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E3 2015 – The Last Guardian Preview: Beast Mode Re-Activated

June 17, 2015 Written by Anthony Severino

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With a historic E3 press conference as the one we witnessed last night at Sony’s annual showing at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, it should be impossible to pick a favorite announcement. And yet, going up against fan-requested, time-tested titles like the remake of Final Fantasy VII or Shenmue 3, The Last Guardian still made it easy to choose a clear stand out.

It might be because of the deafening silence on the subject for so long, or the fear that The Last Guardian was cancelled, the frequent news of staff changes on the development team, or simply because the demo was just that impressive — whatever it was, The Last Guardian stole the show. And possibly won E3 for Sony.

A Boy and His Behemoth

There’s something magical about a child and their relationship with an animal companion — such little understanding of the world around them, yet so much understanding of one another. It’s not easy to describe, but the joint collaboration between genDESIGN and Sony Japan Studios led by Fumito Ueda manage to so accurately portray the unmistakable bond between this boy and a mysterious beast.

Beyond knowing that the boy has been “mysteriously kidnapped”, no plotline is given, only assumed through the relationship the two shares.

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Trico is a mythical beast, but has many similarities to other familiar animals with its cat-like movements, bird-like talons and feathers, dog-like behavior, and monkey-like prehensile tail. These semblances to common household pets make it easier for the player to recognize Trico’s needs and reactions to situations. You can tell when its in pain, when its hungry, when its inquisitive, or when its scared. Like an old family dog, Trico’s mannerisms communicate a wealth of emotion and thought to the boy that also can be visibly comprehended by any onlooker. It’s this synergistic relationship that drives both the gameplay and the unspoken tale behind The Last Guardian.

Satisfying Symbiosis

Although Trico is non-playable, the boy’s interactions with it and the environment do control it indirectly. Each, with its own strengths and weaknesses, it’s up to the player to learn how to utilize either the boy or the Trico to push forward in their adventure.

In this demo, Trico is visibly in pain, wailing in discomfort due to some spears sticking from its back. Only the boy can climb onto his back and remove them. Trico could very well have suffered these injuries protecting the defenseless boy. This, and the sheer size difference between the two demonstrate how one could be more effective than the other depending on the situation they’re facing.

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Soon after extracting the spears, the Trico appears to feel better, and becomes curious, sniffing around — he’s hungry. The boy feeds him by tossing barrels toward his mouth. And as you saw in the E3 trailer, Trico repays these favors by catching the boy when he falls, carrying him across platforms, and providing a substitute structure for the boy to climb.

Changing of the Guard

The relationship and the reasoning behind their interdependence make a lot of sense, as does the environment they’re traversing. When being protected by a massive mythical beast, there is little to fear, so fear is instilled through structural height, depth, and sturdiness — or lack thereof.

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What don’t seem to fit are the visuals. The Last Guardian still looks very much like a PS3 game, and the contrast between the cartoonishly drawn, tattooed boy next to the realistic looking Trico, textures and backdrop is a little strange. The art-style is indeed similar to previous games from the former Team ICO, but I can’t get past how bland overall the setting is, and how bizarre the creature’s feathers look as they blow with the wind. Lighting and shading, however, is stellar, keeping the overall look of the game impressive. But if I wasn’t told explicitly the title was for the PS4 (and it should be after this long), it could be mistaken for an extremely late PS3 title. I only bring this up due to how long the game’s been in development for and the fact that it made a jump to PS4 from PS3 and didn’t gain significant fidelity in the move.

Regardless of the minor nitpicks about looks, the true beauty lies in the boy’s relationship with the Trico and their story, as well as the fact that The Last Guardian is not only alive and well, but due for release on the PS4 in 2016.