Review by kingdom_liberty

Reviewed: 01/23/17

Mythical, Magical, Masterpiece

Few games these days have what it takes to stay in the minds or hearts of gamers for any longer than it takes to initially complete them. Even fewer have what it takes to illicit so many different emotions--joy and elation, sadness and melancholy- with so little.

Of course there are Mario and Zelda, and a handful of other Nintendo mainstays that have years and years of nostalgia and industry importance on their side. But what about the underdogs--those developers who don't have a storied past or anything of the like behind them to help propel them into the upper echelon of a video game Mount Olympus?

Enter Team Ico, an off-shoot of Sony's Japan Studio. Their design philosophy is minimalist--to strip away all the unnecessary trimmings and trappings, and allow the player a simple,raw, emotionally-investing experience. The result of this philosophy can be found in their first two PlayStation 2 offerings: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both of these have, in the years since their release, attained a cult-like sleeper-hit status, and fueled the "video games as art" debate.

So it came as no surprise when, upon announcing the third game, The Last Guardian, at E3 2009, hype meters everywhere went off the charts. However, the curiosity and mystique behind the game would not be satiated until seven years later, near the end of 2016. In that time, the game has achieved an almost mythical status, the likes of which can be compared only to Final Fantasy XV. But after all this time and all the hype surrounding it, can it possibly live up to its colossal expectations?

The answer is, unequivocally, yes.

Following in the minimalist footsteps of its predecessors, The Last Guardian should be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Team Ico's first two games. Placing players right in the middle of mysterious ancient ruins, a young boy finds himself an unlikely companion. Together, the two must work to overcome the enemies, obstacles, and challenges the crumbling architecture uses to thwart their progress, and achieve their freedom from the gargantuan prison.

The controls will also be familiar to anyone who has previously played either game -with face buttons being mapped to the corresponding directions (triangle to jump, X to duck, etc.). As many gamers might not be used to that kind of layout, it can take a while to get used to it.

Many pre-release articles mentioned, in addition to troublesome controls, a few other issues, such as bad camera control, bad AI in Trico, and so much slow down in outside areas on regular PS4 that, upon reading, made the game seem nearly unplayable.

However, in my own personal experience, I found none of those issues, outside of the wonky camera and a couple instances of slow down near the end. But nothing to the degree that the aforementioned articles were talking it up.

For instance, Trico is presented as an actual, wild animal, and not an AI partner. This means that he can (and will) get distracted or scared by various things in the environment, and won't always do everything you want him to do the first time. You have to train him, just as you would any real-life animal.

Yes, the camera has its issues. I will admit to that, and I struggled more than once with it throughout my time with the game. But it never got so bad that it affected my enjoyment of the game.

Slow down, as mentioned above, can happen, but again, not to the degree that many articles before release were saying. I'd go to many outside areas and wonder where all the problems were that they had mentioned, because I hadn't experienced them.

Now that the few negatives are out of the way, let's talk positives:

1. The environment surrounding you is gorgeous. On the inside, dimly-lit corridors and the overall emptiness of the ruins gives off the eerie feeling that the place has been around for hundreds and maybe even thousands of years, and is hiding more than it lets on. On the outside, sunshine on the grass, the sound of the wind blowing around you, and being able to look up and see the sky gives you a taste of freedom that, for so long, seems unattainable.

2. Sound is important. Not in the way that it provides clues or anything like that, but it is still an integral part of the game nonetheless. Trico's giant footsteps have a thudding power behind them, while your own bare feet pitter-patter stumble clumsily in front or behind him.

Music is sparse, used only when needed, and serves to accentuate the most pivotal moments, running the gamut from sweeping, epic and emotional to sad, lonely, intense and foreboding.

3. Trico. I don't think I've ever felt closer to an AI companion than I have to Trico. The realism with which he's animated as he chases butterflies playfully outside or stretches when he's tired or hisses when he's scared--all of it and more adds up to form the most realistic mythical creature I have ever seen personally in a video game. As mentioned before, Trico is also important when it comes to traversing the environment, and many times you'll have to work together to progress through the ruins. He's also important, however, when it comes to defeating enemies, as he is your only real means of doing any sort of damage to the mysterious suits of armor that litter some rooms in the ruins (aside from one specific helmet-pull that I could never figure out).

Trico can also be hurt, so you'll have to help him out too when the time comes. And if you get stuck and left wondering where to go or what to do next, more often than not, Trico can (and does) help point you in the right direction.

Even now, having finished the game, he lingers in my mind, and I'll catch myself thinking about him from time to time.

In closing, The Last Guardian is, despite the few flaws, a magical experience. It is an unforgettable journey with a giant friend that, by the end of it all, you'll be wishing was real, and one who will stay with you long after it's all over.

It is, in my mind, a masterpiece, and one worthy of the mythical legacy that preceded it, and one you owe to yourself to experience on your own.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: The Last Guardian (Collector's Edition) (US, 12/06/16)

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