new bird appears in the Nest each time a child’s soul dies. That massive flocks took flight at the emitted aura of the Master (in the ending) makes complete sense, the birds not only being disturbed by the strange energy as any animal would but, they fearing it because their identity is forever linked with its darkness.

[B] In the end titles, footage from the game appears vignetted, most of the time being from the boy’s perspective but, some shots distinctly being from Trico’s perspective. These memories do two things. First, they show how the boy, now a grown man, is reminiscing through the story he just finished telling. It is possible he was telling it to the young children who found his Mirror in the dirt. Second, it could very well show that Trico is reminiscing of his time spent with the boy. This notion is supported by Trico’s appearance in the game’s Epilogue as, Trico is very much alive to remember it.

[C] The Mirror is found lying in the dirt in the game’s opening and epilogue for many reasons. Going through a long recovery from his injuries and, saddened by loss of losing Trico, the boy let the mirror sit where it was. He may have told his story to the elder or to his father, if to anyone. Villagers probably would have only been able to get the story out of him in fragments. But with time he grew ready to tell his story, disclosing everything that occured and, cleaning up the Mirror to show to the children. Maybe this next generation will be more kind toward Trico’s kin. Maybe, by telling them his story (and by being the one who survived), others will listen to his perspective and attempt to close the rift.

[D] The boy was the only child in the room, possibly in his village, who was reacting to the Master’s/Trico’s presence. It might be that each time the Master’ emits the energy from his tower, more sensitive humans may somehow perceive it, even though they don’t know what it is or where its coming from. If this is the case, the night that the boy was kidnapped may not have been the first night he had strange nightmares. This could be what the Master takes advantage of when hunting for children; the phrase “to be among the chosen ones” has more behind it than the villagers realize. This would also give sense to why each time the boy and Trico entered a Cage Room, the boy was not acting like he was experiencing the energy for the first time, as if he subconsciously recognized it without knowing. [The thing (and only thing) he was reacting to was Trico’s sudden aggression.] There may be something unique about the soul of a sensitive person that is so desired by the Master.

If you got this far, here is a video to culminate the article. By Cinematic Overture, “The Last Guardian Analysis: A New Perspective for Gaming.”


How to Credit Images [3]

Unless credited otherwise, all PlayStation4 screenshots of “Shadow of the Colossus” and “The Last Guardian” (including header images) are my work.

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