A young boy awakens to find himself in a cave with strange markings covering his entire body. As he looks around he is stunned by what is lying across from him — a monster. This is no ordinary beast, it’s something from legends; what appears to be a hybrid of part dog and part bird. Stunned at first by the creature’s presence, the boy suddenly grows sympathetic towards the beast when he notices two spears have pierced into its body. Severely wounded, the young boy tends to the creature’s wounds overnight and the next morning releases him from his chains. Here begins the relationship of this nameless boy and hybrid creature who develop an organic bond and traverse through this barbaric landscape.
The Last Guardian is developed by Team Ico and lead designer Fumito Ueda, who originally developed the game Ico on PlayStation 2 back in 2001. Ico was well received for its unique puzzles and delightful story. Four years later, Shadow of the Colossus was also released for the PlayStation 2, and of course it was a success for Ueda.
It’s no surprise that fans have been waiting patiently for the arrival of The Last Guardian. Announcements came as early as 2009 for what was supposed to be originally released in 2011 for PlayStation 3. Soon after however, Team Ico suddenly slipped through the cracks and their game became a legendary myth. The myth resurfaced at Sony’s E3 press conference in 2015 with a trailer, a gameplay preview, and a tentative release date of just 2016. Finally, the game has come to fruition, was it worth the wait?
The Last Guardian is one of the most organic relationships between man and beast — named Trico. Trico is magnanimous in size and in folktale. According to the boy’s grandfather he has heard of such a beast, but after interacting with Trico he has quickly demystified the notion that Trico is to be feared.
The two companions have to work together to leave the mystical environment entrapping them. The Last Guardian’s environment is something to marvel. It is reminiscent to the architecture of ancient Hindu. Buildings seem to be made from sandstone, with intricate carving into the walls. You will jump, climb, hang, and shimmy along narrow paths from these towering monuments. Controls for these actions are shown regularly on the top right of the screen, indicating the possible actions at your disposal. The landscape is eerie and misty and is reminiscent of the Yellow (Huanghan) Mountain range. You can freely move the camera around to awe in the beauty of the environment or discover new paths. Small observations such as mist coming through the window or a crack though the wall will help you navigate, whilst adding an extra touch of atmosphere to the whole experience.
You will stumble upon artifacts that will aide you throughout your journey. Some artifacts have a direct correlation with Trico. With one items, I found that if you shine onto a surface, Trico would send a bolt of electric energy — a handy item for breaking down wooden doors. Other artifacts are clearly reminiscent of Trico’s past. Like most animals who have been though abuse, you will see Trico’s abrupt reactions to these highly evocative, yet harrowing artifacts.
The young boy is determined to get back to his village and Trico reluctantly follows him. However, Trico can’t exactly always follow the path of which the boy takes. Not only is it your job to find your own way through, but you must also chart a path for Trico. Due to Trico’s size and having the characteristics of most animals, guiding Trico thought the puzzles is all part of the challenge. However, Trico’s size can also work to your advantage. I frequently found myself using his height to reach tall parts of a building for example. I wish I could have lived out my NeverEnding Story fantasy of flying on the back of Falkor the Luckdragon’s head, but unfortunately Trico cannot fly due to his broken wings. Trico is, however, capable of jumping over colossal walls and expanse rocks in a style similar to that of a platformer.
Trico very much behaves like a true wild animal. I have seen him poke his nose though openings where he can’t fit, be distracted by strange objects, grow timid of large bodies of water and sometimes even ignore my repeated calls for his attention. These are just some of the few animal instinct behaviors Team Ico has replicated onto Trico.
The organic relationship between boy and beast makes for a memorable game. While certain issues and bug tend to arise, such as frame rate issues and certain camera angles, these minor flaws are overshadowed by these two companions’ story of a lifetime.