By Chris Byrne
It seems an age away since The Last Guardian’s reveal back in 2009, and it’s almost unbelievable to think that we are, at the time of writing this, a mere two months away from its launch.
The game suffered numerous setbacks in its development, some of the most notable including lead creator Fumito Ueda leaving Sony, only to rejoin many years later with his development team, Team Ico, being merged into a new team called Gen Design and having some development done by Japan Studio. Also, hardware limitations of the PS3 would eventually lead the team to the decision that switching to the much more capable PS4 would be necessary to fully realize Ueda-san’s vision. It’s been a long road to finish this game, and fans of his games cannot wait to finally play The Last Guardian.
The funny thing is though, for a long time I wasn’t entirely sure why people were so eagerly anticipating this title. I’m surprised after all this time that people were still interested in this title. Ultimately, this came down to one shocking realization: that, as a PS2 owner, I feel slightly ashamed to admit that I’d never played Ico nor Shadow Of The Colossus. With that in mind, I decided to sign up for a PS Now trial, which is Sony’s game streaming subscription service that allows you to play some of their classic titles, and finally try out these old games. As a side note, PS Now worked absolutely fine for me most of the time; some hitching here and there, but, for the most part, it’s solid.
On to the games. I started first with Shadow Of The Colossus. After playing through the game twice, I could only come to one real conclusion on this title…
What a stunning game, in almost every single respect!
It really is a masterpiece, and the HD updates done for PS3 really serve this game well. Every aspect of its design, from its stellar soundtrack, to desolate world, epic colossi battles and heartbreaking story serve to cement its place as one of the greatest video games of all time. The world is empty, with only the colossi to defeat as your goal for the game, and it does an incredible job of conveying the sense that you shouldn’t be there. The absence of music in these sections and reliance on sound design only add to that. When you get to battle a colossus, you feel through gameplay mechanics the struggle of trying to fight these things. The soundtrack that accompanies these fights is truly wonderful. I in particular loved how the track would change based on what phase of the fight you were on.
There was a huge amount of joy to be found in figuring out the puzzles on how to beat each Colossi, and to climb and eventually slay these gargantuan foes, and yet, at the same time, you’re always left feeling like there’s something wrong about what you’re doing. The narrative was mostly told at the beginning and the end of the game and has quite a lot of ambiguity to its back story, yet it’s very well told, and I challenge you not to get a little choked up at the end of this game. It mattered little to me that sometimes the controls could get a little clunky and the physics would occasionally get a bit silly. Playing Shadow Of The Colossus was one of the greatest experiences of my gaming life.
Forgive me for gushing a bit on this game, but onwards on to Ico. I was a little more worried going into this one, as I’d heard how poorly the controls had aged, but still I wanted to play it. And, once again, only one real conclusion comes to mind on Shadow Of The Colossus’s predecessor…
What a stunning game, in almost every single respect!
Ico is a lot more intimate, smaller than SOTC. It focuses more on environmental puzzles and much simpler combat, yet it’s still very awe-inspiring. Like SOTC, it’s minimalistic in its design and story. Combat is as simple as pressing square to swing your weapon against foes who are by design very simple. Again, no more or less than what they needed to be to serve the game. This game bonds its two lead characters, Ico and Yorda through mechanics. It does so by having you hold Yorda’s hand to advance through the game, its puzzle design and in how you fight the enemies in this game. The soundtrack is a lot more ambient in this game by using less instrumentation and mostly synthesisers, but it’s exactly right for the setting of this game. The story is, again, as equally ambiguous, heartwarming and heartbreaking. I could go on for a surplus amount of time about Ico, but you get picture.
It was only after playing these two games that I fully realized why people are so eager for The Last Guardian. No one really makes games like Fumito Ueda can. With Shadow Of The Colossus in particular, I can’t think of a single game I’ve played which is anything like it. When it comes to designing these titles, both Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus focus on only keeping the components that truly made the games what they needed to be great, and the attention to detail is so apparent in these games. They’re some of the best examples of video games as art, and both still hold up today. Their influence is felt so strongly as well. You don’t even need to see the list of developers who’ve cited these games as inspiration to see how much it’s affected gaming. If you go and play Dark Souls, for example, you can see blatantly how say the absence of a soundtrack until the boss battle lends a sense of added gravitas to these encounters.
So with a little over two months to go and an understanding of what Fumito Ueda is capable of making, despite the setbacks in development, I’m very much looking forward to playing The Last Guardian. If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to play both Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus, and judging by the trailers we have seen so far, I’m optimistic that The Last Guardian will be well worth the wait.
Stay tuned to The Midnight Gamer for all the latest and greatest from the video gaming world. The Last Guardian is being developed for Playstation 4 by SIE Japan Studio & genDESIGN and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It's pencilled in for release on the 28th October 2016 here in the EU (yes, that still includes us for now), but let's not hold our breath just yet...