The Last Guardian
The conceptual thrust behind The Last Guardian had me somewhat confused when I first reviewed it. After a more complete experience it’s clear that my assumptions were right. For example, the main themes permeating both its story and gameplay are teamwork and friendship. To expertly explore those thoughts, Trico is a uniquely realised AI mechanic, which anchors the whole thing. Bringing him to life must have been a daunting prospect in an age where artificial intelligence is so widely weak. That they took to the task with such flair and determination is laudable in itself, and the end result is entirely one of a kind. I echo what I said previously about its minimalism seriously undermining it at times, but its approach and creation are admirable. Both its key themes and principle dynamic are expressed with a great amount of care and success.
This has gone up by three points from my first impressions, which is quite a leap. It may be difficult for me to convey exactly why my feelings have changed too. There’s no denying that a lot of the platforming and its base controls are awkward beyond belief. That considered, something clicked with me about half way through and I felt i’d started to understand its rhythm. When that moment comes, if indeed it does, it can quite drastically change your experience with it. It’s true that the first sections of the game are pocked by odd designs choices, but it can actually be a real joy when you’re done wrestling with how to even play the thing. It would have been nice if issuing commands to Trico could have been a little deeper but, once you get used to it, it’s actually very satisfying.
The biggest problem remains the camera, which slips around like melted butter of its own volition. It’s sometimes unforgivable just how unreasonably clunky it is. All too often, It profoundly effects the pace of some important sequences. The frustration it causes is palpable, mostly when forced to climb chains or Trico’s tail. To add to that annoyance, The Last Guardian is full of misleading red herrings. Many of its puzzles are beautifully vague, which mostly works in its favour. However, there are many times when a clearly designed path will lead you nowhere with no reward. Thanks to the game’s mysticism, this can leave you agonising over dead-ends dressed up to look like the solution. In the end, elegance and inspiration inhabits almost every solution as a consolation to these troubling mistakes.
I’ve had to give this area an extra point, as I came to the realisation that animation is important to graphics. The lifelike movements of Trico are, frankly, astonishing. He’s not alone either. Enemies in this game are just as gorgeously approached. Everything moves with a remarkable reality and weight behind it, which had me fully immersed at almost every step. The vast environments are something to behold too, the architecture of which is a joy to traverse. Its scale and beauty make The Last Guardian feel like a true legendary epic. I feel, however, like I should perhaps be giving it a lower rating here for its shortcomings. When looking at things closer they often become uglier and more poorly rendered. There’s a lot of smokescreen, and a few things sticking out. Despite those criticisms, I found myself utterly seduced by the way it looked and, in particular, moved.
To match the aesthetics, much of the sound design maintains a high quality. At first I was underwhelmed by the music, which I felt didn’t make enough of an impression. That ebbs away the more you play, as several memorable and enjoyable melodies attach themselves to recurring elements. Its music is actually rather grand when it wants to be, while not afraid to sit back understated when the story calls for it. I’d still like more time to digest its composition, perhaps away from the trappings of the game, but it seems like the best possible fit for the release it bolsters. Trico gets high marks again, made all the more tangible by his evocative whines and howls. They’re not just filler, but a communication you can interact with. His noises can even help you solve puzzles, being just another thing that involves you directly in the world around you.
To me, jumping up to an “8” from the original “6” it received is quite a turnaround. I even considered whether it merits a “9” rating, but I think its missteps are enough to keep it in solid “8” territory. However, I absolutely adore this game. The more I played it, the more I sank into its slow, contemplative soup of brave choices. I’ve been playing games my entire life, and I don’t think I’ve ever formed a bond with a non-player character like I did with Trico. Hell, I don’t think I’ve formed that kind of a bond with even a protagonist before. Genuinely feeling like I knew Trico beyond my television screen, my investment in his safety and well-being was staggeringly salient. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried twice while playing The Last Guardian, and that’s all down to the relationship you form throughout it.
Many of its puzzles have answers that I found to be refreshingly rewarding. Where at first I was disappointed by the veil it puts around itself, it was that mystery that had me loving it and wanting more. As soon as you come around to its huge scope, but subtle approach, you realise that its a game you have to play on its own terms. It belies the arrogance of experienced gamers, slowing things to such a speed that it seems heavy handed to those not on the same track. I can see it being easy for some people to simply never click into that lane, and that’s a failing of the game’s stubbornness. It’s a feature I appreciate, as hand-holding is a destructive way to design and all too prevalent. “Patience” is a key word with The Last Guardian, but so too is “reward”.
Here’s a Speedrun I recorded of The Last Guardian in its entirety: