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2016 has been a weird year for gaming. Not only has Final Fantasy XV finally seen the light of day, but now GenDesign’s long awaited project, The Last Guardian, has joined the PlayStation 4 library as well. After nearly a decade of development hell, does The Last Guardian prove to be this holiday’s next big hit? Or should it be shot back to the drawing board?
The Last Guardian begins with an unnamed character, a young boy, waking up in the ruins of a strange castle. Shortly after waking, he encounters Trico, a mysterious bird-cat like creature in a near death state. Your first objective is to help Trico and find your way out of your ominous prison. This is becomes the main theme and structure of what players will be accomplishing throughout the game; solving puzzles to progress through the environment and ultimately finding your way back home. Many of the challenges in The Last Guardian rely on figuring out how to help Trico progress through the area.
That’s what The Last Guardian boils down to; solving puzzles and moving Trico along the area. Players will have a limited variety of tools to deal with obstacles. Players will find themselves pulling switches and opening gates for Trico. After so many, actions will start to feel repetitive. Situations rarely require much thought or experimentation, so players won’t find themselves stuck for too long.
Trico moves through the world with ease. It casually ducks under doorways, perches onto pillars, and trudges through hallways. Making a creature like Trico navigate so naturally through the lush environment is a technical achievement. Seeing Trico move and interact with the world makes him come to life. There had been moments throughout my experience where I found myself stopping to appreciate the marvel that was my game companion.
Trico’s lifelike qualities extend beyond movement. They play a critical role in The Last Guardian’s gameplay structure. The game isn’t your ordinary escort mission; the boy and Trico must work together as a team to escape their prison. Players will feed Trico, while Trico will aid in reaching next destinations. It fights off haunted suits of armor, and players will attend to its injuries. These exchanges help build the relationship between the two, which grows the further the story progresses. The Last Guardian is effective in portraying a tale between human and animal.
Unfortunately, no relationship is perfect. As successful as Trico is conceptually and emotionally, the more practical elements crumble like the game’s ancient ruins. For a game built around puzzles using the towering creature, the mechanics of controlling Trico are unreliable and inconsistent. Players will find themselves trying to get Trico to jump over a ledge several times to only have him turn around and walk off. Getting it to obey makes you feel like you’re managing a disobedient pet, which isn’t efficient. I understand if that was the direction the game was going for, but in a game revolving around puzzle solving, it proves absolutely frustrating.
One instance, I found myself stuck where the only way out, it seemed was to get Trico to jump over a ledge. I commend him to do so and he simply jumps in place. Thinking I was doing something wrong, I searched and searched the area to no avail. I tried making Trico jump once again and he did so, completing the puzzle. I can write on and on until high noon about how it does feel realistic, but in the sense of a game’s aspect, this type of realism ultimately feels inefficient and just not fun.
Other than Trico’s mechanical issues, The Last Guardian isn’t free from other technical issues. A constant problem I had was a frame rate drop, something I haven’t seen in a single player in quite some time. It wouldn’t even be involving Trico, I would found myself running around solo and the frame rate would just dip drastically. I would understand it when Trico would be involved, but I would find myself in too many situations where the frame rate would drop, breaking any immersion I had.
Not only that, there are pop up tutorials that appear throughout the entire game. Players will learn in the opening scenes where each button does and how they work through pop ups. I was surprised to see these same pop ups appear ten hours in. And no, there is no option to turn this off so it’s an issue players will find throughout the story. I understand if they appear if you’re stuck in a puzzle, but not while you’re already doing it.
In the moments where I couldn’t get Trico to do as I say, The Last Guardian felt disappointing. But after all this time, I was happy to finally get to experience this game. The Last Guardian is about flipping switches and pushing boxes, its about the adventure between a boy and his animal companion. A beautiful fantasy adventure where players can lose themselves in an immerse world. Although it has its frustrations, I enjoyed my time with this mystical creature.