The Last Guardian
genDESIGN, Japan Studio
Back in 2007, the developers of Team ICO set out to create their next adventure of the then new PlayStation 3, under the name of The Last Guardian. After numerous delays and the disbandment of the team, it was widely believed that The Last Guardian was canceled or at least in some sort of development hell. However, a new studio called genDESIGN, comprised of many of the original Team ICO members including designer and director Fumito Ueda, was working closely with Sony all these years to bring the game to life. Now, almost 10 years later, The Last Guardian is out on the PlayStation 4. Now the question on everyone’s lips is – was it worth the wait?
It’s immediately clear that the same people who worked on ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are behind The Last Guardian. It’s unbelievable how quickly go from waking up next to a huge strange beast covered in blood and spears, to considering this beast a faithful and cherished companion. This is one of those journey you don’t want to end, as an ending means having to say goodbye to your new furry friend that stuck by your side through thick and thin. The overall story follows a pattern that will be familiar to fans of Team ICO’s previous work. You start by try to figure out how to escape captivity, but your quest through the intricate and decaying architectural that is your cage quickly turns to one of discovery, as you learn more and more about the story of both the boy and Trico. The tale behind The Last Guardian isn’t as grand or epic as previous titles in Team ICO’s library, but the journey you undertake with your faithful companion is one to remember.
The Last Guardian does an excellent job providing challenging puzzles as you advance through the story. The vast and complex structures you explore create a sense of accomplishment when you finally solve the puzzles within, and the clever level design does a great job and making the boy and Trico’s cooperation feel natural. As the story progresses, you learn new instruction for Trico, such as jumping on command or even climbing on a ledge so you can reach a higher area. Trico does take his to respond, and while I’m not sure its an intentional design decision or not, it does make him feel more like an animal than an AI.
There are instances where puzzles and even navigation got be a bit confusing, especially when it isn’t clear which chain or rope you can grab to or even which ledges you can walk on. I’ve never encountered anything that hindered my progress for very long, but I did find it frustrating at times. The camera also has annoying habit of fighting you in small spaces, making precise jumps or even trying to grab on to a ledge a death-defying act. I also encountered a few problems on occasion when trying to climb on Trico, especially when he decided to start moving while I was doing that. Nevertheless, The Last Guardian excels in bringing levels to life as you explore the vast architecture and solve the puzzles you encounter along the way. Just remember to mind the controls at times and bear with the camera in small spaces.
The Last Guardian does a tremendous job of setting the right atmosphere and tone for such a game. The sheer size of the architecture is something to behold, and the environment do feel like everything is about the crumble and fall off the mountain at any second. All this pales in comparison to the two main characters of the game. Setting the world-building aside, the models for the young boy and his giant beast Trico are so well-crafted. I was astounded when I first saw the life-like animations that accompanied the boy’s movements as he climbs, jumps, runs and tumbles around the environments. His reactions alone are enough to sell you on the dizzying heights the game has you exploring. Trico himself is by far the most realistic animal I’ve seen in a video game. As you play the game you’ll begin to notice and recognize Trico’s desires and fears merely by looking at him. It’s usually hard to creating a bond between two protagonists without any verbal communication, but the developers of The Last Guardian did an excellent job assigning Trico an animal’s body language anyone can understand. Quite impressive for a game that’s started as a PlayStation 3 title.
The Last Guardian, and my journey with Trico lasted roughly 14 hours, and it was time well spent traversing the vast keep that holds you and your friendly beast captive. The most memorable moments of the game lay in both the environment and your interaction with Trico. The level design gives life to the architecture and puzzles, and exploring the crumbling city is a solid, even intense experience. The controls and the camera can be frustrating at time, but all in all, The Last Guardian stands out from all the other games that don’t have an adorable baby dog-like chimera as a main character.