The Last Guardian is a wonderful game developed by Team Ico. Although not pegged as a horror game intentionally, the game succeeds in delivering sequences which would instill fear in even the bravest folk. How, you ask? Well, by putting you in combat situations without providing you with combat mechanics.
The player’s character, a young boy, can roll into an enemy, staggering them for a second or two. He can also remove the helmets of fallen suits of armor, who serve as the game’s spectral enemies. However, each of these actions locks the player into an animation during which they are incredibly vulnerable, and neither of the mechanics are of any use whatsoever when there is more than one enemy.
The way in which you progress through the game’s mandatory action sections is by waiting for Trico, referred to as the “Large Man-Eating Eagle” in the Japanese title for the game, to dispose of the enemies that are hunting the boy. That’s fine—he’s programmed to beat them, so surely that will be alright. Surely…
Trico is definitely going through puberty, or something because he only really does things when he wants to do them. Not when he should, or even when he has to—he does things when he wants to, and that’s it. So, when you’re being chased by ethereal suits of armor in a dark room, who are attempting to pull you through a blue door from which a spoopy blue mist spills, there’s a chance that Trico might decide to step in. He usually does step in almost immediately, but whether or not he actually attacks the enemies is a different story entirely. A lot of the time he just jumps around, growling at the suits of armor as they drag you towards the spoopy door. Hit them, Trico. They’re suits of armor. They don’t even have ears to hear you growling.
It genuinely is incredibly nerve-wracking when you’re in a relatively small area, weaving through a mob of enemies as Trico gradually incapacitates them. Due to the fact that you’re entirely dependent on him during these tense situations, they genuinely become scary. You’re utterly powerless, and the only force on your side powerful enough to keep you alive is entirely out of your control. Before you know it, you hit a dead end, and there are two suits of armor closing in on you, with a spoopy door between you and them. Unless Trico, who is anywhere but where he is supposed to be at pretty much any given time, miraculously decides to save you, your fate is sealed.
I remember being at a certain point in the game in which Trico really delivered, though. At one part of the game, the player needs to access a room through a tiny passage high above the ground in order to unlock the main door so that Trico can enter through it. Upon entering the room, the player can see that there are rotating helmets which will come to life as suits of armor if he passes within their line of sight. The aim is to maneuver around the helmets in such a way that you never come into contact with the light they protrude; however, this is easier said than done. More often than not, a misstep leads to the rude awakening of six suits of armor. Desperately, I yanked at the chain to open the gate for Trico. Sensing that you’re in trouble, Trico’s nose is the first part of him to appear from under the ascending gate.
Pulling the chain out of sheer desperation now, only a moment passes before I’m hoisted off my feet by a suit of armor. However, Trico’s head has come through, and he ferociously bursts through from underneath the gate in a monstrous rage. Hellbent on destroying every suit of armor as quickly as possible, he targets the one carrying me first. I am dropped, and with his right paw, Trico sends the suit of armor flying off the side of the platform. A barrage of spears is loosed towards him, but this only makes him even more vicious. Within a few more seconds, all of the suits have been sent plummeting to their deaths. Trico, still consumed by rage, writhes in pain as I climb up his leg in order to wrench the spears out. He shakes the entirety of his body violently, and I’m sent flying from the beast’s leg. He calms down, and with yet another round of horrifying chaos behind us, we press onward.
The most fear-inducing aspect of having no control in The Last Guardian, though, is the sequences in the Antenna Rooms, during which Trico becomes brainwashed. Due to having no combat mechanics of your own, these sequences require you to allow Trico the Large Man-Eating Eagle Dog to eat you in order to progress. However, when this happens to players for the first time, it is absolutely terrifying. Trico’s pink eyes, asymmetric posture, and erratic jumping combine to create a sight that is beyond fearsome.
Knowing full well how powerless you are, the fact that this is just a game doesn’t even begin to make the section less horrifying. I survived for several minutes, expecting him to calm down. I was so engrossed in the game, that when he unexpectedly ate me, the visceral animation alone immediately instilled a sense of horror in me. I know you’re going through puberty, Trico, but there’s really no need to eat me.
The Last Guardian may not be a horror game by genre, but by affording you zero combat mechanics, and only an NPC’s AI to rely on, it succeeds in placing you into a position in which you are utterly powerless in the face of great danger. This is perhaps one of the most basic yet uncomfortably realistic ways of forcing you to confront true horror, for what other sensation could you possibly feel when you have no control over the outcome which will determine your fate?