The premise of The Last Guardian is that you are a boy who has mysteriously woken up in a hole in the ground next to a chained creature that looks like a giant Chihuahua with feathers. Either the species of animal is called Trico or the boy decides to call this particular puppy-bird Trico, but Trico is not doing okay. After the boy and Trico work together to escape the underground area where they’ve been imprisoned (or discarded?), they emerge onto a cliff overlooking a giant castle, which turns out to be totally empty. Since Trico really wants to go inside, and since the boy has nothing better to do, into the castle they go.
The Last Guardian is very pretty, but it suffers from terrible controls, a terrible camera, Trico’s terrible AI, and several terrible glitches.
These are the first three times I rage-quit the game:
(1) During the opening sequence, the boy needs to feed Trico three barrels of food. When I started the game, one of the barrels was not there. Even though the initial area isn’t that large, I spent twenty minutes looking for the last barrel until finally going to the internet for answers. Apparently it’s a glitch that one of the barrels will randomly not generate.
(2) A bit later on in the game, when the boy first enters the castle, Trico is too large to fit through the doorway. The boy is supposed to run through an upper hallway and emerge back outside at the front of the building, where he is supposed to call for Trico. Trico will eventually make his way outside; and, if the boy stands for long enough on a high balcony, Trico will hop on up and follow him back inside. Although this sounds simple, my description doesn’t convey the sheer gigantic scale of the architecture. There is absolutely nothing to indicate to the player that Trico can “hop on up” to a ledge easily as tall as the Washington Monument, or that it can hear the boy calling from several football fields away and through multiple stone walls when its attention is focused elsewhere. It was infuriating that the poor design forced me to get up from my couch, turn on my laptop, and use a walkthrough so early in the game.
(3) You know what? It would be tedious to explain what happened, so I won’t.
To make matters worse, The Last Guardian is hard in the way that NES games were hard. It teaches the player a set of rules and then refuses to play by them. Basically, the controls don’t work properly.
To give an example of what I mean, there is a point in the game during which the following sequence must be undertaken:
(1) The boy climbs onto a pile of rubble.
(2) The boy jumps from the rubble to a free-standing bell tower.
(3) Trico will jump on top of the tower’s cupola.
(4) The boy jumps and grabs Trico’s hanging tail.
(5) The boy climbs up Trico’s tail onto the creature’s head.
(6) Trico will look toward a ledge.
(7) The boy jumps from Trico’s head onto the ledge.
(8) The boy runs along the ledge to a broken bridge over a pit.
(9) The player jumps over the small gap in the bridge to the other side.
This seems like fairly run-of-the mill video game spatial navigation, except for two things.
First, Trico does what it wants. There are no special trigger points on the map or actions that the boy can take that will ensure that Trico positions itself appropriately, so the player frequently has to wait. If Trico doesn’t jump onto the bell tower when the boy calls to it, the player has no way of knowing that the game expects the boy to use Trico to get to a higher vantage point. Once the boy is on top of Trico’s head, there’s no way of knowing that the boy can jump to one specific ledge while Trico is looking in that specific direction. I suppose some gamers are born with an instinct for these things, but I have to rely heavily on a walkthrough.
Second, even if the player knows exactly what the game requires (may the angels bless the Polygon walkthrough), the boy can’t run or jump with any degree of accuracy. The joystick will move the boy, but the shifting camera and its uncomfortable angles mean that it’s difficult to translate the directional commands of the joystick into the desired direction of movement onscreen. Moreover, the boy runs when he wants and walks when he wants, and the player can’t control his speed. The triangle button will make the boy jump; but, because the player can’t control his direction or momentum, there’s a lot of trial and error involved – every leap is a leap of faith. This renders the game’s platforming maneuvers extremely difficult to pull off. Even something as seemingly simple as hopping over a small gap in a straight bridge will frequently result in multiple time-consuming failures.
I think my problem may simply be that I’m so used to playing Zelda games, which stand at the absolute pinnacle of 3D adventure exploration. I’m not accustomed to having the mechanics of a game actively work against me, and there’s not really a learning curve for mastering controls that aren’t consistent.
In any case, the homework that I’ve assigned for myself is to play The Last Guardian for half an hour every evening, which is about as much of it as I can take in one sitting. I’ll just keep telling myself that it’s supposed to be good, and maybe my patience will pay off.
( Header image by Cerulikat on Tumblr )