The Last Guardian is a heart-wrenching story of a young child and his unlikely friendship with a giant beast called Trico. Developed by Team Ico, the game is a spiritual successor to previous titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Like those games, The Last Guardian explores the theme of companionship and sacrifice, mostly through its storytelling and gameplay mechanics.
The player and Trico’s adventure is both simple and profound. The game opens with a clear-cut premise in which the boy, controlled by the player, wakes up in an unknown place with a wounded Trico. With no memory of how he got there, the boy is dependent on Trico for finding a way out just as much as Trico is dependent on him for care. What develops over the course of an emotionally-laden adventure is a deep and warm bond in an otherwise eerie and seemingly cold world.
The story is mostly told through subtle cues, rather than cut scenes or dialogue. This gives The Last Guardian a very seemless and immersive feeling with a mystifying atmosphere that very little games manage to deliver. The amazing ambience is enhanced by the stunning visuals and background music. The game has multiple set-piece moments which make your jaw drop or make you hold your breath. On top of that, it’s a joy to behold Trico’s mannerisms as his feathers and tail rustle in the wind.
The gameplay of The Last Guardian is relatively straight-forward and accessible to all types of players: you control the boy as he navigates his way to escape a mysterious and ancient ruin, solving puzzles and avoiding obstacles along the way. Trico, meanwhile, acts as both a companion and sort of tool: he can be used to reach different areas that are too high or too far away for the boy.
The difficulty of the puzzles isn’t based on the player showing quick reflexes or nimbleness, but more on their ingenious design. The obstacles the player has to overcome mostly stand out because they regularly require new ways of interacting between the boy and Trico. As a result, The Last Guardian doesn’t throw the most challenging and intricate puzzle-solving at the player, but at the same time, the game manages not to become repetitive or stale either.
Even though the gameplay, and visual and sound design is entertaining and enchanting all throughout the experience, there are moments in which small camera issues and control problems take away from the immersion. At more than one occasions the camera clips through the world’s boundaries or Trico’s enormous body, especially in tight spaces. On top of that, Trico isn’t always very responsive, which results in the player scratching their head as to the way forward. These annoyances, however, remain small and insignificant compared to the overall experience.
What truly sets The Last Guardian apart from any other contemporary video game is the affection you build as player for Trico. In the beginning, Trico seems neither beautiful nor particularly charming, but the interactions with him in a beautifully crafted world quickly evolve into a deep and unparalleled connection. While not without its flaws, The Last Guardian therefore is a one-of-a-kind experience that anyone looking for a thought-provoking or emotionally charged game should give a try.