The Last Guardian is an emotional journey illustrating the potential of games as a mature art form.
This review does not contain any major spoilers about the game.
The Last Guardian is an action-adventure puzzle video game directed by Fumito Ueda, and it is a spiritual successor to his earlier titles Ico (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005). Development for the game started as early as 2007, the first trailer came out in 2009 and, only after having suffered from several production delays, the game was finally released in December 2016 for the PlayStation 4.
The game follows the adventure of a boy protagonist and a legendary gryphon-like creature Trico who find themselves trapped inside a giant castle. The sophisticated audiovisual atmosphere immerses the player in a stunningly beautiful game environment. The story is told both through engaging gameplay and occasional in-game cutscenes, gradually shedding light to the background of the characters over the course of around 10 to 20 hours of playing content.
The graphics, the gameplay, the world and the story, however, are ultimately just tools for exploring the most essential element of The Last Guardian: the player’s interdependent and complex relationship with Trico. Meaningful gameplay actions such as feeding Trico, tending to her wounds, mounting her, calling for her and petting her all contribute to establishing a mutual bond between the two characters.
The game isn’t flawless of course, even with nearly a decade of development time. The third-person camera behavior is sometimes unintuitive and buggy, making movement harder than it needs to be. This is further amplified when aiming jumps, when Trico obstructs the camera view, or when the boy is climbing Trico whilst she’s moving in tight corridors. A couple of awkward puzzles, retrying agility jumps and occasional bugginess along the way can break the game’s immersion, and I needed to check some things online to make sure my game hadn’t ended up in a dead end state.
The game’s overarching storyline is pretty much on-rails. This is surely justifiable in relation to both story and game mechanics, but it also means that, as it’s not always possible to backtrack, you have to keep a keen eye out for secret areas and extras if you don’t want to miss anything. As expected, trophy completionists still need to play the story through more than once.
Trico’s unpredictable nature certainly divides opinions, and I personally consider it a courageous move. While a meandering animal does affect the pacing of the game and can lead to temporary frustration, those negative emotions are part of the intended game experience. Make no mistake: this is art, not mere entertainment.
(For more, be sure to check out Mark Brown’s brilliant analysis.)
Title: The Last Guardian
Developer: SIE Japan Studio & genDESIGN
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: Home console (PlayStation 4)
Released: December 2016
Genres: Action, adventure, puzzle, 3D platformer
Age Rating: PEGI 12