In 2016, the impossible was made possible. An outsider political candidate won an election with all odds stacked against him. The Doom reboot actually ended up being pretty awesome. The long awaited Final Fantasy XV (and ended up being pretty good) actually came out and so did The Last Guardian, just in the nick of time after being announced for the PS3 many years ago and suffering a troubled development. So did The Last Guardian turn out to be good? Let’s find out.
Coming from gen Design and Sony’s Japan Studio, The Last Guardian comes as the successor to Fumito Ueda’s PS2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, which I played and deeply enjoyed a few years back playing on the remastered editions for the PS3. This game is a mixture of both titles to some extent, although leaning heavily towards Ico.
The game starts out with you, a nameless boy finding himself with strange markings and inside a cavern with a chained beast named Trico, who looks like a mixture of a dog and a cat. With Trico laden with spears, the boy decides to remove them and unchain the beast, which begins a growing friendship between the two as they navigate these massive ancient ruins. So the premise is simple: the boy and the beast work together to escape this seemingly insurmountable prison. The story is very simple, but wonderfully presented with minimal dialogue of the sort of fictional but vaguely Japanese sounding language found in this game’s predecessors. It also features narration from the boy grown up and the overall presentation of the story is simple and manages to be very touching, working in tandem with the core mechanics and design of the game.
Most of what you will be doing throughout the game is solving platforming puzzles and other rather simple spatial puzzles sometimes by yourself and sometimes with the aid of Trico. This game does not hold your hand nor do you hold its. There’s no HUD (except for the occasional pop up early on reminding you of the controls in certain contexts) and hints are rare and occasionally a little bit opaque. Instead of holding Yorda’s hand and taking her to where you need to go, here you command Trico with R1 and pointing in a direction. You can also pet him, which gives him the extra go ahead. However, like any untrained animal, Trico will at times fail to heed your commands and just kind of stare at you confused. This helps sell the idea that Trico is an independent creature, but it can also lead to frustration in the course of playing the game. That said, Trico does get better, especially later in the game at knowing what to do in certain circumstances. He also does follow your commands most of the time but he doesn’t always do so instantly. I would say that this is all worth it for it is part of the emotional connection forged with the beast, but whether or not it will be worth it for you will depend on your patience for this sort of thing.
The way Trico looks is also absolutely incredible, the way the light shines through his many feathers and the purple like hues of his furry ears. The way he moves, the way his body gets soaked and many other little details are incredible to behold. Trico, whilst clearly a fictional creature, looks and behaves like something that could or could have at one time or another actually existed; as if the developers of the game had privileged access to a hitherto secret creature and observed it with many sharp eyes.
As for combat, well, there isn’t any. Sometimes you have a shield that you can aim and a lightning type bolt will explode and take out wooden platforms and such (this is of course also used in puzzle solving). Additionally, there are enemies that look kind of like teracotta samurai which function similarly to the shades that try to drag Yorda down to darkness in Ico. You can’t fight them, but you can wriggle free of their clutches and you can shove them. To take them out, you need Trico to be there and he tends to tends to go wild and really smash these animated suits of armour.
Visually, you wouldn’t think this game originated as a PS3 title. Whilst the textures aren’t always the highest res and the environments might seem repetitive looking to some, through excellent animation, cohesive and highly appealing art direction, combined with the incredible lighting and use of colour, the game manages to very frequently look quite stunning.
With all this praise, I must address the elephants in the room for this game because while I did enjoy the overall experience, these are technical issues I cannot ignore. First is the controls. Whilst the control scheme is fine, the controls were often quite fiddly, especially when climbing on and off Trico (which you will do a lot of) and dropping down didn’t always work the way I expected. There is also, even after patch 1.03, some very noticeable input latency on the camera.
The camera can also be a hassle. Sometimes you have to wrestle with it, especially in certain corners and it can spaz out and become quite the annoyance, especially combined with the input latency.
Perhaps the biggest technical issue with the game is the frame rate. The Last Guardian targets 30 fps and while it’s around there most of the time, the frame rate drops can be quite severe. One section, which was a collapsing bridge, the frame rate dropped tremendously. Even in less strenuous circumstances it could drop rather noticeably. This isn’t some minor 1 or 2 fps drops here and there. While not constant, these drops to levels that are Blighttown in Dark Souls level of slideshow or even more comparably, the 15 fps average during battles on the PS2 version of Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a very serious problem that might definitely be a deal breaker to some. It got so bad that at one point my eyes were feeling strained and I had to put stop playing that session.
After a long wait, The Last Guardian turned out to be a very simple game with wonderful visuals and storytelling that can be frustrating at times.For anyone who has enjoyed Ico or Shadow of the Colossus or both in the past, this is a must play and the type of game that rarely comes out from major publishers these days. It’s just a shame that it has serious technical issues that diminish it’s excellence.