After ten long years of waiting, The Last Guardian is finally here. Fumito Ueda’s latest has finally graced the PS4, and in doing so has brought forth one of the most compelling and original adventure games of the year. It’s also quite flawed and is definitively imperfect, but despite the faults, it’s a must play experience.
The Last Guardian
Developed by genDESIGN and SIE Japan Studio / Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Available on the PS4.
The Last Guardian tells the story of a young boy and his adventure with a large griffin-like bird/dog/cat hybrid known as Trico. After awakening in a mysterious cave with a captive and wounded creature, both boy and beast must work together in order to find a way out of their newfound prison and get back home.
If you’ve played Ueda’s other works, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, then you’ll be familiar with the minimalistic plot, mysterious and haunting locations and language, and the lack of dialogue. The Last Guardian is all about how actions speak louder than words, and the relationship that builds between the boy and beast as they encounter new and often very dangerous situations. It’s a very curious, emotionally charged and engrossing cinematic story that works thanks to the unique personalities each protagonist exhibits and how each one reacts to their surroundings and each other, as well as the occasional narration that excellently frames the events that unfold. It’s a great time and it’ll have you cheering and suffering throughout, and once the final credits roll, you’ll keep thinking about it long after you’re done.
It’s also a gorgeous and often breathtaking game, thanks to the phenomenal vistas, fantastic architecture, impressive lighting and of course beautiful character and creature design, especially the highly detailed, occasionally realistic and extremely expressive Trico. The animation is also superb, though some awkward transitions occur when moving between actions. The soundtrack is also exceptional, switching appropriately between moving, epic instrumentals to tense music when there is combat, perfectly complementing each and every incredible moment in the game.
The gameplay is great, but it also feels a bit outdated due to the overly complex control scheme with a button for each action and occasionally clunky mechanics. As the boy, you must jump, pull levers, climb and navigate the treacherous environment, while also calling Trico and ordering it around to complete puzzles, like reaching higher platforms, jumping across large, perilous pits and gaps, pulling heavy chains and fending off dangerous enemies. Trico plays similarly to Ico’s Yorda, with the beast being mostly helpless and waiting for players’ commands to actually solve puzzles on their own, and also has some Shadow of the Colossus thrown into the mix, as players must often climb the creature in order to reach higher platforms or cause it to jump across chasms. Players also have to search for mysterious barrels in order to feed the beast when it’s hungry – which requires players to explore the environment and solve some unique puzzles alone, get rid of obstacles that keep a frightened Trico at bay, as well as face off against statues that pursue the boy and capture him and can only be defeated by the large companion. Additionally, players also get to use a mirror shield that allows players to control a lighting blast from Trico’s tail to demolish obstacles and enemies, and unlock unique switches.
The controls work well once you get used to them, but they can get a bit confusing from time to time, and can lead to some accidental deaths as players jump around and miss ledges, or tumble off of Trico in funny ways. Still, the variety of puzzles and situations you have to solve or deal with are great and often challenging, and they feel quite organic, with common and realistic solutions. They make for compelling and often exciting gameplay challenges that pop up as you explore and discover the unique setting.
Despite the sheer beauty and emotional depth found within in the game however, the game has plenty of faults, and many can be quite aggravating.
First of all would be Trico’s A.I., which at times is charming and responsive to the boy’s commands, but at other times the loveable beast is frustratingly ignorant and does the exact opposite of what you want. I understand the Ueda and team were aiming for an animal companion who thinks for itself and often ignores the pleas of others like pets do in real life, but issuing commands sometimes got so annoying, repetitive and time consuming that it almost made me want to quit sometimes.
The other issue would be the climbing mechanics, particularly on Trico itself. You’d expect that the mechanics would be refined due to the developer’s fantastic climbing gameplay in Shadow of the Colossus, but it’s pretty poor here, as getting around Trico can often be a hassle, especially due to the beast moving about or terrible camera angles that lead to players struggling often to get to its head or the occasional embedded spears. It’s pretty bad, and I often lost time just climbing the thing. Getting off is even a bigger hassle, as the boy will often drop off of the beast only to grab on again automatically, leading to some weird animations and tons of fumbling with the controls.
Speaking of camera angles, the game also has an issue with them, often getting players into weird angles due to the tight, constrained nature of the corridors and cliffs players will traverse through with Trico in tow. This can often lead to missed jumps, pointing Trico to the wrong direction, being captured by enemies and more. It’s frustrating how a beautiful game can get so ugly due to a faulty camera.
Then there’s framerate issues every so often, causing the game to skip or slowdown from time to time while playing. It didn’t happen too often in my playthrough, but it’s there and it’s pretty noticeable.
Despite these various issues, The Last Guardian has so much heart and emotion that I found myself pushing through these issues to see what happens next, and occasionally even forgot about them because it’s such an engrossing experience. I’m sure many will do the same because it’s an enthralling game, and while it’s ultimately flawed, it’s still a unique and beautiful title that will be talked about and remembered for quite some time. Everyone owes it to themselves to try it out.
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