By Ashley Ring / December 28th, 2016
|Title||The Last Guardian|
|Developer||Sony Interactive Entertainment, Team Ico, GenDesign,
SIE Japan Studio
|Publisher||Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|Release Date||December 6 2016|
The Last Guardian is a game that has not only been on my radar, but also the radar of many others eager to play the next game developed by the same team behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. When I played Shadow of the Colossus about a decade ago, I fell in love with the atmosphere and sense of wonder. It was an excellent game as well as just a wonderful overall experience. When The Last Guardian had been announced at E3 2009, I was excited to play through another game from this team. Many years later, as well as a console shift from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4, it’s finally arrived and now the big question is – was it worth the wait?
The Last Guardian opens when our main character, a young boy whose name we are not given, wakes up in a small, seemingly closed off area in ruin that he does not recognize. After taking a quick glance at his surroundings, he notices his body is covered in runes, and he quickly discovers that he’s not alone. Next to where the boy wakes up is a man-eating beast known as Trico, chained up with a few spears sticking out of its body. At first, the beast is hostile and will push you away from it as you try to get near. After scoping the small area you awake in, you find several barrels you can pick up and if you drop them near Trico, he’ll eat the entire barrel and start to be a little less hostile towards the boy. After developing some trust, the boy climbs onto the beast and removes the spears one by one, and then helps remove his chains. The two then embark on a journey through a huge place that the boy describes as “The likes of which he’s never seen before” to try and escape to freedom. Most of the game’s story is sparingly narrated from an older version of the boy, telling his story as it happens during gameplay.
From the very beginning of the game, it’s easy to tell that there is going to be a huge emphasis on building the relationship between the boy and Trico. Both of them need each other to escape from this mysterious place that they’ve found themselves trapped in. This is one of the things that The Last Guardian does best. The journey these two have and the teamwork that they must use to get through really do help build a lot of depth to their bond that only keeps growing as the game goes forward.
One moment that really stuck out to me was during a section about halfway through where the boy is clearing some stained glass windows with a pattern on them that Trico was afraid of so they could both move forward. The high up space that the boy was walking on begins to crumble and fall, and Trico is trying his best to communicate to the player via body language to jump towards him. Once you make that leap, Trico attempts to catch the boy with his mouth but he falls short of it. He does, however, manage to grab Trico’s tail and climb back up to safety, allowing the two to escape the collapsing towers. Its little things like this throughout the journey that really help make The Last Guardian’s companionship stick out and be something memorable. By the end of the game, their mutual affection is really well developed and the most remarkable thing is that the bond is told almost entirely through gameplay rather than dialogue or cutscenes.
Through most of their journey together, you’ll be solving many different puzzles to help the two move towards their goal of escaping. Every single new area and room you explore in The Last Guardian is a puzzle of its own to solve. In the very first screen of the game, I was pretty confused at just what I was supposed to do. After a little bit of trial and error, I eventually figured out that you need to feed the barrels to Trico to help give him some energy as well as well as gaining his trust. Over time, I managed to get out of the initial room and started to learn more of the game mechanics. Things like commanding Trico to follow, feeding him, and even using his head as a boost to reach high up places. The beginning of the game can actually be fairly thought provoking of just exactly what you need to do or where you need to go, and it feels great when you figure things out and are able to move forward. This is largely due to the fact that you are still learning the mechanics, and not because the puzzles are difficult. Once you learn that you can climb on Trico’s head and have him lift you up to reach higher spaces, have him jump to other places and all the other mechanics of the game, the puzzles become a cinch and for the most part don’t ever really amount to much else, and the game quickly became very stale for me. If you ever do happen to be stuck on a puzzle for too long, you’ll get narration from the boys older self giving you a hint at what you should be focusing on in that room.
One thing that I did find fun is that early on in the game you get a shield that will emit light, and wherever you happen to shine the light on, Trico will shoot electricity at and destroy. This item can be used for many different things, such as eliminating obstacles or stunning enemies while it’s shining on them. In the later parts of the game it’s also cleverly used to destroy high up ground that enemies are using to fire arrows at Trico. Unfortunately, this item is taken away from you very early on and you won’t get it back until very late in the game. This disappointed me as I really did find it to be a lot of fun to use.
