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How The Last Guardian mellowed me out


Why ever choose to spend time on something you don't enjoy?

This was my philosophy for the last few years. The idea is that, since you don't always have control over your life, and since you often will have to do something you don't enjoy, every second you choose to spend on yourself should be as rewarding as possible. If you're playing a game, and that game frustrates you, then how is it worth your time?

I don't think it's the worst way to live. A far worse one is to become a slave to your environment, or your routines, or to the expectations of people around you. I've been there too, drifting along without a goal, being alive while rarely feeling much, doing things that don't make sense simply because it's what other people do. The satisfaction of breaking out of that, of rebelling against it, is absolutely incredible. To be able to put your foot down and say "no, this is stupid and I reject it" is really important. You have to do things because they make sense, and because they make sense to you. You need to keep focus, and to observe the world around you, and be able to decide whether something is right or wrong for you.

With all that in mind, it once made sense that every milisecond should count when watching movies, or playing games, or spending one's spare time on anything meant to be recreational. Why put up with the bad parts of art? There's enough purely good stuff out there for me to never be bored.

If a game you're otherwise enjoying has a bit in it that isn't as fun as the rest, then why not quit it entirely? You're not enjoying having to deal with this QTE, or this escort mission, or this bit where you suddenly have to swim. Considering that not all games do that, surely there's no reason to stick around.

The Last Guardian was originally announced at the height of the PS3's popularity, and it was anticipated to be a mega hit for that particular system. It didn't release until 2016. The years that passed only increased the anticipation, as it always does, even though heavily delayed titles have a rough history. I had originally planned to buy it in 2016. Then reviews came out, and so did a lot of opinions on it. I didn't pick it up until late 2019, and didn't finish it until the very first day of 2020.

You know that weird sensation you get where you're trying not to cry, but then your entire body says "fuck you", and it suddenly feels like your brain is being hit by wave after wave of pure sad, which then somehow forces the tears out? Well, that's what happened to me. At the risk of getting spoilery, it's worth mentioning that The Last Guardian is hardly the saddest story ever told. Not by a looong shot. A lot of predictions people made were way darker than how the game's actual narrative turned out (at least in regards to its main characters), so it surprised me that it had such a powerful effect on me. I think it's the way the world is presented. The shared realm of all Team Ico's games is one of the most impressive fictional worlds I've ever seen, heard, read about or played in. For all the exposition and lore dumps you'd see in so many other fantasy worlds, they all feel far smaller and more artificial than this one, which reveals almost nothing. There are theories and implications about ancient cults, wars, demons and all that stuff, but very little of all that backstory is actually known.

This element of mystery is something that I feel more fantasy settings desperately need, but it's not the only strength of The Last Guardian's world. As much as it's the kind of world one would dream about, it also feels grounded. It seems convincing that people live there, in their puny villages, and actually getting to see one such village was more exhilirating to me than it probably should have been. Maybe it was the fact that the protags from the other two games were also from villages, but we never got to see the homes they left behind.

All that said, of course, the main source of my tears came from the relationship between the boy and Trico, which is made extra special because it's playable and blah blah blah, whatever, it's true! All of it is true! The Last Guardian is a completely magical journey that I will never, ever regret being a part of.

What a rough journey it was, though. Not all the time, but often enough that it grated on me several times along the way. Framerate issues, control issues, camera issues, weird physics, poorly explained mechanics. The game suffers from all of this, but I was the one who suffered the most. I can't believe how much trouble I had throwing these damn barrels.

One part I distinctly recall is the moment where you first find your way to an outside area, and the nature is clearly supposed to be breath-taking, and it almost is... except for the fact that the framerate drops so much that it becomes hard to focus on anything else. I'm decently forgiving in this regard, too. It has to drop a lot before I even notice. Thankfully, I can't think of another part that's anywhere near as stuttery, but that one moment is so important that having it ruined is massively disappointing.

