Duke Nukem Forever. Final Fantasy XV. The Last Guardian. We live in a world where all three of these games, once thought to be myths, actually exist. I’ve played DNF (which was awful), I’m going to play FF XV soon, and I finished The Last Guardian a few days ago. I didn’t play Team Ico’s two previous games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, but I just had to see what a game originally shown of in 2009 turned into. The final product is an emotional journey of a boy and his companion creature that suffers from some technical mishaps and imperfect mechanics.
- TL;DR: An odd tale of a boy helping a flying dog solve puzzles while exploring ruins.
- Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
- Hours Played: 11:15
- What I Played: Finished the game
The opening moments of The Last Guardian don’t do much in the way of explaining things. Hell, none of the game really does. A young boy wakes up in a cave and sees the formidable Trico near him, chained and weak. After a few minutes of jumping, climbing, and getting to know each other, Trico and the boy set off on their journey through the ruins of a valley.
You may control the small tattooed boy in The Last Guardian, but the true star of the show is Trico. Trico is some sort of mythical creature with a dog’s head, blue horns, feathers, wings, and a long tail. One of the strangest things in The Last Guardian is how different the boy and Trico look from each other technically. Trico is rendered in detail with each feather reacting to gusts of wind separately while the boy has an odd anime feel and a sort of glow to him. It almost looks like the boy doesn’t quite belong in the world that he’s in.
He may not look like he fits in, but Trico forms a deep bond with the boy and, by extension, you almost immediately. It’s similar to the relationship between Jack and BT in Titanfall 2 and the gameplay evokes that same feeling of playing a cooperative game while controlling both characters at once. If there’s a ledge the boy can’t quite reach, he can climb up Trico’s back. The boy can also hop on Trico while he jumps across large gaps or over high walls. Since Trico is so big, it’s usually up to the boy to crawl through tight spaces and around the back of locked doors to let the beast through.
Trico feels so incredibly alive for a winged, horned beast that you never get to directly control. He’s like a loyal dog: he’ll come over to you when called, he’ll sniff around and scratch his ears, and his ears perk up when he hears something. Trico will settle back on his hind legs before making a jump and cautiously walk down newly opened paths, sometimes cocking his head to the side in wonder. He’ll even do the downward facing dog pose to stretch out. Pro tip: for maximum cuteness, throw the nondescript barrels of food that Trico needs to refuel with at him. He will snatch them out of the air and it’s pretty fantastic.
After a few hours of play, you’ll be able to issue commands to Trico telling him to jump, sit, and where to walk. It’s then that Trico becomes the most like a pet because he doesn’t always listen to you, leading to you repeating the same command over and over or walking Trico away in an effort to refocus him. It’s frustrating at times to watch the beast look up at the ledge you want him to jump to only to have him turn his attention to something on the ground 100 feet away, but it’s more good than bad. I even found myself saying things like “c’mon buddy” and “there we go!” when Trico eventually did listen.
The relationship between the boy and Trico is by far the best part of The Last Guardian. The few things the boy says are in a made up language and Trico can’t speak, but there’s a real connection there. I spoke out loud to Trico more times than I can count calling him a good boy or telling him I was on my way. I would visibly worry when Trico was in danger and rushed to his aid when he was injured. I didn’t realize how emotionally attached I became to both the boy and Trico until about 75% through the game. I won’t spoil the event here, but I had to get up and take a small break after what happened.
There isn’t much in the line of combat in The Last Guardian. The GIF above of the boy being snatched up by an enemy before Trico jumps in to save the day just about sums it up. The boy can’t do anything aside from shoving enemies and running around while Trico rages. Trico stays worked up until you calm him down by gently petting him, which is a great way to strengthen the bond between boy and beast.
Modern day comforts like a HUD, minimap, and compass are nowhere to be found in The Last Guardian. The game truly boils down to exploring the land and does a good job of giving you subtle hints on how to move forward, whether it be Trico looking up at something he can’t quite reach or light shining through cracks in a wall. It’s not explicit hand holding but also not impossible to figure out where to go. There also isn’t anything along the lines of a codex or journal to fill in the blanks of the story. Much of the story in The Last Guardian is told through a few flashbacks and cut scenes, which I don’t want to give away. While the story remains cryptic for much of the game’s duration, the larger questions will be answered.
The Last Guardian has a very neutral look to it with heavy doses of browns and greys, the old knock against a favorite franchise of mine. There are a lot of disconnects visually between the plain and repeated stone ruins, the surprisingly detailed but rare greenery, the almost glowing boy, and the heavily detailed Trico. This is, more than anything, the sign of a game in development for the better part of a decade. The frame rate is pretyt poor as well with frequent stuttering, dipping into unplayable territories at times. The camera can be wonky as well. At one point, I was trying to climb the boy up Trico’s back in a narrow hallway and got stuck in a weird loop of the camera almost bouncing between underneath and over-the-top angles trying to find the right one. I will say that the sound effects are fantastic, though. There is hardly any background music in The Last Guardian which allows for the echoing of the boy’s voice and the pitter patter of his feet to drive home the fact that he and Trico are alone, helping you again in bonding with the creature.
The Last Guardian has heart and feeling for days but, even after nearly a decade of development, it could have used a little more polish. Technical issues like low frame rates, clashing visual styles, and camera problems can cause you to need to take a break after an hour or two of playing. If you can set those issues aside, you’ll be able to enjoy the best part of the game — the relationship between the boy and Trico. The Last Guardian, now that it has actually been released, is a game worthy of your time.