It’s finally here. After first being announced in 2009 as a PlayStation 3 game, The Last Guardian has emerged seven years later, exclusively for the PlayStation 4. And director Fumito Ueda stands as the one reason we’ve been craving it for so long. After all, he’s the guy who gave us modern-day classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus—only to disappear without a game to his name for a tragic 11 years. So, with The Last Guardian stewing in development for nearly a decade, can Ueda possibly fulfill the impossible expectations surrounding his long-awaited creation?
Another Forsaken Land
As with Ueda's previous games, the narrative itself is shrouded in mystery. You play a boy who wakes up in a forbidden land and stumbles across a giant dog-slash-bird-slash-dragon beast known as Trico. In a sense, The Last Guardian kind of feels like and evolution of Ico, but with the roles reversed. This time around, you play the weaker character who your partner has to bail out of trouble when the going gets tough.
The Last Guardian also follows Ueda's trademark style by emphasizing gameplay over story. In fact, the action rarely stops for the sake of showing you a cutscene; instead, The Last Guardian occasionally features narration by the protagonist, reflecting on the events as a much older man. And for the most part, this narration exists as a way to give the player hints. Dawdle too long on a puzzle, and you'll hear a helpful recommendation that nudges you in the right direction without giving everything away. Though The Last Guardian feature far less of an explicit narrative than Ueda's past games, it still manages to tell a gripping story through character moments and environmental details, rather than explicit exposition.
The Trico Whisperer
Like Ico, The Last Guardian tasks you with getting from point A to point B using two characters—one of which you directly control—who possess very different abilities. The boy is small, quick, and smart—well, as smart as you are, anyhow—while Trico is huge, strong, and can leap some pretty long distances. And while a lot of the boy's tasks involve manipulating the environment so Trico can overcome certain obstacles, Trico also acts as a living, breathing platform. Often, you need to climb on his back or hang off his tail to reach the next objective.
Trico also grows as a character in some very subtle ways that eventually affect gameplay. At first, he amounts to a reluctant partner: slightly distrusting, and with a mind of his own. Throughout The Last Guardian, you regularly find barrels of glowing liquid to feed him, and in the early hours of the game, he won't scarf one down if you get too close. By the end of the adventure, he essentially becomes your pet, following at your heels and snatching those delicious barrels right from your hands. And thankfully, Trico's attitude changes so gradually, it makes him feel more like a living thing than a walking, roaring set of mathematical variables.
An Evolution of Ico
Much of the game involves gently ordering Trico around by pointing out things in the environment, but he's a pretty smart pup, even without your intervention. While you'll need to give him some guidance, often, he'll start sniffing around a suspicious area on his own. Thankfully, the developers have made it incredibly easy to connect with your feathered companion. He's cute, attentive, and often saves your bacon by snatching you out of the air before you can splatter against the ground. There's a lot of observational detail packed into Trico's design and animations, which may even remind you of your own pets.
This being a Fumito Ueda game, The Last Guardian hinges on a singular idea. There's no collectibles, leaderboards, microtransactions, menu screens, maps, waypoints, equipment, or unlockable skills. Heck, The Last Guardian offers only one enemy type, and no clearly defined antagonist. The handful of enemy encounters in the game exist only to show the powerlessness of your character. Simply put, you don't fight back: Instead, you find a way to let Trico take care of approaching foes before you're captured. Some players may feel alienated by the lack of true action, but it's refreshing to see a game focus on what it does best, rather than check a marketing box that could help it sell better.
Should You Play The Last Guardian?
If you enjoyed Ico and Shadow of the Colossus
Absolutely. While The Last Guardian doesn't make for a wholly original idea like Shadow of the Colossus, Fumito Ueda's design skills haven't dulled over the past decade. The Last Guardian feels like a sufficiently modernized take on Ueda's style, but still idiosyncratic enough to stand out from every other major release.
If you're new to Fumito Ueda's work
Yes. While Ueda's minimalistic style won't appeal to everyone, The Last Guardian stands as his most accessible game to date. And if you've spent the last 15 years in the dark about this fantastic director, The Last Guardian may have a greater effect on you than Ueda veterans. Most likely, you haven't seen a gorgeous, high-budget game like this try something so different.
While it's a touch disappointing Fumito Ueda didn't go for a wholly original idea, this update—and, at times, subversion—of the Ico formula still makes for an incredibly fun and moving experience. In the end, The Last Guardian is a charming, polished game that provides an experience no one is really making anymore. And now with The Last Guardian out of his system, maybe Fumito Ueda can finally move on to his next big idea? Hopefully this time, it won't take almost a decade.