PlayStation LifeStyle

The Last Guardian Review – A Triumph in Trico (PS4)

PlayStation LifeStyle, and me personally, have a unique relationship with The Last Guardian. It was us – me – that leaked the Project Trico footage back in 2009 just ahead of the E3 where it was to debut officially as The Last Guardian (something I’ve long regretted). We’ve watched the countless delays, the missed conventions, the Team ICO staff exodus, and couldn’t help but wonder if we were in some way partially responsible. It’s now seven years later, and after spending the last 72 hours with this mysterious boy and his Trico, we know it’s the labor of love and commitment to vision that kept The Last Guardian chained away in darkness for so long.

The Last Guardian was every bit worth the wait.

The Last Guardian is a tale of young boy taken from his village and whisked away to walled ancient ruins, impervious to anything but the giant winged Trico – a part avian, part mammalian creature. More significantly, The Last Guardian is about their symbiotic relationship and how it’s necessary to their survival. The two, together, navigate the ancient ruins ever upward, facing puzzles, traps, enemies, and a mysterious presence every step of the way.

Building a Bond

The game introduces the two abruptly without explanation. In fact, much of the game goes on without any narrative, any direction as to what’s going on, why it’s going on, and what you need to do next. The Last Guardian’s biggest achievement is through creating such organic of an environment, relationship, and context, that the way forward is almost always the most natural way to progress.

The boy finds an injured Trico on the floor of the ruins and, realizing he’s alone, he tends to the mythical beast. There’s an understanding that the boy’s innocence compels him to help the Trico, despite how intimidating the at times adorable creature can be.

The boy removes spears from Trico’s hind, and sets off in search of barrels to feed the Trico in an effort to nurse him back to health. In time, the Trico begins to perk up and respond to the boy’s care.

Amazingly, the regular care and maintenance of the Trico, and how it applies to the world around you makes up the bulk of the gameplay in The Last Guardian. And it never once is a chore, or gets in the way of the enjoyment of the game. Instead, it’s this brilliant use of the core relationship that creates unique gameplay situations that have never been experienced before.

At first, the two look to each other to play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses out of necessity and survival, and while it always remains so, in no time they stay together out of genuine companionship and love toward one another. And it’s simply beautiful.

Relationships and how they fit within a game’s world can be a major driver in a narrative and the player experience. In The Last Guardian, there’s rarely a word spoken to give clarity to what the boy and the beast are thinking, yet they have the most believable and understood relationship in a video game ever. It’s the same understanding you’d see observing a toddler and a puppy playing – there’s an unspoken bond.

There comes a point early on in the game where the narrator provides some rare commentary, pointing out that the boy and the beast had developed a bond. And it was at this very moment, that I realized that my bond was formed with these two characters, and that I found myself more invested in their survival far beyond simply wanting the main characters to ‘win the game.’

Building a Beast

The unspoken understanding of their bond and the inner desire to see the two survive and complete their task comes from the most basic of human emotion. And it’s impossible to play through The Last Guardian and not feel an air of familiarity in the relationship and interactions between the two. Everyone who has ever had a pet, or even knows someone who loves their pet, will notice the physical and personality traits in Trico.

I believe it’s for that reason, Ueda and his team chose a creature that borrowed elements and features from so many different animals. Trico moves and jumps like a cat, has the eyes and heart of a dog, yet is feathered and packs a set of talons.

So many games illustrate real-world animals with extreme likeness, but even with Trico being a completely fictional beast, it is the single most believable and life-like animal in a video game, ever. And by miles. You can see the curiosity in its face, feel the pain in its grimace, and sense the worry in its eyes. Every emotion and thought is worn on its figurative sleeve.

Ready to tame the elusive, mythical beast?

Good question. 

It’s the third action-adventure game to emerge from Team Ico and one that has spent almost a decade languishing in development. Thought to be sentenced to limbo in perpetuity, it’s well known that The Last Guardian endured a tortured production, during which time Game Designer Fumito Ueda left Ico to work on the gestating project in a freelance capacity.

It was only when Sony re-revealed The Last Guardian at E3 2015 that the pieces started to fall into place, and we’re now mere days from release.

