Team Ico, most known for the cult classics Ico (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005), began development on The Last Guardian back in 2007 where it was announced as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Due to design, hardware difficulties and numerous delays the game was re-announced in 2012 for the PlayStation 4, where it would utilize the more advanced hardware capabilities of the PS4 to run more smoothly and give a better look and feel to the whole experience.
The Last Guardian is an action-adventure game where the player controls a young boy who wakes up in a cave with strange tattoos on his body and no recollection of how he got there. The boy finds and befriends a giant part-bird part-dog mythical creature named Trico who is injured and needs the boy’s help to regain his strength. The two work together to reach remote places and escape the land in which they are trapped.
At it’s heart The Last Guardian plays like a simple platform adventure game. Controlling the player is [mostly] simple, where you navigate indoor dungeons and outdoor canyons jumping from one platform to another. The character’s movement is quite realistic where if you climb ledges it looks like the character is actually interacting with his environment, and not just doing some scripted animation. Neat. The game features little to no tutorial scenes, with the only help given being some on screen prompts to controls when first needing them to complete a puzzle or move on to a new area. The player has no health bar, inventory or any GUI at all, which ads to the theatrical feel of the game. Puzzles are presented in the form of levers, gates and obstacles which sometimes require the help of your trusty companion Trico to complete.
At times barrels are collected to feed Trico to help him gain strength and further aid you on your journey home. Trico is controlled through audible commands by the press of a button. This sounds great but it’s also where the game absolutely falls apart. This function almost never works the first time. “Come here Trico”, “Go there Trico”, “JUST DIE ALREADY!” The words I must have screamed at my TV at least a couple dozen times and led to frustration levels way over 9000.
Trico is quite possibly the most annoying [but lovable] character I’ve ever witnessed in a video game. That’s to say I wanted to love him, his back story is intriguing and his hybrid animal nature reminds me of something out of a story book, he has great mannerisms and I feel that he adds a massive amount of depth to the game. For once you don’t play as someone who wields power almighty, you’re just a kid and you need the help of Trico to defeat your enemies and finish the game, it’s an amazing thing at that, it just hardly ever works and makes you sit confused for at least half of the game. Trico will at times follow your instructions but at other times he will just sit doing nothing, and I can’t seem to understand why this happens in the game. Sure you could argue that he’s part dog and dogs don’t always listen to their owners, but this is an adventure game not The Last Tamagotchi.
Aside from the frustration, the dynamic between the boy and Trico is a unique concept that I hope to see employed in more games in the future.
The art direction is beautiful and immediately stands out when first playing the game. Indoor and outdoor areas have an ancient Aztec feel to them which shrouds the game in magic and mystery. A slight issue I had was that outdoor scenes seemed way too over saturated and more detailed than indoor scenes. The outdoor scenes also suffer from extremely low framerates. Framerates that have been reported to have dropped to as low as 8 fps on the Base and Slim PS4 models, possibly showing that we’re reaching the end of the current gen’s dated hardware. Fortunately however, Sony’s newest console (PS4 Pro) is unaffected by these issues. All other aspects of the game, from Trico to the environment itself, feel polished but slightly dated, and that’s to be expected from assets being used after nearly a decade of development.
The saving grace of The Last Guardian is it’s beautifully composed and well implemented soundtrack. Written, orchestrated, conducted, and co-produced by Takeshi Furukawa, the soundtrack moves you through this fantastical tale from beginning to end, building up emotion and placing you right in the heart of the story. I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed listening to it so go here to have a listen for yourself.
As for character voicing and sound, they’ve done a superb job with Trico, making him sound like an actual mythical creature brought to life. As for the boy however, they added a made up language for his handful of commands he calls out to Trico – not exactly what you want on your protagonist but it somehow works out to be quite OK.
The Last Guardian’s launch might not have gone as smoothly as possible, with framerate and gameplay issues affecting the overall experience, but most of these can be overcome with purchasing updated hardware, installing future patches and hopefully a bit of patience. The Last Guardian features an excellent soundtrack and story with a unique take on the Action-Adventure Genre. It’s a decent game but whether or not it will stand up to the test of time is only a mystery.
The Last Guardian was reviewed on a PS4 Slim (CUH-2000). A retail copy was provided by the publisher.
EDIT: As of patch 1.03 most of the graphical stability issues have been resolved, but controls are still janky and intermittent.