This is, without a doubt, a truly phenomenal game. Created by the minds over at genDESIGN (previously Team ICO), it bears a striking resemblance to both of their previous games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. In Ico you played a boy guiding a helpless young girl through a castle in an attempt to escape, while Shadow of the Colossus tasks you with finding and killing 16 monstrous beasts. Despite being so different, the two games seem intrinsically linked and The Last Guardian seems to be a marriage of the two, as you partner with a massive beast to escape a ruined castle.
It all begins as you, a young boy, awaken in a dark, damp cave with a giant creature named Trico imprisoned at your side. Before you learn anything about the beast or the situation you find yourself in, you are compelled to free him and nurse him back to health in an act of empathy and kindness that goes on to define the entire game. As you interact with Trico, you notice that he has spears lodged in the gaps of the armour, and is shackled by a metal collar. After attempting to help by removing the first spear, he does not take kindly to your presence and lashes out, knocking the boy unconscious. However, your continued efforts to help after you awaken eventually pay off; the spears are removed, the collar is unlocked and his armour falls to the ground. The creature is freed, and thus your journey begins.
At first, Trico is wary and only tentatively aids the boy in traversing the landscape, and needs to be coaxed into helping by using food barrels that are found lying around. However, this relationship slowly builds until the boy is able to give basic commands, and eventually the pivotal moment arrives when you must trust Trico with your life, as you jump off a platform hoping he will catch you as you plummet into the abyss below. Near the end of the story this bond is so great that Trico actively nuzzles the boy with his head, and is greatly troubled when he can’t see you. The bond between boy and beast is the driving force of the entire game; Trico is your only means of dispatching the eerie, ghost-like suits of armour that hunt you, and time and time again you must place your life in his ability to do so. On the flip side, the boy can progress to areas where Trico cannot, open passages to move further, and bring back barrels of food to nurse Trico back to health.
Trico is the real star of the game. He is incredibly detailed, and seems to be an amalgamation of several different creatures. His feathers ruffle individually in the wind, and he is incredibly expressive; his facial expressions and body language tell you a lot about any situation you are in. His eyes change colour when he is angry, he will look at you with wide eyes and tilt his head when curious, and he will sit on his hind legs and make plaintive cries when he can’t find you. He gets injured and heals slowly as you progress through the story; any spears you leave lodged in him will stay there throughout the entire game. Trico truly feels alive. When you look into his eyes after you’ve managed to escape a particularly dangerous situation, you don’t see the code or the artificial characterisation that defines most video game characters. You see an honest portrayal of an intricate, living thing. The controls are incredibly strange; they feel tactile, yet also rather clunky. The buttons are mapped to directions meaning triangle is jump and X is crawl, taking after Shadow of the Colossus and, generally, older Japanese games. There’s a heft involved in every action you perform, as the boy struggles noticeably to pick up barrels and climb ledges, making every action feel more meaningful. The camera is also incredibly frustrating at times, seeming to not work very well at all in close-quarters.
I realise that these flaws will be more than enough to make people pass this game up, or at least will massively affect their enjoyment. However, the bond you build with Trico feels natural and organic, and its execution is sublime. As the game drew to its close, this unspoken bond far outweighed any of the flaws I felt the game had and because of this, I truly believe The Last Guardian one of the best games of the past decade.