Part Yorda, part Agro, Trico is a griffin-like creature that combines the characteristics and appearance of a cat, bird and dog. Its a quite, gentle beast, but you'll have to earn its trust first before setting off on your adventure. 

For the longest time, The Last Guardian was the stuff or legend, right up there with FFXV and even the fabled Half-Life 3

Reflecting on the twists and turns, Ueda noted that The Last Guardian wasn't always in active development, as many suspected. 

"We weren’t always in active development so it’s really difficult to provide an accurate number in terms of the development period, but one thing I can say is that we thought that it was going to be shorter, or we thought that Ico and Shadow of the Colossus took a long time to develop, so one of of the missions of The Last Guardian was that we wanted to create something good in a short period of time, so the fact that it took a long time to develop was completely unexpected for me."

You and I aren’t the only ones excited by The Last Guardian’s launch. Here, developers from Naughty Dog, Guerilla Games and more share their hopes for Team Ico’s imminent release.

During the throes of development, The Last Guardian flirted with cancellation numerous times, to the point that Sony almost pulled the plug. 

When asked if Sony would have canned The Last Guardian after all this time, Shuhei Yoshida replied: "If everyone stopped asking about it, probably we would have."

That's a question we can't answer -- not really. Ueda first drafted up ideas for the game in 2005, before it entered development under the name of Project Trico two years later. 

Even after the first reveal at E3 2009, production proved sluggish, with developers reportedly struggling to meet Ueda's initial vision. Right around the time that development appeared to reach a standstill, Sony was beginning work on the PS4. Some months later it was decided that Team Ico's third outing would be repackaged for PlayStation 4, and the rest is history. 

Oh, you mean The Last Guardian itself?

Told as a flashback, the game's official logline reveals:

"When a young boy meets a colossal, mysterious creature named Trico, the pair form a deep, unbreakable bond that will help them survive amongst the crumbling ruins and malevolent dangers that surround them. By working together, the unlikely pair must communicate with one another to overcome tremendous obstacles and uncover the secrets of their beautiful fantasy world – and ultimately survive their touching and emotionally charged journey."

According to Shuhei Yoshida, The Last Guardian officially became a PS4 title in 2012. 

Much of that came down to the technical limitations of the PS3, with Yoshida-san stating,

"So, that’s the decision that we made some time in 2012, and after that, the team went back to the drawing board in terms of the tech, because the architecture is so different. … But since last year … the game’s playable. So, the team is very excited now. And working very hard."

Project Trico has a history with us, and its triumphant re-reveal prompted PSLS' founding father Anthony Severino to pen a candid open letter

Naysayers be damned, E3 2015 ushered The Last Guardian back on stage and in one fell swoop, the game once written off as vaporware was slated for 2016. 

When asked about the potential success of The Last Guardian, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe President and CEO Jim Ryan remained coy, stating: 

"We obviously believe that they’re gonna be a success. But the one where the most uncertainty is, is The Last Guardian.
Well, not in terms of the quality of the game. I don’t have any qualms about that. But my organisation did not perform particularly well with either Ico or Shadow Of The Colossus. I have berated them for this, and said, ‘We have to do better with this game’. And we’ll certainly give it our very best shot. So I’m saying, the other two games [Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue]… there’s a history of successful and profitable publishing. There isn’t that in the third case and I need to change that."

Team Ico has confirmed that The Last Guardian physical version will occupy 15GB. As for digital, the PlayStation Store has updated to reveal that it’s an 11.9GB download in North America and 12GB download in Europe.

You can officially add The Last Guardian to the list of games compatible with Sony's PS4 Pro. 

Support will be added support through a game update, and The Last Guardian will upscale to 4K and bring “minor performance improvements” on PS4 Pro.

Curious to see Trico in action? Look no further than this extended, 20-minute gameplay demo

More footage! This time, it's a CG trailer accompanied with further details on the core premise. 

“When a young boy meets a colossal, mysterious creature named Trico, the pair form a deep, unbreakable bond that will help them survive amongst the crumbling ruins and malevolent dangers that surround them”

It's official: The Last Guardian has been rated T for Teen.

