So, it’s finally here. The Last Guardian, which has been in development since 2007 and in the public eye since 2009, is finally gracing our consoles. Honestly, for probably the first time ever. I put the disc into my console without knowing what to expect. Outside of a few gameplay trailers that have largely showed off the same bit of gameplay and environment, I really had no expectations for the actual gameplay.I was incredibly interested in the overall premise, and the relationship between Trico and the Boy was always going to be a big part of the game, but I never expected to care so much, so instantaneously.
Firstly, the story of The Last Guardian is very ambiguous. I don’t want to spoil too much because most of the enjoyment comes in the slow-paced build up and watching your relationship unfold with Trico. The game begins with you filling the shoes of a little boy who has been separated from his village. You quickly stumble upon a massive cat-like beast, Trico. Trico initially starts off very hostile and it quickly becomes clear that you’re going to have to work for its loyalty and affection.
The story of The Last Guardian is essentially a retelling of an adventure that has happened in the past. The only narrative and dialogue is told from the boy (who is now an adult) who is reliving his former adventure as a young child. His voiceovers provides the only context to the entire story and these breaks are few and far between, signalling when Trico needs something from you, or when your relationship has gone to a new level.The first half of the game is very much about building a bond with Trico. You must feed it, pet it and remove spears in order to keep it happy and ensure that it continues to cooperate with you to navigate through the world.
The initial portion of the game is incredibly long-winded and takes place mostly in small, confined environments and really gets you familiar with climbing Trico as well as getting familiar with calling him and directing him. As time goes on, you’ll learn new commands which I felt was a really nice touch. Initially, I was worried that the game would become shallow and repetitive, but I never felt that throughout the game.
Trico can be incredibly stubborn and often not respond to your commands in-game, but I had the feeling that this was intentional as just like any pet, at least initially they won’t respond to your commands at all and at best, there will still be times that they flat out are just hard to deal with. It made our bond even stronger and made him seem even more lifelike. I was genuinely surprised with just how well programmed it was. I’d often think that I’d need to call him over only to have him following right behind me.
It’s later in the game that things really open up both from vertical and horizontal point of view. You’ll need to use the boy’s platforming abilities to navigate around the area. Sometimes this involves Trico and other times you’ll be separated in order to find a way for Trico to get through a gate or over a wall. These sections make up the bulk of the game. It’s never clear what the end-goal is, or where the boy or Trico are trying to make it to though.
As the game progresses, some little trickles of gameplay variation are added in. I don’t want to go into it for the sake of not spoiling too much, but these gameplay mechanics really help build a personal bond with Trico. Some areas rely on you helping Trico and other times Trico will come to your aid to help you reach new areas or flat out save you from falling. One example of this which really helps build Trico as a character as well as your relationship is the traps that are placed throughout the game which you must destroy before Trico can continue. The beast is visibly scared of these traps which really helped build its personality and give it character.
The Last Guardian is a long-winded emotional rollercoaster. As I mentioned earlier, the game does a very good job of spreading out set pieces, some of which you’ll be desperately coming to the aid of Trico, and other times in which the beast will be desperately trying to save your life. The soundtrack also does a really good job of building these moments up. Right from the moment you put the disc in, the music will send chills down your spine and really set the tone.
The game is definitely not without issues though. Firstly, there’s no escaping the fact that the graphics look outdated in some areas. The animations and ragdoll physics are really impressive but there are certain textures and areas which honestly look like they belong to a PS3 game, but it does have a certain charm about it and doesn’t take away from the overall experience. It’s worth noting that the game ran fairly smooth on my PlayStation 4 Pro, but I did test portions of the game out on my original PlayStation, and there was slowdown in some areas.
More importantly, controlling the boy can be downright frustrating in some sections. I lost count with how many times I knew where I had to jump, felt like I timed it perfectly and missed for no reason. The same can be said to needing to climb down ledges or finding yourself around Trico. I’m not really sure whether it was intended to be like this, but it just feels unacceptable in this day and age for the controls to be so clumsy. Also, similarly to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the camera can be a downright nightmare at times, particularly as Trico walks around you and completely blocks your field of view.
For the most part, the puzzles of The Last Guardian were satisfyingly complex and varied in their approach. Unfortunately, there were a few too many times that I genuinely had no idea where to go, and it wasn’t for a lack of not being able to solve a puzzle. Sometimes you’ll need to solve an incredibly tough puzzle to proceed, but other times you literally just need to jump on Trico, who will lead you to an area that is way out of your reach. It often left me confused and frustrated, rather than feeling like I’d just accomplished something.
When all is said and done, the question on everyone’s lips will be whether or not The Last Guardian lived up to the hype. Honestly, it’s not a perfect game. But, Team Ico’s ability to get you sucked into a world and caring about characters that don’t speak and have almost no backstory, is second to none. I was enthralled by The Last Guardian from start to finish and I feel extremely satisfied in the journey that the game provided. There’s definitely some niggling issues that break up the experience but for the most part, tick this one off as another masterpiece.
Most of all though, I realised just how important it was for games like this to exist. I was sucked into this world from start to finish, falling absolutely in love with these characters that had very little dialogue or backstory, and this world that I knew almost nothing about. It really showed me that in this day and age, a game can have almost no combat, have clunky controls but still be a genuine piece of art that speaks to the heart.
The PlayStation 4 Pro version of this game was primarily tested for this review.