Reviews January 4, 2017
The Last Guardian
Reviewed By: Brandon Noel
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 12/06/2016
Developer: genDESIGN/SIE Japan Studio
It would be a gross understatement to say that The Last Guardian has been in development for a long time. It started out as a PS3 exclusive before landing on the PS4, nine years later. Developed by genDESIGN and SIE Japan with remnants of Team ICO, who worked on games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, the game was able to garner a decent amount of hype when it finally went gold. Now that The Last Guardian is available, the question on everyone’s mind: was it worth the wait?
The Last Guardian (TLG) begins by showing us a child playing in a village amongst friends. After passing out for reasons unknown, he wakes up to find strange markings covering his body and a giant creature named Trico chained to the floor. After some investigating the boy will notice that Trico is injured (he has multiple spears stuck in his body) and after assisting is again knocked unconscious; this time by Trico thrashing around the cave. Upon waking up for the second time it appears that Trico is thankful for the boy removing the spears and as a result a fragile bond is formed between the two. Or at least that what we are to assume based on Trico’s actions; the young boy tries desperately to flee from the creature to no avail. As Trico follows him around, he’ll help the boy on more than one occasion, proving useful in this dire situation. After a while it becomes apparent that these two characters need each other - their bond grows stronger as they embark on an unforgettable adventure.
Being a 3rd person title, TLG's controls are responsive and very easy to pick up. Left and Right sticks are used for movement and camera control while the face buttons handle crouching, jumping, tackle/throwing and petting Trico. The D-pad allows you to wield and put away a mystical mirror and R1 allows you to call out to Trico when you need help. Speaking of the mirror, it serves as one of the primary means of interacting with Trico. Wielding the mirror and reflecting light on a surface or target activates Trico's lightening ability, clearing passageways. Later you’ll get access to barrels that Trico can consume as a means of keeping him from wondering off.
Based on the controls, you can see that TLG places greater emphasis on exploration/problem solving than it does on action oriented gameplay. This creates an engrossing experience – a less is more approach – that’s unique when compared to games released nowadays. Certain areas require you to advance first and then open gates or lower bridges in order for Trico to advance. Other areas will require you to ride Trico while he jumps to places far out of your reach. Occasionally Trico will be needed to subdue the guards patrolling the environment. Regardless of what’s going on, the relationship that grows between these two characters is front and center; though they’ll work together to solve the mystery of their imprisonment, their forming bond is a key narrative thread.
What’s most interesting about this set up is Trico himself. This bird, dog thing behaves like a loyal “pet” throughout the game. It will occasionally sit down and scratch itself, howl and even give a disapproving grunt at certain points. Great consideration and care took place when designing his mannerisms; one moment he’s content and attentive and the next moment he will become irritated, dropping on the spot to fall asleep. It’s a wise choice to pet Trico and keep him fed in order to have him ready to assist you at a moment’s notice.
Graphically, TLG teeters between average and eye catching, both of which is understandable seeing as it started as a PS3 game. Certain textures obviously went through very minimal facelifts for the current port while Trico’s finer details are fairly impressive. With each individual feather on its body moving with every step and gust of wind throughout the game, Trico visually screams next-gen. Draw distances for environments are vast and eye popping, with soft colors that give the impression that the game is one long dream sequence. Not only is it surreal, it's provides quite a relaxing experience. The game can be said of the musical score, which is non-existent for most of the game. This isn’t a bad thing as the minimal approach works exceptionally well here. In fact, the absence of music produces a sense of solitude and isolation that pulls you further into the game.
The Last Guardian, at its core, is a story of a boy and his companion that provides an engrossing experience akin to titles like A Boy and His Blob (but on a much larger scale of course). It’s certainly interesting to watch let alone play through. With a strong cinematic presence, this emotional ride is something that should be experienced by anyone looking for something different.
The exploration and puzzle solving elements are entertaining. Outside of Trico presence, there isn’t much we haven’t seen before.
Convincing but not entirely next-gen. That said, photorealistic graphics aren’t a necessity here.
While it featured a light soundtrack, The Last Guardian has rich atmospheric sounds that really bring its world to life.
Replay Value: 7
Despite being an engrossing game, The Last Guardian is a one and done type of game. I can see people going back just to spend more time with Trico. Most will enjoy the initial ride while it lasts.