Beautiful 'The Last Guardian' creates emotional bond to boy, Trico
It has been a long wait, but “The Final Guardian” arrived after many expectations and longings. While the gameplay has some shaky moments, the wonderful story between a boy and a bird/dog/animal thing are intense and meaningful.
The adventure plays out as a flashback, with the player controlling a boy who wakes up in a ruined world and is just trying to get home. He immediately meets up with Trico, a large dog-like creature with a beak, very small wings, claws instead of feet, and feathers instead of fur.
The tale unfolds as the unlikely duo work together to find ways out of their predicaments and achieving their goals. The landscape is a maze of buildings filled with rubble, damaged columns, and mystical enemies bent on keeping the boy in this dream-like world.
Trico has a mind of his own. He gets hungry. He gets injured. He gets curious. He gets angry.
It is this unpredictability that slows the game in places when the duo need to work together, but Trico is busy scratching off some feathers. Barrels containing a glowing material are food for Trico and can help in keeping him healthy and directing his attention to specific areas. Petting Trico also calms him down and makes him focus on the tasks at hand.
There was a point in the game where the bond between boy and creature developed enough for me to attempt rudimentary directions to Trico. But those seemed to be haphazard sometimes as Trico didn’t understand specifically what I want done or was unwilling to do so.
However, that bond becomes something special as the story evolves. While the game uses a foreign language for the narrative, subtitles describe how the boy goes from fearing Trico in the beginning to caring deeply about how the creature feels.
The sense of growth continues with how Trico looks as the game progresses. Wounded and weak at the start, he gets healthier as the adventure continues, filling out his feathers and regrowing horns atop his head.
It is a subtle move, but it shows progression in a physical sense for the characters. The game is filled with tiny reminders of how dangerous, but also how beautiful, the world is for the two and how they are changed by it.
Emotionally, the more the boy and Trico work together, the greater their understanding becomes when it is time to complete tasks. It isn’t a perfect symbiosis and will require patience for players, much like when training a real-life pet.
There are bursts of activity when enemies arrive on the scene, but for the most part, the game is a leisurely jaunt through the world, taking the time to solve puzzles and soaking in the surrounding landscape.
Some of those puzzles require moving something or climbing to another area to find a level. Obvious puzzles were just as difficult to solve as the more sneaky ones. There were several moments where I had no ideas how to progress, and my solutions were found only by trial and error. A few puzzles were solved after the narrator indicated a successful solution before I had achieved it.
There are definitely problems with the gameplay. A wonky camera control left me in the dark many times or didn’t allow for a cramped environment to show me what’s around. Sometimes, I was forced to take actions on blind faith, not knowing what was around me.
While climbing on Trico helps in achieving many solutions, there were times when I would inexplicably get pointed in the wrong direction while navigating my way through his feathers. If Trico decided to shake about, whether flinging off feathers or in a fit of rage, I would have no idea how to move to get to a point where I could calm him down.
For a game that has been teasing fans since 2007 and takes on historical connections to “Ico” and “Shadow of Colossus,” two games that were well received for their look and emotional qualities, “The Last Guardian” is a worthy addition. Director and designer Fumito Ueda has a unique talent for games that draw in players emotionally, getting them invested in the characters and their ultimate fates.
The value of the game is that connection between player, boy and Trico. In that effort, the game shines.
I felt joy when a puzzle was completed because Trico actually did something I wanted him to do. I felt companionship when Trico was protecting me. I felt responsibility when I fed Trico and he perked up, ready to continue on our journey. I felt frustration when I couldn’t continue because Trico had his own agenda.
The gameplay issues did draw me out of my immersion, but they were never enough to make me quit the game. That represents how strong the story and characters were and how much they mattered.
Enjoy the journey. Get to know Trico. Embrace the adventure together. It is worth the experience.
Note: I kept specifics of the journey out of this piece. I wanted people to experience the surprises as I did.
“The Last Guardian” is available exclusively on the PlayStation 4 now in North America and Japan, will be available in Australia on Dec. 7 and in Europe on Dec. 9. The game is rated T for Teens due to blood and fantasy violence. This post was done using a provided physical copy for the PS4.