Where to start with The Last Guardian? From the time it was announced in 2009, this game became something of a legend. This was because of two primary reasons, one good and one less good. The good was that it was the next game from director Fumito Ueda. Ueda’s first game being Ico, which had a huge impact on many game developers and creators. This was followed by Shadow of the Colossus, which was equally influential on the industry as well as players this time. Personally, I think Ico is overlooked and underappreciated by gamers as well, but let’s focus on one game at a time. So, after Shadow reached critical and commercial acclaim, everyone was waiting for what would be next. Expectations were colossal, to say the least. In 2009, we got the smallest glimpse in the form of a teaser.
This trailer is 100% Ueda from the first moments. The tone, art style, animation, music, everything is something that you can only get from team ICO. This is where the second reason the game achieved “legend” status. As you’re already aware, The Last Guardian didn’t get released until 7 years later. And it was a long, mostly silent, 7 years. So much speculation went on trying to guess what was going on with this game. Was it cancelled? Would it come out on PS3 at all? What did it mean that Ueda and a bunch of members from Team ICO left Sony to start their own studio?
The Last Guardian Returns
An entire article could be written just about the development of this game, if not an entire series. But, that’s not what I want to focus on here. The point is, The Last Guardian stood side by side with other notable gaming “legends”. Think Final Fantasy XV, and Shenmu III, and even Final Fantasy 7: Remake. It was part of what some call Sony’s “E3 of Dreams”. This was when these games, many of which had not been seen in years, were all brought back. And then, 7 years after being revealed, the game was released.
And that was kind of it. The game got mostly positive reviews from outlets, sitting at an 82 on metacritic. And the user score wasn’t much lower at a 79. There were two primary points of contention with this game, one objective and another quite subjective. Objectively, the game didn’t run well. Frame rates plummeted to around 20 in some areas on base PS4, and not even the pro could hold 30 in all cases. The other point is unfortunately the only lasting conversation this game really got. Trico’s AI.
The AI controlling Trico was purportedly one of the reasons The Last Guardian couldn’t be completed on the PS3. Trico was meant to be the player’s companion through the entire game. More than that, though, he or she was supposed to be a believable animal. In all Team ICO games, relationships are the core of the experience. Whether it be the boy and Yorda in ICO, Wander and Aggro in Shadow, or the boy and Trico. A theme I love in his games are how they all focus on bonds formed with no language. That’s one of the big reasons I believe his games are so universally loved. But did TLG go too far to make Trico feel real? Some people think so.
Trico, a kind of chimera of a cat and bird, is about equal to the player in terms of agency. Perhaps even a little more. Trico is necessary for crossing many obstacles, solving puzzles, and nearly all combat encounters. You will ride, direct, and work with Trico in various ways to help get both of you out of the Nest. However, the boy and this wild creature have just met. While a basic level of trust is formed early on, Trico isn’t a trained pet. If Trico doesn’t feel like listening to your orders, or is otherwise distracted, he/she won’t. (From this point on I’ll be referring to Trico as “she” to save time, and because that is the gender I personally felt Trico was.)
I get why this would annoy many people. You solved the problem, but Trico won’t do what needs to be done to progress. You hammer the button to make the boy point and shout, but she just looks off in the distance, or maybe even goes the wrong way. Sometimes she won’t listen and you’ll find her rolling around on the grass or messing with some object. Those instances, to me, are by far the most justified for Trico’s disobedience. I even found them kind of endearing. But, too often Trico is just doing…nothing. Personally, while playing, I understood. Trico doesn’t understand what I’m saying. She doesn’t get what my pointing and hooting is supposed to mean. How could she? Am I giving the game too much credit? Is it just poor, unresponsive AI? I don’t know.
The Sum of its Parts
The Last Guardian had maybe a month in the spotlight of conversation. It was touted by some as an amazing, unique, and moving experience. Others tore it down as not being worth the wait, or a disappointment following Ueda’s previous games. To me, this game stands just as tall as all the other two Team ICO titles. You just need to know what you’re getting into. SotC, for as great as it is, probably set people’s expectations incorrectly. That game was way more about spectacle, individual moments, and reflecting on action. TLG has those elements, but they are secondary to the simple story of a boy and a creature learning to work together to escape a situation. Not many games can make me smile, or cry, like The Last Guardian did.
I only played this game once, and knew I would never play it again. The experience I had, the emotions it brought out in me through my time with it, were exactly what I wanted them to be. Going back again would be like replacing a childhood stuffed animal with one just like it. Sure, it looks the same, but you know it’s not. Yes, I got frustrated with Trico on occasion. The thing is, I’m okay with that. Even if it wasn’t 100% intentional, the range of emotions I felt while playing made my connection to Trico all the deeper. Right now, thinking back on it all, I miss my Trico. That’s why I, and many others, will never forget The Last Guardian.