Sunday, January 8, 2017

At Long Last

So after nine years of quasi-development The Last Guardian is finally out.  The Fumito Ueda trilogy is complete.  That said, I don't think this final entry in the series is best of the three.  Common  criticisms tend to focus on the clunky controls and low frame rate.  Par for the course when it comes Ico and Shadow of the Colossus...still, it would have been nice if the primary developer (the blandly named "Japan Studio") had ironed out some of these issues.  Regardless, I wasn't as bothered by the controls as much as some people were.  Sure, there were times when I felt like I was fighting the camera (even after the 1.03 patch), but most of my attention was on other aspects of the game.  In particular, I kept finding myself wondering if I had missed an important part of the story along the way.

It's interesting to note that if we look at the Japanese title for The Last Guardian it's actually something different; "Hito Kui no Owashi Toriko," which directly translated into English means "The Man-Eating Great Eagle Trico."  It kind of feels like a spoiler since that particular plot point isn't reviled until more than halfway through the game.  Incidentally, there is a lot of word play going on here.  "Toriko" is the name of the bird-creature in Japanese, but also means "captive."  What's more it sound a lot like the Japanese word "tori no ko" which is what you call a baby bird, as well as a faint connection with the word "neko" or "cat."  The English adaptation tries to retain the spirit of the double entendre by going with "Trico" because it sounds a bit like "Ico" (the name of the first game in the series) and "Tri" (the Latin root word for "three").  It's not the same nuance in Japanese and English, but I like it in the sense that The Last Guardian does feel a lot like Ico (except with the roles reversed).

In the first game, players take the role of a boy escorting a girl out of the crumbling stone ruins of a massive citadel.  For the most part the girl is helpless but integral to progressing because she's the only person that can unlock doors.  Additionally, the smoke-and-shadow inhabitants of the ruins seek to capture her on numerous occasions by bodily carrying her through portals that occasionally open up in the floor.  In The Last Guardian, it's the player that has to open up new paths for Trico, though they must simultaneously depend on the beast to navigate much of the colossal architecture.  On top of that the animated suits of ill-omened armor, that reside in "The Nest," capture the player (in much the same way as the girl in Ico) leaving it up to Trico to come to the rescue.  Of course it isn't a one-to-one reversal, but you get the idea.  There's also some Shadow of the Colossus woven into The Last Guardian, but again, things are flipped in that the colossus (Trico) is your friend and protector through most of the game rather than a beast to be slain.  One might be inclined to say that the last guardian is Trico, but that assertion doesn't really hold water.

There are a lot of other bird-creatures in the game, and even after most perish in the climatic ending the epilogue reveals that Trico isn't the last of it's kind left in the ruins.  At least one more lives with Trico (probably the one that got it's mask smashed by the player or possibly an offspring).  So the player is the last guardian then?  He's got a mirror-shield after all...but, no.  As far as I can tell, the player isn't the last of anything nor does he really defend anything.  The only fit I can come up with is the master of the valley; that machine-like construct in the top of the weird pale-blue tower.  It seems to me that the master is protecting the cold tomb at the base of the tower that the player stumbles into at the beginning of the game.  To what end, I don't really know, but it appears to need human sacrifices to sustain itself.  Some people who have finished the game speculate that the barrels are what the sacrifices become, food for the bird-creatures, but I'm not so sure.  It's definitely possible, but then again, the barrels may just be a Pavlovian reward used to further enforce control...or the answer might be somewhere in-between.  Maybe the master of the valley harvests some of the energy from the sacrifices for it's own ends and provides the rest to sustain it's method of supply.  One thing is certain though, the glowing turquoise substance in the barrels looks very similar to the glowing cracks and runes found on the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus.  Again though, I'm not sure what the point of it all is.  In Ico, the evil sorceress-queen is trying to be reincarnated. Meanwhile, Dormin in Shadow of the Colossus wishes to break free from his imprisonment.  The master of the valley though just appears to want to maintain some kind of cryogenic freezer for undivulged reasons.  Perhaps it is meant to be taken as a metaphor, but for me that key piece missing from the story puzzle was more annoying than all the times Trico ignored my commands.

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