The Last Guardian Review

When it comes to gaming I haven't really sat down and played through a console game in ages.  Part of the reason is time, but part also the fact that I'm old enough to have seen six generations of home gaming consoles come and go. I've completely skipped over the most recent generation of consoles, although I've put plenty of time into them at the shop trying various games.

It was over the summer when we were watching the Sony E3 event where a handful of games caught my eye - one of them being The Last Guardian. The game looked beautifully polished, with serene settings and wonderful music. It also featured Falcor.

So maybe not by name, but the resemblance with Trico is uncanny. As a somewhat nerdy kid growing up in the 80s, The Neverending Story was one of those movies up there with Ghostbusters and Star Wars as staples of my childhood. When I saw The Last Guardian trailer it immediately brought back those warm fuzzies and I remarked to the others that this was one game I'd really like to try.

Fast forward six months and Sage has done the awesome favor of lending me his copy to play through, so I've set aside Adventure Capitalist for a few days to play this through to completion.

Disclaimer: my vault of modern console gameplay is empty, so I don't have many games to use as a barometer.  If you imagine a college bro falling out of a time machine from 2005 when Halo 2 on Xbox was the rage, you'll have a rough idea of where I'm coming from when reviewing The Last Guardian.

Man have video games come a long way.  Where are the loading screens? The save spots? Why does this feel like I'm so naturally and instinctively exploring this universe, without really feeling like I'm playing a game? There are no advanced mechanics to deal with, no cluttered HUD. I'm just moving through this beautiful world and it all flows together so nicely. I had a weapon at one point but now even that's gone, and it's just the boy and the beast ascending the levels.

Still I've had an incredibly hard time at points, and this is more me being awful at video games than anything else. I imagine a Zelda fan would tear through this game at three times the rate I'm moving. I'm slowly starting to calibrate to the game style and move through the levels easier, but this game absolutely makes me feel every year my age and then some.

This is how The Last Guardian makes me feel.

My biggest disappointment so far is I haven't had that awesome flying scene with Trico, but I'm holding out hope the more barrels I feed this beast (which I imagine are packed full of fairy dust and Human Growth Hormone) the faster those wings of his will grow.

I've put a few hours a night into the game, which has followed the same pattern of making progress (for a while) before I faceplant on some tricky jump or puzzle.  There was a jump sequence in the sky that would end in a fall to a terrible death, and then a dark cave where I could see nothing around me but bats. The answer almost every time I'm stuck is just keep exploring, and eventually the path forward reveals itself.

I've also learned how to train my dragon a bit. I can issue commands and Trico (sometimes, if he's in the mood) will follow them. I trust the beast will save me in those "Oh Shit" moments when I'm falling somewhere in his vicinity, and it's made for some excellent mini-cut scenes where the boy is literally free-falling and Trico will snatch me out of the air. 

There are some frustrating moments though when Trico just doesn't seem to know what to do. Like when I'm hanging in a tree by my shirt collar and can do nothing but wiggle, and scream for him to jump for ten minutes before he FINALLY listens.

I've struggled with motion sickness throughout playing this game, especially with the scenes where Trico is flailing about and I'm hanging on to his tail for dear life.  This is mainly due to the camera jerking in different directions, and a problem I've had with other games. The result is me shutting the game down after only 30 minutes or an hour of play and coming back to it the next day.

But my very least favorite part of the game are the scenes where Trico is being attacked. This isn't a failure in game design but more in my own terrible skill at this style of game, as I'm usually stumbling around for an extended period trying to figure out what to do, all while Trico screams in pain. What should be over in 15-30 seconds can last 10 minutes or longer. It's so bad that I feel like I should report myself to the SPCA for crimes against digital animals.

Those negatives out of the way, what's left is an amazing experience. The cryptic way of story-telling through minimal dialogue and flashback cut-scenes slowly fills in the story gaps, and it's never quite clear until the very end what your purpose in the game is. This makes the game feel more like an immersive adventure, where you're climbing your way around exploring with Trico doing something really awesome every now and then. The flow between cut-scenes and gameplay is often seamless in a way that it's hard to tell one from the other. The artwork, soundtrack, and ambience make for some serene settings.

Meditation by gaming

I often wondered while playing through if I could have altered the storyline by making different decisions, or if the path through the game is more linear. If it's the former I may pick it up again at some point to see if I can change the outcome, otherwise I'm happy to retire this genre for me for another decade. This game was made for younger, fresher minds than mine!

Thanks again to Sage for providing game access and being patient while I slogged my way through the game. For readers: what has your experience been with The Last Guardian? Did you experience alternate storylines on replay?
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