Review: The Last Guardian is an emotional game with great ups and downs
A story 10 years in the making...
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: genDESIGN, SIE Japan Studio
I sat there, my dog, Wrigley, by my side, watching as the credits rolled. She laid with me nearly the entire 12-or-so hour playthrough, save for the few times when she protected the house from squirrels. She mostly slept as I solved my way through the puzzle ruins, waking occasionally to the sound of my beastly companion, Trico, howling. But as I recounted my journey through the credits of The Last Guardian, I was saddened -- not necessarily by the events that unfolded in the game, but because my previous fur-baby would not do half of the things the beast in the game did.
The Last Guardian tells the emotional story of a young boy’s adventure with a giant, feathered creature through a mysterious land. The story is framed as a flashback narrative, with the boy, now an older man, recounting the events while they unfold as you play through them.
A story 10 years in the making
The narrative, spoken in a strange foreign language (with subtitles), is set around a developing friendship between the nameless boy and this cat/dog/dragon hybrid creature, named Trico, as they travel together through ancient ruins. As you might guess, there’s certainly an emotional bond that’s formed between the characters as you explore these ruins. And as a pet owner, I was especially able to relate to said bond. Between the mannerisms of Trico and the interactions between the boy and beast, The Last Guardian does a fantastic job establishing this emotional connection between the characters and player. It was at the point where my wife could not be in the same room as I played due to the horrific sounds of the beast crying when hurt. By the end of the game, you will have an emotional investment in the story and characters.
Working together to traverse the great ruins
The Last Guardian is comprised mostly of environmental puzzles, with a mix of action-adventure gameplay elements thrown in at times. As a mere boy among these magnificent ruins, much of the gameplay does require you to work with Trico, whether it’s to reach high platforms or protect you from the ruins’ guards.
Admittedly, it took a while for me to get the hang of things, as I am generally unfamiliar with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. There’s little direction given, save for a few times the narrator helps guide you toward what must be completed. This guidance was rare, though, and for the most part, it’s up to you figure out what to do next. I remember within the first hour-or-so, clamoring on that the game needs a more defined “help” system. It was only a short while afterward that I realized there is such a system in place, it just requires you to really pay attention to the mannerisms of Trico, both visual and audible.
Most puzzles require you and Trico to work together in some form. Whether it’s climbing him to reach high places, riding his back as he jumps great distances, or harnessing the power of its magical tail, the two will need to work together quite often to navigate the ruins.
Of course, this is a wild animal we’re talking about, so you will need to do some coercing to get it listen to you. This could involve searching the ruins for barrels of food or something as simple as gently petting Trico to help calm its nerves. This not only serves as a puzzle mechanic but further reinforces the emotional connection between the two. Additionally, there are obstacles within the environment itself that must be dealt with in order to progress with Trico. Let’s just say, there are weird things going on within the ruins.
Trico does provide some cues to help clue you in with what it’s thinking, and possibly hints on what to do next. Again, it’s imperative that you pay close attention to Trico and fully explore the environment.
Taming the wild beast
As you progress through the story, the connection between the boy and Trico will grow stronger. You’ll always need to scour for food as treats (like you do with any pet), but you’ll eventually be able to call out commands for Trico that help you further progress through the ruins. Unfortunately, Trico doesn’t always respond to your commands in a timely fashion. Gameplay, though adequate, isn’t exactly the most polished in The Last Guardian. A good portion of the game requires you to ride on Trico’s back and direct him on where to go next; but, he doesn’t always act on your command the first time. This, at times, can lead to some frustration as you begin to question whether the direction your giving is actually correct in terms of solving the puzzle or of he’s just being a stubborn animal (or bugged). Thankfully, these instances weren’t game-breaking, as I eventually got Trico to listen to me, but having to give the same command multiple times is a bit annoying. I guess you could also write it off as it’s a wild animal, and wild animals are going to do what they want.
Taming the wild camera and poor framerate
When not fighting the beast with commands, you’ll also find yourself fighting the awkward and at times broken, camera angles. This is by far the game’s weakest point. Again, while not game-breaking, they are frustrating. The camera angles get especially wonky when riding on Trico. To its credit, the camera usually does sort itself out, but it can get annoying (and dizzying).
For the most part, the framerate of The Last Guardian was stable. However, there was one particular part near the end where the game chugged. It was bad, almost unplayable. It got to the point where I actually restarted my PlayStation 4 in hopes of fixing it, to no avail. Hopefully, this framerate gets fixed in the near future because it certainly puts a damper on what’s close to the ending sequence.
A magnificent environment (that might cause some vertigo)
The mysterious land in which you are placed is absolutely gorgeous. The bright, vibrant colors of the vast outside environment are wonderfully contrasted by the dark and dingy, dungeon-like corridors of the prison-like ruins. The environment has a grand sense of scale as you traverse further into the ruins. You’ll feel tiny in this magnificent environment, creating a sense of panic and anxiety (and sometimes vertigo) as you hang from the cliffs and edges of these magnificent, crumbling structures.
To call The Last Guardian a “much-anticipated” game is probably an understatement. Fans have been waiting 10 years for this game. Living up to the expectations that have been built over the past decade is no easy task.
The Last Guardian is a perfectly adequate game. Technically speaking, it’s a far from perfect game. Camera glitches, wonky controls, and at times finicky behavior out of Trico can cause some frustration. That being said, none of the problems I encountered, save the poor framerate at the end, took away from the overall enjoyment I had playing The Last Guardian.
The emotional build up has been 10 years in the making, and from a story standpoint, The Last Guardian lives up to expectations. You’ll definitely feel a connection with all involved in the story, and Team Ico has managed to create an AI companion worth saving. Trico has more life and personality than just about any other AI companion I’ve encountered, and it’s even more impressive that they’ve done so with a creature unable to speak actual words.
It can be argued that no game is worth waiting 10 years for, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Guardian. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is an enjoyable, impactful story worthy of experiencing.