What happens? Are your wings broken?
It seems almost impossible that we’ve had the chance to own and play The Last Guardian. It was introduced in 2009 to be released in two year’s time, but it has suffered numerous delays and even a change of platform since then. But a few months ago, it was finally released. Fumito Ueda’s latest work, his third game after Ico (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005) is here, and it’s had people talking about it since day one. After all this years, everyone is wondering if the wait has been worth it. Well… Let’s find out!
A young boy wakes up, with his body full of drawings, next to a giant, feathered, man-eating beast. He may get scared at first, but he’ll soon discover his fate is entwined to that of Trico, the creature. Together, they will try to escape the confinement they find themselves in, facing the mystical dangers that hide in it. The Last Guardian is a tale about friendship, love and trust that relies, almost solely, on the bond between the kid and the beast. Therefore, this relationship is carefully crafted, so that it evolves slowly but beautifully throughout the 15 hours of gameplay the game has to offer.
The two characters are very different, too, as the boy is quick and small, perfect to find tiny passages to go through, while Trico is huge and very strong, the optimal companion for battle. How co-dependant of each other they are is incredibly designed, too, with levels requiring the perfect teamwork to traverse them. The way both behave and take care of each other is, simply put, stunning. After a tough fight the animal gets really upset, so it is the boy’s task to go calm him down by rubbing his feathers. When the creature gets frightened with eye-shaped glass sculptures, it is him who has to take care of them. If the kid falls from a ledge while climbing a tower, he hopes Trico will be close enough for it to catch him with his mouth. This relationship is so beautiful and authentic, I had the feeling that Trico wasn’t just an animal – it was my pet.
And it behaves like a pet too. The artificial intelligence works like a charm, and together with jaw-dropping animations, the result is seamless: the creature truly seems to be alive and have actual consciousness. It is the first time in the history of videogames that a character seems not to be a script and a bunch of lines of code. Trico is believable, an entity that transcends the screen. The animal does his thing for most of the time, and it’s a gorgeous thing to look at. Upon finding a puddle it rolls around having fun, it scratches the back of it head with a leg from time to time, and sometimes it even receives the call of nature (which triggers a trophy, funny enough).
As a friend of a different species, getting it to understand us is not always an easy task. We can give Trico commands, but whether it obeys is a completely different story. That gap in communication is indeed part of the beauty, but sometimes it gets pretty frustrating to constantly press the button combination that tells the beast to jump, only to be ignored.
From a technical standpoint, The Last Guardian is nowhere near perfect. Despite its slightly outdated graphics, there are lots of moments in which the framerate drastically drops, especially towards the end of the game, which is pretty discouraging. Input is quite inaccurate, too. Moving the boy around is difficult at times, as his quick movements (the kid-like animations are great) don’t work well with the always evident input lag. The camera system is terrible, too, since the whole screen fades to black for a few frames upon getting some obstacle in the way, which is very usual in the many small environments we have to traverse.
Fortunately, however, the game looks fascinating due to a great work in design. Environments have been created with painstaking detail, and as a result, every square centimetre looks terrific from start to finish. This, together with a minimalist user interface, which consists of nothing but notifications that tell the players what the controls are (they do get quite annoying at times, to be honest), create an immersive experience unlike any other in recent times.
There are games that are difficult for a variety of reasons. There are titles that require quick reflexes, or ability to pull off complex combos, maybe challenge you in a purely intellectual way (such as the terrific The Witness). Fumito Ueda, with his latest work has created a whole new type of difficult: emotionally difficult. The Last Guardian is a hard experience because of the love you feel for its characters. A cry from Trico will break your heart, and a few consecutive intense sequences will make you feel the urge to stop playing for a while.
What we have here is a work of art. It may not be technically perfect, but the tale it tells, the characters it depicts and the experience it offers, are some of the best ever in this medium. Deep, mature and heartful, The Last Guardian has proven to be well worth the wait. And damn, did we have to wait. 9/10