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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Last Guardian Review!

Hey, you remember that video game that I talked about in a previous post? The one with the griffon thing?

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Well here's a review of The Last Guardian by yours truly! Before we get started, my fears have been averted. Neither the kid or the griffon thing die. Although the griffon does get pretty dang close to dying, but miraculously survives his injuries.

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Now I have waited a really long time for this game. Four years, in fact (this game was in development for 9 years, but I first learned about it back in 2012!). So was this game worth it? Well, for the most part, yes. Yes it was. Now don't get me wrong. This isn't going to top my favorite video games ever (it could probably make into the top 10, but not the top 5). It has a few problems, but it's a game where the positives outweigh the negatives. At least, in my opinion.

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So what's the story behind The Last Guardian? The spoiler free version is a young boy (who, weirdly enough, doesn't have a canonical name) and the griffon thing I have mentioned so many times already, named Trico (geddit? Because this is the third TeamICO game!) must work together to solve puzzles to escape an ancient fortress known as "The Nest" while being hunted by living suits of armor. Something I will praise this game for is it's story. It's ambiguous enough for you to require personal interpretation to fill in the blanks, but coherent enough to be, you know, an actual story. Just like the previous TeamICO games, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus.

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But the first thing I will say negatively about The Last Guardian is it's gameplay. Alright, so the game itself runs just fine and the whole cooperating with Trico mechanics are unique and innovative. But firstly, the controls are wonky. After generations of gaming, we all come to assume that the "X" button on the controller is the jump button. Not The Last Guardian! It's got the TRIANGLE button as the jump button. I get that the first two TeamICO games had this setup, but they were the launch titles of the PS2, where having Triangle as the Jump button was the norm. But it's 2016. Why is Triangle Jump!?

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Second thing I don't like is the camera. More often than not, I was fighting the camera more than the Armor Knights pursuing our dynamic duo.

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And the final thing I don't like about this game is the puzzles. I actually liked almost all the puzzles in this game. Almost all the puzzles. Some puzzles were rendered needlessly difficult because of the bizarre psychics of the items, or there would be a ledge you could climb perfectly camouflaged with the rest of the wall. I remember spending literally 30 minutes trying to solve what would otherwise be a very easy puzzle. This puzzle has you try to throw a barrel through a hole in the wall. The problem here is to get high enough to be level with the hole, you need to climb a crate, but you can't climb while holding barrels, so you would have to throw the barrel on top of the crate, then climb up and grab the barrel a second time and pray it doesn't roll off (or worse, you knock it over yourself!) and THEN throw it through the hole. For whatever reason, the rolling psychics on this barrel made this a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

But rather than rant about needless difficulty, let's talk about the puzzles themselves. To solve the puzzles of The Last Guardian, you are going to need the help of Trico, who is controlled by the A.I. but you can give him simple commands like "Jump" or "Go that way". There are some things that Trico cannot do, like pull levers or carry items around, both of which are covered by the boy (he can do other things, but those are the prime examples)

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While this IS a puzzle-platformer at heart, it DOES feature some combat. The previously mentioned Armor Knights will attack periodically. The boy actually cannot hurt these enemies directly. But you CAN stun them with a tackle attack (Boy used Tackle on Armor Knight! It's SUPER EFFECTIVE!!!). The main way of defeating them is relying on Trico for protection. Speaking of which, Trico is actually really powerful. He/she (they never give a gender for Trico) can kill the Armor Knights in one attack almost every time. If they do survive, the boy can run over and "decapitate" the Armor Knights (considering they are nothing more than moving statues, there isn't any real gore) by ripping off their helmets.

.While on the subject of Trico being powerful, I got to say Trico might be one of my favorite video game characters ever (not the first, that would be Spyro the Dragon, followed by Sans the Skeleton from Undertale). Not even a word of dialogue comes from his/her beak-like mouth, but is arguably the most expressive and emotive video game character I've seen in a long time.

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After playing through the game, I have given this
evil, armored griffon the nickname "Scarco" because
it reminds of Scar from The Lion King and it's in a 
TeamICO game.

Back on the subject of combat, the boy himself is -technically- a OHPW (One Hit Point Wonder). If cornered by the Armor Knights, they will drag him towards these strange, blue doors that you normally cannot interact with. Should they drag you all the way through, you will get a Game Over. What the game DOESN'T BOTHER MENTIONING is that if you repeatedly press every button like a maniac, you can break free. That's another thing I don't like about the game. It doesn't teach you much. In addition to not telling you you can break free from the Armor Knight's clutches if caught, it also doesn't tell you you can use Trico's tail as a makeshift ladder (you can even grab and drag it around!), or that you can "decapitate" the Armor Knights once Trico knocks them aside.

As for the graphics and music, this game has both in amazing quality. The visuals are amazing, from the level of detail on the Nest itself (watch as some very talented Minecraft players build a perfect, to-scale replica of the Nest! They already did that with the Castle from ICO, so why stop there!?). Trico has a very cool design incorporating traits from several different animals (dogs, cats, birds, according to my good friend Vincent lemurs, and *Luck Dragons).

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The music itself is also really good. Special mention goes to the theme that plays when you first encounter the Armor Knights. That theme is so creepy but catchy at the same time and, more important, conveyed a sense of dread. Basically, when you hear that theme, you watch your step. Very carefully... Oh, and theme that plays when Trico is wasting (that's right. I just used the word "waste" as an euphemism for "beat the tar out of"!) the Armor Knights is simply epic. The last music I will mention without spoiling too much is the music of the "true" ending (the "true" ending is a special cutscene that plays during a post-credits scene, so if you leave the game on during the credits you could miss this ending altogether!). Just. The true ending music. I won't spoil why I like that theme, but rest assured it is amazing.

Oh, and I heard that you can unlock costumes to make the boy look like either Ico from, well, ICO or Wander from Shadow of the Colossus. So bonus points for that nostalgia!

Speaking of nostalgia. The Last Guardian reminds me a lot of two things: ICO and The Iron Giant. It reminds me of ICO because of the similar puzzle gameplay. And it reminds me of The Iron Giant because there are lots of moments eerily similar to one another. Makes sense because they're both variations of the "A Boy and his Dog" story trope (replace the dog with a griffon for The Last Guardian, and a 200-ft tall robot for The Iron Giant)I remember this one moment where (spoilers, I guess) the boy is riding on Trico's back on a collapsing bridge and Trico extends his/her wings and starts flying around, my immediate reaction was, "Well, in the wise words of **Hogarth Hughes, YOU CAN FLY!?". Heck, the ending itself gave off Iron Giant vibes. Only, you know, the griffon doesn't fly to outer space to stop a tactical nuke, because I'm pretty sure that the TeamICO games all take place in either the late Stone Age, or the early Iron Age. So unless the world of The Last Guardian takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has received a massive downgrade and there's a untouched nuke somewhere, I doubt tactical nukes have been invented yet in the The Last Guardian universe.

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But with everything said, I give it an 8/10. Had it explain it's own game mechanics and not have such frustrating item psychics that make some puzzles a chore to do, it would have been perfect. It had a perfect story, perfect soundtrack, and amazing graphics. I just wish it had a more, up-to-date control scheme or simply explained it's mechanics better. Although, considering the creator of this game, Fumito Ueda, is famous for his minimalistic style when it comes to his projects, you can (almost) forgive the lack of information given.

*- That is a reference to the film, The Neverending Story, in case you didn't understand.

**- Hogarth is the main protagonist of The Iron Giant, which is both a novel and a movie.

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