We’ve received three Team Ico games so far. Each one’s a work of art, with stories that are vivid and detailed without detailed text, lore, and scripts. Each one manages to evoke strong feelings of determination, passion, and connection as you seek to complete each task. Each game references each other, in its way. Once you begin playing, it’s easy to see ways in which they connect and mirror each other. While we may never be exactly sure if they’re directly connected, the themes and references help maintain the same atmosphere.
Note: spoilers for Shadow of the Colossus and Ico will follow, but there are no major story spoilers for The Last Guardian.
Most of the references have to do with parallels. In each Team Ico game, we’re dealing with the fallout of some ritual. Mono was sacrificed in Shadow of the Colossus. Wander wouldn’t accept that, and so he’s taking on the task of defeating the colossi. In Ico, Ico is being sacrificed, due to being a boy with horns. He escapes and challenges the castle. The boy in The Last Guardian is a sacrifice here. In each one, we have people attempting to end a vicious cycle.
Each Team Ico game also makes success impossible without the aid of another being. Wander isn’t alone in his quest to save Mono. He’s riding Agro. This horse is fiercely loyal to him, and it’s thanks to her speed and companionship that he’s able to accomplish his goals. Ico spends much his time protecting Yorda from her mother’s minions. But, there are times when she needs to come to his aid too. He can’t get through the Idol Gates or activate the castle’s devices without her. At the very end, he only escapes with Yorda’s help. With The Last Guardian, Trico is aiding the boy every step of the way. There’s no way he’d reach the heights he would without this friend or stand against the armored warriors and other Tricos.
There’s also the notion of horns and negative connotations associated with them present across the three games. They represent impurities, sin, and evil. In Shadow of the Colossus, Wander’s appearance changes as he defeats the colossi. One of his new physical alterations involves a pair of horns, showing how his behavior has tainted his actions. When he appears as a baby at the end, the infant has horns to show his sins. In Ico, Ico is the latest in the line of cursed boys with horns that will be sacrificed. When he fights Yorda’s mother, his horns break off. This could be seen as the curse being broken after he faces a terrible evil. In The Last Guardian, all Tricos have horns. The boy’s Trico’s horns are broken, which keeps him from falling under the same spell as his brethren.
This isn’t to say that all of the references deal with various story concepts. The three games all look as though they take place in the same world. In each case, our heroes are exploring lavish worlds with numerous, overgrown ruins. The foliage is the same. So is the wildlife. The same black lizards from previous games can be found in The Last Guardian, though none of the ones I’ve seen have white tails. The relics and idols all have the same designs and patterns, and each of the major locations visited in the games have a pool in a room with a high ceiling. The pool is most notable, as Wander visits it in Shadow of the Colossus, it’s present in Ico’s castle, and the boy retrieves the mirror from it in The Last Guardian. It seems like a shared symbol across civilizations, suggesting similar societies.
The collection of costumes is a very obvious reference to previous games as well. In The Last Guardian, you earn costumes for giving 12, 24, 48, 64, and 98 butterfly barrels to Trico. Horned Apparel is an exact copy of Ico’s outfit, complete with horns, and unlocks at 48 barrels. Meanwhile, the Warrior’s clothes look like Wander’s. It appears after 64 months. Even better, the Wander costume has dialogue that describes it. It notes it is a festival costume. It’s the only in-world reference to The Shadow of the Colossus’ story, perhaps suggesting it happened long enough ago to be remembered by people in other villages.
There are all these connections that The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico share. It feels like all three could be fables from the same world, going over the journey of heroes who do all they can to defy destiny, work with people and animals around them, and overcome supernatural foes. Each one ties in to one another, both in intangible and tangible ways. I know I came away believing they were set in the same world, beginning with Shadow of the Colossus, continuing with Ico, and following with The Last Guardian. But then, I’m still discovering new nuances I didn’t see on my original playthrough. They feel designed to leave you wondering how they work together, with plenty of possibilities to ponder.
The Last Guardian is available for the PlayStation 4.