The Last Guardian Review
The waiting game is a curious beast. It messes with your head and the longer you wait for something the higher your expectations rise. What sort of expectations do you think arise from a waiting game of nearly ten years? Well, if we’re being honest they’re probably high enough to become borderline unreachable. In the case of Team ICO’s (JAPAN Studio), The Last Guardian an odd sort of level headed approach tempered the hype as it led up to release. People were excited, yes but there weren’t expectations alongside the hype that seemed so big they were unachievable. Does The Last Guardian live up to what was expected? Perhaps for some, probably not for others but there’s no arguing that it is an emotionally taught journey from start to finish, even with its ever present control and camera issues.
In The Last Guardian, you partake on an intense journey with a boy and Trico, a giant creature that looks to be part dog, part cat, and part bird. In the beginning of the game, this legendary creature is bound and injured and the boy awakens near it not knowing how he came to be there or where he even is. The boy removes Trico’s shackles, pulls free the spears that riddle its body and feeds it some much needed sustenance. So begins the forging of the bond between the two of trust and companionship and this bond is what carries the game from start to finish despite its hurdles.
“Trico itself comes across as a living, breathing creature and is real in a way I’ve never seen in a game before.”
Fans of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus undoubtedly knew what they were getting into with Fumito Ueda’s magnum opus but in ten years time, it’s safe to say that a large number of new fans would be jumping on board. These new fans wouldn’t have the reference to work off from past Team ICO works. They wouldn’t know of the wonky camera and less than responsive controls that previous fans had been able to forgive. Should a game that has had as much development time as The Last Guardian suffer from camera and control problems? Expectation says no, absolutely not. Does it? Yeah, unfortunately it does and it can be incredibly frustrating.
At the start of the game, the puzzles and platforming you are expected to guide Trico and his ward through are simple enough but right from those opening moments you’ll notice that controlling the boy is a little off. Jumping awkwardly, tripping over everything, not always doing quite what you’d like him to do. As the camera follows it gets lost inside Trico’s body or inside a bordering wall and can eventually result in untimely deaths, unnecessary falls and is generally an annoyance. I found the longer I played the more I became used to it and the more I adapted to its quirks. It’s still frustrating and a pain in the ass but I managed. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I’m forgiving it. As I said about expectations, this game really should be much smoother here.
The real meat of The Last Guardian is taking in the spectacle of Trico and the boy over their escape. It’s watching their bond grow and flourish. You will come to care deeply for this beast just as was planned. When the boy moves to areas unreachable by Trico you will hear its wails and work feverishly to reunite the pair. When the boy is threatened Trico will go into a fury doing anything it can to save him. Trico itself comes across as a living, breathing creature and is real in a way I’ve never seen in a game before. The AI truly is brilliant and despite Trico not always doing exactly what you’d like it to this kind of lends itself to the idea of Trico being a wild creature by nature. I mean I have two dogs and I’ll be damned if either one of them do what I ask them to.
Controlling Trico can be a frustration, though, I can’t deny that. When you are granted the ability to ask Trico to jump, attack, shove and more it can be an exercise in futility to get it to do what you want, when you want. Simple things like waiting for Trico to drop its tail for you to climb up can be a 10 to 20-minute ordeal unless you can figure out the one magical spot to stand in. I’m all for the idea that I’m working with a creature that has its own mind and its own ways but gameplay should not suffer hurdles of that length just because of it.
“In the end, I can say that I truly cherished every moment spent playing The Last Guardian but that it came with a heaping dose of forgiveness on things I might not forgive any other game for.”
You simply cannot deny that The Last Guardian is a stunningly beautiful piece of art. Trico’s movements and mannerisms are true to many of the creatures it was inspired by. Watching it paw playfully at an object or happily roll into a pool of water is nothing short of magical. The setting itself, from dark caverns to an ever climbing and crumbling fortress are magnificent set pieces as well. The game may seem washed out to those who are looking for crisp and highly detailed graphics but the sort of muddy wash that blends all the colors in this game together is exactly what was intended by Team ICO. It is artful in a way that most games will never achieve and I’d venture that most players will see and understand this. Of course, you’ll have to look past some absolutely atrocious clipping and framerate issues as well. Watching Trico’s head nearly disappear entirely inside a wall is a bit much to let go but you’ll see these moments coming. Put a giant creature inside a tight space and ask that it turn around… and there you have it.
I’m quite honestly unsure of where my own personal expectations lied versus what I finally saw with The Last Guardian. I absolutely enjoyed my time in the game from start to finish but found myself always saying that I liked it ‘in spite of’ some portion of the game. I loved seeing the bond between the boy and Trico flourish in spite of the frustrating controls and camera. I felt connected to the story of their journey in spite of repetitive and often frustrating puzzles that came my way. In the end, I can say that I truly cherished every moment spent playing The Last Guardian but that it came with a heaping dose of forgiveness on things I might not forgive any other game for.
If you can go into The Last Guardian with an understanding that its most important piece is the story of the boy and Trico then you will adore it. If you’re the type to trumpet gameplay over narrative no matter what then you’ll have a hard time forgiving this game its plethora of quirks. Regardless of The Last Guardian’s AAA billing, it’s very much a niche game that’s not for everyone but I feel that those of you who choose to spend time with it will undoubtedly be pulled in by its magic.
*** PS4 copy provided by the publisher ***
- Trico absolutely lives and breathes
- Emotionally taught narrative
- Stunning in presentation
- Camera and control can be frustrating
- Very noticeable clipping and framerate drops
- Controlling Trico is epically painful