Review by LoveMyMeow

Reviewed: 12/14/16

A visionary experience with a few technical issues.

The Last Guardian has been in development for nearly nine years by the acclaimed director Fumito Ueda. Originally called Project ICO, fans of the influential ICO and Shadow of the Colossus were awestruck by its showcase at E3 2009 for the Ps3. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated game was repeatedly delayed, and many falsely assumed it was canceled due to reports of difficulties Fumito Ueda had with Sony. However, in 2015 The Last Guardian was reintroduced with its development team changed from Team Ico to genDESIGN whilst Fumito Ueda remained actively involved. Was it worth the wait? Does it live up to the high expectations?

The Last Guardian begins with a male child, whom the player controls, waking up next to an injured large, quadrupedal creature called “Trico”, whose design has remained consistent since 2009: she possesses a head reminiscent of an aardwolf with a body covered in feathers and talons plus wings. Without spoiling significant plot details, the child feeds Trico barrels in order to help her recover, signifying a new friendship.

Thus begins a collaboration to leave a desolate valley populated by numerous high towers. Like ICO, the architecture of the buildings have a strong Mayan, Aztec, and Incan flair.

Throughout your journey, you will forge a strong bond with Trico as she assists you in solving puzzles. From grabbing her tail in crucial moments mid-air to clenching her back as she leaps from spire to spire to magnificent heights, Trico is an indispensable ally and friend. You give Trico commands, either on-top or off of her, with R1 while moving the left analog stick and camera in the direction you want her to move. Ninety-five percent of the time your furry companion’s AI works very well, and it is evident Team ICO spent a lot of time designing Trico. Her facial expressions and fluttering feathers in the wind also possess great attention to detail, hence the use of handcrafted keyframe animations over motion capture techniques yielding more realism and fluidity. For example, Trico’s hairs ruffle against the interiors in a realistic manner, and likewise, when the main character stands near railings or walls, he will lean against them in unique ways. Many subtle details such as these help enrich the experience. Moreover, as you tend to Trico’s needs, such as frequently petting and immediately removing spears, she will start to behave differently, exhibiting affection by bringing her head down to nuzzle and more amicable actions. During my playthrough, I genuinely came to develop a kinship with Trico, taking note of her cat-like behavior and dog-like whines. I found the way she moved her ears or dilated her eyes during frightful or affectionate moments very life-like and reminiscent of cats, and I could tell the development team put a lot of care and effort into her animations. The game will likewise make you cherish your own fur babies more.

The gameplay resembles a fusion of ICO’s puzzle-solving while utilizing Trico: there are infrequent moments when you will need to climb and jump across obstacles alone, pull levers, and open gates for Trico to enter, but ultimately, it is Trico who assists you in overcoming the most difficult hurdles, from reaching high areas to diving into beautifully rendered water. I found the inversion of ICO’s theme interesting: rather than ICO’s main character being the one to help the girl escape, in The Last Guardian it is a majestic creature that helps you escape. One of my favorite puzzles involved walking through an opening of a gate alone and reaching a platform above Trico. You call for her attention, and after noticing you above, she leaps up to the platform near you. Then you jump onto her back, hold her feathers tightly, as she jumps onto an even higher elevation. There are many interesting puzzles in the game such as this, and they work to deepen the bond with Trico.

The story seems allegorical, much like Shadow of the Colossus. Without spoiling much, I will say it resembles Nahoko Uehashi’s Kemono no Souja Erin, which is popular in Japan. The Last Guardian hints that using creatures for war or greedy purposes is destructive and typically backfires, and we should respect the natural differences of various species. It possesses a minimalist and elegant narrative, much like Tarkovsky’s film, and I feel this enhances the impact during emotional moments. Moreover, there are circumstances when you find yourself in silent and pleasant alcoves, replete with beautiful greenery, where Trico executes scripted behaviors, and it’s very calming to interact with her during such serene key moments. I enjoyed snapping photos of the horizon during such occurrences. Furthermore, there are many thrilling moments interspersed within your journey, such as Trico warding off magical armored enemies.

However, the game has a few technical issues. On the original Ps4 there are copious frame rate drops between fifteen to twenty-five frames per second whereas the Ps4 Pro provides a consistent frame rate of thirty frames per second. Granted, the biggest ordeal the majority of people undergo is the camera. It can be difficult to use. Sometimes the camera becomes very jerky in tight spots, having issues wrapping around Trico, or it swerves uncontrollably during battles. A new patch is needed to refine the camera, but I was able to bear with it by increasing camera sensitivity in the options and frequently holding L1 to refocus on Trico. Regardless, you will have moments when the camera will become a hassle. If it weren’t for the camera issues, I would give the game a five out of five.

One small peeve: I do not understand why there are large button prompts for basic actions, such as climbing, throughout the entire game. These button prompts are inconsistent, but they do appear frequently. This blemish did not personally break immersion for me, but it would make sense if they gave an option to turn it off. Ironically, I felt the button prompts did not do a good job in giving information on how to command Trico with button presses (e.g., R1 + triangle, circle, square, or x give Trico special commands that the game never clarified well), so quickly perusing the digital manual may help. In short, adding a new patch that fixes the frame rate, camera, and button prompts would enhance the experience much more. Since I played on Ps4 Pro, I am mainly considering the camera the biggest fault, especially during fights.

Some people claim Trico’s AI gives occasional hiccups, but during my entire playthrough of approximately thirteen hours, there was only one instance where I had issues directing Trico to continue onto the next task. She remained abnormally idle and unresponsive until I ran out of the area and back. Given the large repertoire of Trico’s behavior and the liveliness of her movements within the diverse terrain, this was only a slight annoyance, and it was most certainly not commonplace. Generally, Trico felt alive and responsive to environmental dynamics. I surmise most people mistaken Trico’s occasional rambunctious behavior as constituting bad AI.

I felt the movement of both the main character and Trico were organic and rarely had issues with it. I did find climbing around Trico’s underside up to her head and controlling the boy to jump from ledge to ledge seldom difficult, but it is relatively easy to reacclimate. Many people claim there is also input lag much like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus(i.e, press a button and there is some delay in the main character’s response). I did take notice of this, but unlike its predecessors, when you die, you start over very close to the area of death. I died a couple of times from poorly timed jumps, largely due to the noticeable input lag, but given the forgiving nature of the game, it did not peeve me. I would advise approaching this game with patience and repose; let the experience soak in and take your time.

Overall, The Last Guardian lives up to the visionary quality of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. The camera, while being frequently aggravating, did not detract from the game as a whole but did hamper the ease of play occasionally. In conclusion, I believe it is worth the price.

In short, here is how I would summarize the experience:

Pros:
- An immersive world where you form a deep bond with a majestic creature.
- A lively creature with incredible AI that scarcely hiccups, if ever. Can’t help but form a bond!
- Many creative puzzles.
- Beautiful scenery.
- A memorable and allegorical story that is unpretentious in its minimalist tone.

Cons:
- A jerky camera in many spots. (main criticism)
- Terrible frame rate on original Ps4. Not an issue for Ps4 pro.
- Obtrusive button prompts.
- Input lag much like its predecessors. Did not personally bother me because you start near the areas you die from poorly timed jumps.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: The Last Guardian (US, 12/06/16)

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