The Last Guardian. Team Ico, creators of the now classic Playstation titles Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus, began development of this game back in 2007 with visionary director Fumito Ueda wanting to create an emotional fairy tale built upon the relationship between a boy and a fantastical creature.
During this period of development a lot has happened in the world of video games. There’s been a significant rise in Indie games, graphical capabilities have continued to improve, and we’ve jumped an entire console generation in the space between this studio releasing titles. Very little had been discussed during this period of development, the occasional announcement confirming that the project was still very much alive, and it was this lack of detail over the years coupled with the studio’s meticulous attention to detail in their games that really put the hype train into full effect. And now the game is finally here, a game I’ve certainly been waiting years for, here to be experienced and explored. The question is, has this game delivered, or has the incessant stampede of the hype train damaged this game irreparably?
The game opens with a narration told in the language unique to the games of Team Ico, something players of their previous games will no doubt appreciate. It is during this opening scene that we first encounter the boy and Trico, the griffin-like creature, both of whom are imprisoned deep within the bowels of a ruined kingdom. We don’t know at this stage how both characters came to be here, but over the course of the game we learn more about these characters and the strange location that they both must escape by working together.
As a fan of the studio’s previous two games I was very happy to see The Last Guardian fit so well into the world of these games. Much like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian takes players into a unique fantasy world that only Team Ico seem to be able to create, presenting players with gorgeous architecture of archaic ruins that have a strong sense of history to them. This is one of the studio’s many strong suits, giving players mysteries and detail in the minutiae and a sense of history that adds to the overall realism of the world and makes it an all the more beautiful experience. Ueda employs his “design by subtraction” approach to game direction, creating a game that somehow manages to simultaneously be minimalist whilst also telling what feels like a grand adventure of a story. This is something I felt worked in the games favour on a story level and also on a musical level, with the occasional use of music heightened the emotional power of the more hard hitting scenes.
Studying this world is also integral when puzzle solving in this game, as you must learn through exploration the best way to escape from every given situation. The puzzles in this game were enjoyable and just the right level of difficulty, so that I would need to think hard and carefully about how to progress, while not feeling frustration over puzzles that could potentially take your mind out of the game and affect the overall pace of the game, which is also very strong.
Unfortunately though, this game isn’t without its flaws. The operation of the camera in this game was at times distracting, and this is particularly felt in the claustrophobic and confined spaces of the dungeons you must explore when the camera would at times go through walls or stutter frantically. Although this was an issue that I feel is something that in 7 years of development should have been better dealt with, it wasn’t something that spoiled my overall enjoyment of the game. In fact, I can honestly say that I absolutely adored this game, despite its flaws.
As mentioned previously the attention to detail in the world design and the puzzles is of a great quality and really adds character and believability to the world. What truly is the triumph of this game however is the relationship that is forged between the boy and Trico. Ueda and the talented people at Team Ico have created an emotionally resonant work in telling the story of these two characters, bringing them both to life and making us the player care for them and ultimately fear for their safety in times of danger. There were many moments through the game where I was very much an emotional wreck and completely transfixed on the screen praying that they would survive each crisis they found themselves in. It should be applauded that a relationship between two characters who cannot speak the same tongue and are not even the same species can be so gripping and emotionally exhilarating, the bond between the two is beyond words and what better way to display this than by having no common form of language, save for the few commands the player can tell Trico.
The relationship between the two characters is not only something that is the emotional driving force of the game, but also something that creates an interesting dynamic in terms of the gameplay. You are faced with strange enemies in this game, who you as a young boy are mostly powerless to defeat. Your only hope in destroying them is allowing Trico to fight them. I found this very interesting from a player perspective, as it is typical in gaming for the protagonist to be the protector and the fighter, in fact this is a dynamic that is also found in both Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus. But by allowing players to be the vulnerable character of the two allows for a unique way of playing and understanding the characters. On a technical level I also found Trico to be a wonderful achievement in gaming. There were times in which I did find the lack of immediacy in Trico’s actions to be frustrating, and in fact found a couple of occasions in which Trico did the opposite of what I have requested. I feel part of this was at times technical issue, however much of this I found was more to ground the creature in realism by not responding with precision like some A.I, but as an independent creature with a mind of its own, and there was never a moment in this game where I thought of Trico as anything other than real.
Overall I can look past some of this game’s flaws and just be enchanted by its heart, artistic brilliance and wonderful design both visually and in sound. Reaching the end of the game left me feeling incredibly emotional and brimming with love for the characters that I had spent 14 hours with. This powerful feeling is something I unfortunately do not feel often enough in video games, but I can recognise straight away that when this feeling hits I’ve just played a game that I will have in my thoughts for a long time to come. I can only hope that when Team Ico eventually commence work on their next game it’ll be sooner than 11 years to wait, but for now this game is more than enough to occupy my thoughts.
By James Burch