Expectations are ever the creator's burden. When any piece of impending fiction generates a loud enough conversation - be it film, book, or video game - an expectant audience can play a part in spinning a tale of a different yarn, one that saddles the work in question with standards it is tacitly expected to meet. It's the reason why a game like No Man's Sky became something altogether different in the minds of its would-be fans than it ended up being in reality. This is thanks in no small part to marketing and overblown promises. With that fiasco fresh in my mind, I turn my attention to The Last Guardian, a game that could easily share the same fate should the fickle winds of hype blow ill come its release this December.
The Last Guardian's development history is almost as legendary as its creator's legacy. Director Fumito Ueda's singular vision brought to life the incomparable Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, two titles that stand as some of the most artful experiences to ever be produced for the medium. The Last Guardian, he and his team's third effort, has been in the making for nearly a decade - since 2007, to be precise. Like Final Fantasy Versus XIII before it, The Last Guardian has transformed over the course of its protracted development cycle, beginning as a PlayStation 3 game before being reintroduced to the world as a PlayStation 4 title at E3 2015.
Ueda's games are famously minimalist, so even though we know what The Last Guardian is about on a superficial level, a quick description doesn't do much to explain why the game is so anticipated. It's about a boy and a beast, two prisoners with a tenuous relationship who must solve puzzles and work together to escape... something. Like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus before it, The Last Guardian is framed as a more meditative experience, one that asks the player to slow down and breathe its world in deeply. But with nine years of anticipation fanning the flames of our desire for the game, I can't help but worry that our expectations may distort the reality of what The Last Guardian is and isn't.
Now a high-profile release for Sony in the middle of the 2016 holiday season, The Last Guardian runs the risk of being misunderstood. "We waited nine years for this?" It's easy to picture overzealous players rushing through the game, waiting for an especially "epic" moment, only to miss the message buried beneath the surface. What about the moments in between? It's difficult to explain that The Last Guardian is the kind of game where you might want to simply sit still, to take in its sights and sounds instead of forging ahead relentlessly.
Certainly, I acknowledge that my concern may sound pretentious, even eager to defend a game that isn't even out yet. But I've already borne witness to the sort of missing-the-forest-for-the-trees sentiment I'm talking about: "[The Last Guardian] feels like a PlayStation 2 game," Phil Kollar of Polygon once wrote. So what if it does? I've been moved to tears by PlayStation 2 games. Using that sort of evaluation as a pejorative is disingenuous at best.
It's only natural that Sony is banking on The Last Guardian's success because it could prove to be a huge money-maker. Yet its marketing could do it a disservice; presenting a nonconforming game like The Last Guardian to the world via a AAA advertising scheme is like trying to sell a Studio Ghibli film at a monster truck rally. As a proponent of gaming as an art form, it is my hope that The Last Guardian has a chance to shine, neither crushed by the weight of expectation or misrepresented by incongruously flashy advertisements that fail to capture its peculiar spirit.