Here's the ESRB listing: 

“This is an action-adventure game in which players control a young boy as he explores ruins and solves puzzles with his giant animal companion (Trico). Players can command Trico to zap blocked passages or strike enemies with a lightning attack that shoots from its tail. Enemies in suits of armor generally break into pieces when defeated; though soldiers sometimes emit blood-like flashes or red symbols when injured. In some levels, the player’s character can rip the helmets off enemy characters, though no gore is shown. Cutscenes also depict acts of violence and occasional blood: Trico attacked by spears or swords; Trico bleeding from wounds.”

Join Sid Shuman and a rather excited Shuhei Yoshida, President of Worldwide Studios, as they unbox the game's NA Collector's Edition.

Those in Europe can find an unboxing of their TLG premium package here, via PlayStation Access. 

The Last Guardian soundtrack will be released via vinyl and a downloadable app known as the Composer’s Choice music app.

More info:

"We’re happy to announce that a The Last Guardian Composer’s Choice PS4 Music App of the score featuring 19 tracks will be available separately at launch via the PlayStation Store. The soundtrack app supports both stereo and surround playback, and also allows users to export all the tracks as stereo MP3 files via a compatible USB drive. The soundtrack will also be available via iTunes at a later date."

Back at E3, PSLS had the chance to go hands-on with an early build of The Last Guardian, when Jowi Meli walked away overly impressed. In his preview, he wrote that, “there’s enough both new and reminiscent of Ueda’s past works to make me think Sony might have something truly special on their hands.”

Expect the first wave of reviews to begin pouring online on Monday, December 5. Our own Chandler Wood will be taking point for PSLS.

Puzzling Physicality

How invested you are in the care and longevity of the boy, and more so, Trico, ups the ante in tense or dangerous situations. And it’s also what drives all of the game’s puzzles. The Trico is a towering beast, while the boy is no more than the size of its paw. This means passages the boy can squeeze through are too tight a fit for Trico. Trico can leap from peak to peak, while the boy would have to climb for days to make the same advances. The contrast makes for a seemingly endless amount of puzzles to solve.

Because a word is so rarely spoken, there is almost never direction in what to do next. And the solutions are never once obvious. The natural thing to do is to keep exploring and searching for the end, but often taking a step back and just observing Trico’s actions will show the way. Even knowing or seeing a solution doesn’t mean you’re able to complete a puzzle easily. Some puzzles are completely reliant on Trico – whom you have no control over besides issuing very light directional commands – and require the boy to direct Trico on what to do. For example, Trico won’t dive deep into water until the boy shows him how.

It’s rare the two separate, reminiscent of the hand-holding, guided gameplay found between Yorda and Ico in ICO. Except both the boy and Trico lead equally due to how varied the landscape found in the ruins can be. Much of the platforming in the game depends on using Trico’s body in addition to the surroundings. Before you can reach a high ledge, Trico may need to stretch its legs and peek atop the ledge before the boy can climb its body and make the leap. Or the boy may need to lower down Trico’s tail to get through an underground passage. The traversing of Trico’s frame in the midst of exploring the game’s nooks and crannies feels very similar to Shadow of the Colossus.

Fans of the two critically-acclaimed Team ICO classics are well-served throughout The Last Guardian, and the concepts that made the two titles shine are combined for a synergistic effect.

Putting Together the Pieces

When the journey comes to an end, you’ll find yourself in shock, emotionally-drained, and appreciative The Last Guardian stayed in development this long and still made it to release. The entire game’s pace is perfect. The difficulty and challenge is high, and completely reliant on how observant and explorative the player is. Every section of the game is stunningly gorgeous – a real work of art. The gameplay is pure perfection (aside for some clunky controls). The thematic use of the boy and the beast’s relationship and how it applies to the gameplay, the world, and the puzzles is nothing short of brilliance. The climax is a real tear-jerker, while not going for the obvious and providing a positive, heart-warming conclusion. If there were ever a game that was deserving of the word ‘perfect,’ The Last Guardian is it.

In an industry where every developer packs in as many new features, as many modes, options, and configurations, The Last Guardian has no upgrades, no leveling, no add-on map packs, no RPG elements – it is an almost solitary experience, between nothing more than a boy, a beast, and the big world around them, yet it outshines nearly everything else. Video games as a market might demand the Call of Duty’s of the world to move units and put a spotlight on the industry through hype and marketing buzz, but video games as a medium deserves The Last Guardian.

Beautiful. In every way.

The Last Guardian review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.