I am a massive fan of anime, manga and video games to the point where I must have the memorabilia, I go to conventions dressed as the characters and listen to the soundtracks just as much as I do with mainstream music (which is quite a lot). This will not be a surprise to those who know me well.
However I kind of feel that in the last couple of years I have been going through these hobbies somewhat passively or like I’m in a dazed state. It’s hard to describe, but despite getting excited for things, it feels like my experience just feels a little flat. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I haven’t had a major emotional response or feeling for video games, manga or anime as individual products or as a whole for some time.
That changed for me recently. It changed when I recently purchased the Sony Playstation 4 and preordered The Last Guardian by Team Ico. My game arrived about a week and a half later than my Playstation which meant I hadn’t done a whole lot with my PS4 because I didn’t have any games on it and I was determined for the first Playstation game I had played since the PS2 to be The Last Guardian.
I didn’t know a whole lot about The Last Guardian before playing or even buying it. Whilst waiting for it to come out, I had watched a review that praised the game but had some criticisms about the AI and camera. The only thing I knew was that it was about a giant creature called Trico and a small boy who did not have a name. That and it was made by Team Ico who also made Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which are regarded as masterpieces.
When my copy of The Last Guardian arrived, I put it straight into my console and booted it up. Now you may be wondering why I am building this up so much. But you could not understand the way this game makes me feel, even when just thinking about like I am now as I’m typing this, I feel enormous emotion and connection to it. It was a wake up to my dormant way of feeling towards my passions. It reminded me of what a game can be and why I fell in love with them so long ago.
The Last Guardian is a flawed game in two ways in my opinion. The main way is that the in game camera is frankly atrocious. Whilst it works a good portion of the time, there are moments where the screen went completely black because of a wall or because of Trico or something like that. This made it sometimes tricky to climb obstacles or grab onto things. The other issue I had was with the controls which, like the camera worked fine enough although could be a bit annoying most of the time but really picked their moments to screw up. There isn’t really combat as such in the game, or rather the player doesn’t do combat, Trico does it for you. The best you can do is bash into enemies or try to avoid them to start with, but there were combat sequences that I got pretty frustrated with because the game seemed to get confused with what I wanted it to do. Whilst these moments were fairly few and far between, they were still far more frequent than I would have liked.
Now, you may be wondering why on earth I would start talking negatively about a game that has awakened such passion in me. Well this is the thing. For all the game screws up on, none of it outshines its absolute brilliance. And it is brilliant. The narrative is minimal but very engaging, there are no super long cutscenes to act as lazy info dumps and when the game does put a cutscene in, it is well considered and doesn’t do anything unnecessary like I would argue more than a few cutscenes in other game series do. The lighting is absolutely stunning. That might sound weird, but especially in outdoor areas, the way the light falls onto Trico’s immense stature is breathtaking. But you know what’s even more breathtaking? The environment. The scale of it all boggles the mind and yet you feel so trapped (especially during times Trico is absent) and claustrophobic. The soundtrack is awesome and so gentle and light but immensely powerful. And of course there’s Trico.
Trico has been a point of a little bit of contention. No one denies that it is a beautifully rendered and realised creature but I know that a lot of people have problems with his AI which I personally haven’t had issues with. They complain that he doesn’t do things straight away when you tell him to and to that I say why would he? He’s a wild animal and I actually love the way that the relationship I have with Trico is so reminiscent of the one I have with my cats. And I think that’s why I feel such a strong connection to Trico, because he feels so real to me. But it’s not just that. It’s the journey that you go on with Trico, the fact that you rely on Trico as much as Trico relies on you, which spoiler, is hell of a lot. I love Trico’s mannerisms, the way that he interacts with water, obviously hates being cooped up and runs around and stretches his legs when you go outside.
My favourite thing about Trico however, is how protective he is of the boy and how much they come to care about each other. For example I find it heart wrenching when enemies appear and seeing Trico get so angry that he has to be calmed down. The thought of the boy being in danger is so clearly not acceptable that Trico will take risks to save the boy and the most heart warming thing is that he always comes through for the boy. It’s so amazing to see the personal growth of this creature that you can’t really talk to or anything but you feel like you’ve known Trico all your life. There are times when the boy has to jump these distances that Olympic gold medalists couldn’t touch and Trico will always catch the boy. One of the most warming moments for me was when I was directing the boy to get down from a high wall but screwed it up and injured the boy’s leg which is what happens if you jump too great a distance and causes the boy to limp about for a little bit. This was the first time it had happened to me and I wasn’t expecting it but Trico saw the injured boy and walked over to nuzzle him and I just thought that was such a special thing.
The reason I really wanted to talk about this is because The Last Guardian awakened something in me. It made me feel excited about video games in a way that I haven’t felt for a long time.
The last time I remember feeling something like this was back when Pokemon Black and White came out because it was going to be a roster of entirely new Pokemon whereas the games before it had only built on the Pokedex that came before it. It was also exciting because there would be moving sprites instead of the Pokemon being completely still. The other thing that was really interesting was the fact that this game had a lot of very thought provoking themes and ideas. It was the first Pokemon game to directly ask the player if they really understood or have ever thought about what capturing and battling actual wild animals implies. It was so self aware and sensitive and had some amazing Pokemon designs to boot. I wouldn’t say it made me feel emotional like The Last Guardian but it did make me feel super excited and invested in the game.
I also loved the characters, specifically the gym leaders. It was the first time that I can recall gym leaders having any major plot relevance and gave them more fleshed out personalities. For example one of the gym leaders is a sophisticated model but worries that the public can’t see beyond her exterior and struggles with people not thinking that she has no personality and isn’t any fun. In Pokemon Black/White 2, the sequel to Pokemon Black/White, she has changed her appearance to brighter, more ‘electric’ colours and takes on a more outward and flamboyant persona. Now I could write a whole essay on what is going on here but I will let you infer the themes being addressed here.
There were also the three gym leaders at the start of Pokemon Black/White, triplet brothers sharing a gym who felt the pressure of being the weakest gym leaders in the region, to the point where people couldn’t understand what they were even there for. A trio of villains visit their gym and basically talk them down to the point where they decide to stop being gym leaders. I was interested in this because you have to wonder how much resolve these guys had that was so chipped away that they lost faith in themselves that badly. It’s pretty sad when you think about it.
I guess what I liked is that you can imagine the characters actually having a life outside of what they immediately do in the game. Pokemon Black and White and their sequels were the last time that I was really truly invested in and loved because if I’m being honest, I thought Pokemon X and Y were dumpster fires. And don’t get me start on the Ruby and Sapphire remakes, whilst not terrible, I don’t think do enough justice to the original but did nonetheless have some good things going for it.
For the longest time I was looking for something in a game without even realising it and I think I have finally found it in The Last Guardian. The minimal story telling and direction made it feel like the first challenging game I’ve played in a long time and yet none of it feels like a challenge because it was ham-fistedly put there to challenge me. Everything I did just felt natural to the game and its progression. I liked that there was no tutorial or hand holding because the developer doesn’t think I can play games unlike The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword which I hate but the worst part is the companion character who can’t go two minutes without assuming you’ve forgotten how to tell Link how to so much as walk and feels compelled to remind you.
I wanted to write about these things because they are so important to my work. Aesthetically, games can get away with so much more than shows on TV can and that makes them so amazing to look at. I also think that games can take more risks thematically than other types of media. I have always been influenced by video games and anime aesthetically and thematically, so this is why I wanted to talk about it.