What are without a doubt the most frustrating parts of The Last Guardian for me are the camera and Trico himself. The camera feels like it’s resisting movement as you rotate it around. This becomes a big problem as a large part of this game is examining your surroundings. This was especially a problem when trying to look up, as the camera would rotate even slower than it usually would. Even after changing to the highest sensitivity setting for camera rotation, it still feels so slow and like it’s trying to resist your movements. Often the camera would get stuck on Trico and for whatever reason, the camera would fade to black and then back in, which I found very disorienting. As for Trico, he will not always do what you want. There are specific commands to make him do things, like holding R1 and triangle to make him jump over an obstacle, of holding down R1 and a direction to make him go to an intended destination. It works most of the time, but on occasion he just doesn’t respond. Sometimes repeating the gesture will get him to do what you want, and sometimes I found that after just waiting a minute or so and trying again, he would finally decide to listen. I get that this can be seen as realistic, as animals don’t always obey the commands of humans but for me, it just wasn’t fun. There is also a part later in the game where the boy is confined to a cage, and you have to roll the cage around in an attempt to break out of it, but the controls during this part combined with getting Trico to hopefully push the cage over a small ledge made it very frustrating.
It’s not all bad, however. I actually really liked the way enemy encounters were handled in this game. Instead of directly fighting enemies yourself, Trico will handle the fighting, and it works well. Whenever enemies are nearby, Trico will automatically become enraged and start fighting them. You don’t have to just stand by while he fights, though. For the moments of the game where you do have the mirror shield, you can shine it on enemies to stun them indefinitely as long as the light is fixed on them. You can also run towards enemies and shove them with the square button, which comes in handy if they’re chasing you. You can even push them off ledges! I really liked this set up for combat, as it adds more to the feeling of companionship between the two, and feels like you’re actually fighting together. After each round of combat, Trico’s rage will remain and you’ll need to start petting him by holding the circle button to get him to calm down.
One of my favorite parts of The Last Guardian, besides the theme of companionship, are the visuals. Most of the areas are really beautiful looking and really do create that sense of wonder that the boy refers to at the beginning of the game with “Of the likes of which I’ve never seen before”. From the way Trico’s feather’s and fur move in the wind, to the fantastic lighting, blades of grass bouncing in the breeze, lovely particle effects in some areas and all of the very elaborate and detailed structures that you’ll travel through, The Last Guardian really lives up to the past Team Ico games. Some indoor areas don’t look particularly interesting and lack much of anything to make them stand out, but the good far outweighs the bad in the visual department. I played through the game on an original PlayStation 4 model, and while the framerate does take a noticeable dive every now and then, especially during outdoor segments with intense lighting, I never once found it intrusive or damaging to the gameplay. If you ever played the original PlayStation 2 release of Shadow of the Colossus, it’s a lot like that.
Much like the visuals, the sound design is also equally great. Most of the time, the game is silent while solving a puzzle, but often when you arrive in a new area a calming melody will start playing to help enhance the atmosphere. One of the songs that stuck out the most to me was the games battle music. Whenever encountering a group of enemies, an epic, but also emotional orchestrated battle theme starts playing, which only helps make the fights in the game more exciting. Equally beautiful and emotional, the game’s epilogue theme is a wonderful and fitting song for the closure of the difficult journey the two went through for their freedom. In addition to great music, the sound effects are excellent too. The yells and cries of Trico during battle perfectly convey how much he wants to do away with each group of enemies. Trico will also cry out if you are trying to get him to do something that he can’t do, which helps give you a sense of whether or not you’re going in the right direction.
I ultimately found The Last Guardian to be a very mixed experience. The companionship between our two characters, as well the initial puzzle solving were great and a lot of fun to do. Unfortunately, the puzzles quickly become stale once you learn the mechanics, and after 5 or 6 hours, I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. The only thing that really kept me going over the course of the game’s 10-15 hour playthrough was seeing the relationship between Trico and the boy evolve, as it’s done very well. It’s hard for me to recommend The Last Guardian at its full retail price of $59.99 based on my experiences, but I also feel that many people will still probably walk away from this more satisfied then I was. I don’t personally think it was worth the wait, but it manages to tell a satisfying story of the friendship between a young boy and a beast.
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PlayStation 4sony interactive entertainmentTeam IcoThe Last Guardian