For our last game this year, we dive into the extraordinary journey of a young boy and his bird. No, dog. No. Wait. What?
The Last Guardian
A young boy awakens in a cave, strange tattoos covering his body. But he is not alone. A creature, only mentioned in the old legends of his people, is there with him. Trico. Chained to the wall and with strange, broken armor, the beast howls in agony. Pulling spears from it’s feathered body and freeing it from its constraints, the boy and and this magical being have to rely on each other to escape the depths of „The Valley“. As the boy and Trico make their way through the ruins of a once mighty civilization, through narrow passages and across wide chasms to the highest towers, they face their biggest challenges in their environment as whole cities crumble beneath their feet. But even though the creators of the valley have long been gone, their ruins are not deserted.
The Last Guardian might be the game with the longest development that I’ve ever played. Originally introduced to the public at E3 2009, and in active development since the launch on the Playstation 3, a good ten years are easily on the clock. And something like this makes it hard for me to go into a game like this with any amount of excitement left. But sometimes that’s a good thing, as it has the chance to seriously surprise you. And that is exactly what happened here. We play as a young, unnamed boy who awakens from a nightmare only to not find himself in his bed, but in a cave with Trico, a creature from the legends. Somewhere between a bird and dog, Trico might be gamings weirdest animal-companion in history but the creative team at genDesign and JapanStudio managed to make him cuter than anything in the world has a right to be. We as the player though never assume control over him, as we play the boy. Jumping, swimming, climbing and running through impressive halls of stone and across crumbling bridges, the two unlikely companions try to escape the valley they’ve woken up in. A task that (for the player at least) is mostly accomplished by getting Trico to do the right thing. Which is not always as easy as it sounds. The game gives us tools to issue commands to the beast but whether it obeys them is not very much reliant on luck but rather the environment. As much as Trico is an impressive 25 meters head to tail, he acts like a little puppy once in a while. A steel chain dangling from the ceiling on the right and a barrel to kick around on the left. Well, good fucking luck to get him to into the opposite direction in that situation. The game though makes it clear very early on, that we can manipulate Trico’s instincts to lure him into certain spots. But just as the boy needs him to escape, Trico needs the boy as well. Their journey takes them to locked gates, giant cages and wooden bridges, rigged with traps that the boy needs to deal with, while Trico takes them to new heights and across the deepest abysses with the boy on his back.
I could also tell you how beautiful the game is, how cool the platforming puzzles and general level-design turned out or how the music releases the perfect emotions, illustrating the bond of the two. But I have to get one annoying issue out of the way and then I’m going to tell you why I don’t care about that.
The camera is fucked! Sorry for being so vocal about it but yeah, it sucks. Especially when it not only gets stuck on the environment but on Trico’s massive body while you’re trying to get through a narrow hallway. This and a baffling lag on the camera controls (I push the right analog stick to the left and the camera doesn’t turn immediately, it starts slow and then rotates faster than my mind can process), means that lining up the boy for a difficult jump can be an exercise in patience and frustration. It also means, that telling Trico where to go (a command that he actually listens to a fair amount of times) means you could send him to the opposite side of the room. Next to a wall that’s messing with the camera again!
But I don’t care. I know I should, my critics brain is harassing me about that damn camera since I finished the game’s twelve hour story on Saturday. But I don’t care. Do you wanna know why? Because I cried in the end. I fell in love with Trico, probably the cutest adult animal I’ve ever seen. I will obviously not spoil the ending for anyone, but it’s safe to say that this had greater emotional impact on me than any other story I’ve ever read, watched or played. And that’s worth a lot more than pixels and frame-rates.
Beitragsbild: Kevin Wendlandt
Bilder: Sony Computer Entertainment America, genDesign, JapanStudio