By Jake Rushing
Developer: SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: December 6th, 2016
Platform: Playstation 4
After being in development hell for over 8 years, The Last Guardian was finally released to the store shelves, a moment that the loyal fans of the creators of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have long waited. I went into this game with the skepticism that was drawn from the history of games in development hell for 6+ years to be released with poor critical acclaim, but with the optimism that hopefully, despite all of the troubles that the developers faced, that hopefully they will pull through. I am glad to say that my optimism was rewarded.
The Last Guardian is an action-adventure game that puts you in a role of a young boy, who wakes up in an unfamiliar environment with weird ancient markings on him that have appeared without a reason. Upon his awakening, he discovers a creature that is a hybrid of a cat, dog, and a bird, named Trico, which was known to eat humans. After nursing the creature back to health, and releasing him from his shackles, the hybrid creature ends up befriending the boy instead of turning him into his next snack. With Trico, the boy needs to find a way out of the valley and back to his village. As he and Trico go through the valley, they both discover many secrets about the valley.
The Last Guardian doesn’t have the gameplay similar to either Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. Throughout the game, you guide Trico by wandering around the valley by going from platform to platform while riding on Trico by issuing commands on where to go. When you are forced to go on your own, you can navigate around by climbing ledges, vines, chains, etc. as well as pushing/pulling objects around, just for the sake of getting past all of the puzzles in the game. There are also parts of the game where you have to interact with Trico in ways that you feel more invested in Trico on a personal level by feeding him barrels, or by petting him (daaawww) For the most part, that’s all you do in the game.
Even though that the game doesn’t really offer you much to do in the game, there is really no need to give the player a lot of rules on how to play the game, especially when you manage to get the player invested in the game. In this case, the game manages to get the player invested not just finding their way out of the valley. As you move along in the valley, you would get more emotionally invested in Trico in ways that are shown in different aspects of the gameplay. That part right there is their strongest point in The Last Guardian, and they have managed to nail that part down unlike many other games out there.
First thing that fits into their objective of making the player invested in the relationship between the player and Trico is solidifying the dynamic of having a companion relationship between a small ten-year-old boy and a Trico creature that is the size of Clifford the Big Red Dog. As the player controls the boy, they find out that there is nothing extraordinary about him, as they can’t make the boy leap over tall buildings or over long ledges, or try and defeat guards that will try to capture the boy. But with Trico on the other hand, Trico is capable of doing many things that the boy couldn’t, so you would naturally depend on Trico to help traverse you through the valley in ways that only Trico can traverse. On the other side of the coin, Trico doesn’t seem to figure out where to go on his own, which is where you are needed to help guide Trico around. Both the player and Trico can’t get around the valley without each other, and the developers made every step of the way with the dynamic of the duo helping each other out. SIE made the game kept this dynamic in their mind in every step from start to finish. And it shows.
As you traverse through the valley and work with Trico, the developers seem to take their time into developing Trico himself. The first thing that you’d notice about Trico that Trico doesn’t really move like any other creature. While we have all seen creatures move in a more scripted way, there are some creatures that behave in a little more complex manner that would make us invested in them (ie Epona from Legend of Zelda). Trico, on the other hand, is on another level, with many movements based on the environment, whether it would be Trico looking for a ledge to jump on, or rolling around to bathe himself in water, or to being able to squeeze in through very narrow spaces to follow his human companion. When you take time to observe Trico, it’s behavior is what set itself apart from other creature companions that you have played with, and the developers took a lot of their effort to make sure that Trico is adorable to have as your companion.
Even though that Trico’s movements can impress people in the beginning, it’s safe to say that they are not perfect, a player would see once they gain the ability to give commands to Trico. The Trico commanding could use some work, as the commanding mechanic isn’t either the most intuitive, or the most broken part of the game. I say this because not all of the time that where I command Trico to go one way, there are times that he either doesn’t respond to the commands, or that he would go the opposite direction of where I made the boy point. This would often create frustrating experiences with the player, causing them to dissipate the appreciation the player would have for the game on a temporary basis. Of course, this would be the only flaw to an otherwise fantastic game, albeit a giant flaw.
The overall setting in the game isn’t too bad to say the least. The aspect of the game that really helps set the environment and the mood is the music that help sets the environment. Most often, it would be silent, although there would be soft melodies that would set the environment of the boy and Trico navigating through the puzzles, as well as more intense melodies that would show conflict between the duo and the enemies that would stand in their path. Or when they go through stressful situations, there would be music playing to match that intensity. When the music starts playing, it help sets the mood just right.
Overall, The Last Guardian is a wonderful experience that one shouldn’t let it be tampered by the frustrations of controlling Trico to the point where they’re prompted to throw the game away. I can promise that the emotional investment that you’ll make in this game would be worth dealing with the frustrations of commanding Trico. Everything else should make this game one of the more enjoyable experiences that you’ll have for your PS4. Even though it’s not as wonderful as Shadow of the Colossus, it’s still a great experience worth picking up that will leave you emotional at some parts of the game. And lastly, the players who wait for the post-credits scene will be in for a treat that will leave an lasting impression on the players.