The Last Guardian is an honest-to-god real game

The Last Guardian screenshot 4
It’s finally happening. After eight years of little to no news since it was first announced in 2007, The Last Guardian, Japan Studio and director Fumito Ueda’s long-anticipated follow-up to the critically adored Ico and Shadow of the Colossus has resurfaced at last. I know, I know — you’ve been burned before. I promise you, though, that this game actually exists. I recently had the chance to confirm this for myself by watching Ueda play a brief, behind-closed-doors demo himself. The demonstrated gameplay segment was largely the same as the one revealed during the Sony press conference earlier this week, with an extra bit beforehand.

In The Last Guardian you will play as a young boy who has been mysteriously kidnapped. In your captivity you meet and befriend Trico, a massive creature that also seems to be trapped. Ueda was tight-lipped on story details outside of that, but that comes as no surprise given the understated storytelling style of his previous games, which put a great deal of trust in the player to piece together the narrative through the environment and action, rather than making it explicit through cinematic cut scenes. The boy, wearing robes and decked out in sleeve tattoos, reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s Aang, with his giant companion Trico as a stand-in for Appa (yip yip!). The action/adventure gameplay focuses on the boy and Trico working together to escape from these mysterious ruins.

Ico focused on the interaction between its protagonist, Ico, and his nonplayable companion, Yorda. Shadow of the Colossus instead centered around the physical relationship between its hero and the game’s massive colossi. The Last Guardian is essentially a literal hybrid of the two, with the boy’s non-playable companion as an enormous, climbable creature. Much of the game’s action revolves around properly utilizing the very different skill sets of its two main characters. The boy is nimble and of course has a human knack for critical thinking, while Trico is large, powerful, and climbable by the boy. They will need each other in order to escape these mysterious ruins.

Trico has a remarkably natural presence. The designers drew inspiration from a wide variety of animals (dogs, cats, birds) with a final result that looks most like a griffin, with regard to established mythical creatures. The comparison I couldn’t help coming back to, however, was a puppy, from the way it scratches its ears to the way it whines anxiously when the boy bounds across a crumbling platform, which made Trico immediately and immensely likable. Ico was notorious for tugging on the heartstrings of its players, and I fully anticipate an equally emotional bond with Trico. In terms of other game characters, BioShock Infinite‘s Elizabeth comes to mind as another constant companion that really gave the impression that she had a life of her own, rather than just being a dumb AI that followed you around.

Visually The Last Guardian is very reminiscent of both Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. Although it’s obviously had an overhaul in terms of texture and detail in the intervening upgrade from its first reveal on PlayStation 3 to its new home on PlayStation 4, it shares the same washed-out color palette of its predecessors, so fans of those games will feel right at home.

Ueda made the interesting point during the presentation that all of his games so far have featured a strong emphasis on a sense of height, which is present in full force here for The Last Guardian in the platforming segments shown so far. Trico is there to serve as a sort of safety net, providing both physical assistance and psychological comfort as you negotiate the tenuous ledges and vertigo-inducing voids. During the demonstration when the boy leaps and grabs onto Trico’s tail, Udea actually missed the first time, plummeting to his death before it quickly reloaded to a few moments prior.

Although we don’t yet have a specific release date, Ueda promised we will see The Last Guardian on PlayStation 4 sometime in 2016. Given the game’s extraordinarily protracted development, I can’t imagine that they would reintroduce the game if they were not on the home stretch, but in the interest of not counting our chicks before they hatch, let’s still call that tentative, just to be safe.

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