At least I had expected it. The fact that the game's somewhat shaky reputation preceeded it likely ended up being in my favour. I mostly bought it out of respect for Team Ico and Fumito Ueda's previous works, with a dash of curiosity added to the mix. It was also a game that nobody had managed to spoil for me, which was a bonus.

Still, there were moments during my journey where I considered watching the ending on Youtube instead of fumbling my way through yet another puzzle where the solution would turn out to be the exact thing I had tried to do from the beginning, but which I couldn't thanks to my dog-monster "friend" refusing to obey me! Damn it, Trico, I clearly wanted you to jump the gap, you daft prick!

I stuck to it, however, even if the voice in the back of my head got louder and louder. "Why are you doing this? You don't enjoy this. You're wasting your time. Don't force yourself through this for the sake of it." It all sounds reasonable, right?

Well, I never would have been hit with all those emotion waves had I chosen to quit. I actually like having the salty juices squeezed out of my sight spheres. It's a different type of fun, and it's indicative of the sort of strong connection I wish I could have with everything. But like I said, quitting the game in frustration would have prevented me from ever making that connection, so it made me reconsider my philosophy. Maybe other games were worth going back to, and to give another shot.

I had previously quit Resident Evil 4 in frustration. Not because of any lingering issue I had with it. Tank controls are rarely ideal, but they're worth getting used to in a game with combat this satisfying. The part I got fed up with was the second half of a notriously tough room, in which you're expected to cover your AI partner from a distance by shooting the enemies around her. I don't know why this is in so many games, but it sucks. It's never fun and it's never interesting. Why a game this long needed such blatant padding is a mystery to me.

Now, after finishing the game, I'm in this awkward position where I have to admit Resi 4 slaps ass, the whole ass, and nothing but the ass. This game is so much fun that its rough spots are easily worth marching through, because there's always something fifty times more interesting around the corner. Finishing it also gave me the courage to finish Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which turned out to be the most satisfying and reassuring gaming experience I've ever had. A goddamn video game convinced me that I can accomplish anything I want if I'm patient enough, and that the accomplishment may feel every bit as great as could possible imagine.

I should say, however, that I'm still not convinced to push through every single game I start playing. After Sekiro, I decided to finally play the first Dark Souls, which I did enjoy. But then my curiosity led me to check out The Surge and Nioh, and oh boy, what a stark difference in quality. Both games absolutely reek of second-rate knockoff. During the several hours I spent with both, neither managed to present a single memorable moment, yet they still expected me to master their punishing difficulty. There still has to be promise of better things. I still have standards. Even Darksiders III, which is a hell of a lot more entertaining than The Surge and Nioh, was a flop for me due to how unfinished it felt. The world of Darksiders isn't interesting enough to earn the same level of forgiveness I gave The Last Guardian. Charming schlock is still schlock.

Still, my journey with Trico mellowed me out considerably, and it's been for the best. It has led me down a path to become more patient, managing to undo some of effects that worse games have had on me. I feel more encouraged to lot in a bit more work to enjoy a title, as long as it isn't all work with no reward. There are several games I never finished that I might give another crack in the future, like Batman: Arkham Knight, Hollow Knight, and Shovel... Knight? Wait what the fuck?

I'm in a very good place right now when it comes to video games (despite my crushing inability to afford all the new ones that I want), and a much better one than back when I was pickier. I feel stronger now, and happier, and more capable, and I think it might be having a positive effect on other aspects of my life. All it took was to accept the imperfections of my entertainment, and to work with them, and to use them in order to better myself.

We're all working towards maximising our happiness, one way or another, but the path to doing so is often much more complicated that anyone could expect. My old philosophy of cutting out all things unpleasant seemed to be the way, but I feel like I know better now. I wonder, though, if I ever would have come this far if not for The Last Guardian, its glaring flaws, and its ability to outshine every single one of them.

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About Dango one of us since 10:28 AM on 11.09.2011

Art by the fantastic Roberto Plankton

Phalanxification by the bombastic ZombZ

The cream of my video game crop (no longer in alphabetical order):