After recently beginning my third play through of The Last Of Us, and subsequently having cried for the third time after seeing Sarah’s death scene again, I had a rush of emotion and reinforcement of realization that The Last Of Us is a masterpiece that I love, and simply just want to speak about.
When I think about the cultural masterpiece that is The Last Of Us, I don’t have the word characters in my mind. I have the word people floating around. I have Joel, Ellie as well as other people that we meet throughout the game in my thoughts, the same way that I think about friends or family, and this is the product of absolutely stellar writing and video game craftsmanship. Neil Druckman, alongside all the crew at Naughty Dog were able to make me, as well as millions of others across the globe actually care about the people within this game through a platter of reasons such the incredible performance given by voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, as well as the constant, captivating fight for survival that these characters must endure. In addition, the relentless and vicious nature of the world that this lovable duo must live through, only has the player on the edge of their seat, praying for the pair to come through untouched after each and every encounter. Through all of this, an honest, true to the world and down-right excellent soundtrack helps the player to become immersed in this seemingly real world. And it also helps to make Joel, Ellie, as well as many other members of the cast come across as real people.
There are probably hundreds of aspects of The Last Of Us that somebody could analyse and praise, however the one thing that sticks out to me as perhaps the most memorable aspect of the Last Of Us, is the development of Joel and Ellie’s Father and Daughter like relationship, throughout the experience. Twenty years before the main events of The Last Of Us take place, and also twenty years before Joel and Ellie actually meet. Before the apocalypse even began, Joel had a daughter named Sarah, and of course, Sarah is killed right as the infection is first beginning in a devastating, and emotional scene which sets the brutal and gritty tone for The Last Of Us. Now when Joel meets Ellie for the first time, it is because he is taking on a job to escort Ellie across America in search of a group of Fireflies that are based at a particular hospital. They don’t know each other and there certainly is not an emotional attachment between the two. It’s a job that Joel doesn’t particularly want to do but nonetheless needs to get it done. Throughout the earlier stages of the Last Of Us, Joel comes across as ignorant towards Ellie. It’s apparent that he doesn’t want to be travelling with her, and it almost seems like he actually dislikes her, as he disregards any good that she does for the pair. He even goes as far as to show anger towards her when she saves his life. She’s effectively a burden on his life, however as events unfold and the violent nature of modern America soaks into the pair, a tightened relationship begins to unfold, as the pair become emotionally attached. Furthermore this attachment only expands unto the player as they become emotionally attached to both Joel and Ellie. It’s an infectious emotion that holds a trickledown effect which is triggered by Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. The triggering of emotion is something that happens frequently throughout The Last Of Us. The developers and writers behind this game masterfully crafted a fragile relationship which could be vanquished at any given time. This realisation causes the player to genuinely care for the characters within this game. The trickledown effect that I just mentioned returns. As the game progresses, Joel begins to protect and care for Ellie as if it was his own child, and us as the players then begin to care for Joel and Ellie as if they were our responsibility.
I speak about beauty within character formation and emotional attachment, however beauty exists within The Last Of Us and Joel and Ellie’s struggle for survival simply within the environments that the player, Joel and Ellie explore. Post-apocalyptic America as depicted within The Last Of Us gets a coating from all four of the seasons. Starting with Summer, and ending with Spring. Through all four of these seasons we see harmonious and elegant areas. From lush woodland which Ellie witnesses first hand for the first time, to abandoned overgrown universities and Spore-infested subway tunnels. The gorgeous environments that you get the pleasure of traversing contrast with the horrors that inhabit them. However I feel like the seasons entwine with Joel and Ellie’s developing Father and Daughter like relationship. As I mentioned, The Last Of Us begins in the Summer and ends in the Spring, and during the adventure, Joel and Ellie go from being total strangers whom have no love for each other, to the pair becoming so closely bonded. I feel that in terms of weather and the seasons themselves, Summer is the least harsh, and perhaps the most pleasant when it comes to survival. It is a time where wild-life and nature is thriving most. I feel that this translates to Joel and Ellie’s relationship. When they first meet, they’re within the wall and when they leave, they face the easiest of the challenges that they face, compared with what comes later down the line. They haven’t experienced or been through much together, as a pair. Come Autumn and they’ve been through a fair share together, and thus their bond strengthens. Continuing onwards, deep within Winter and the storyline involving David, one of the most trying times for Joel and Ellie, what is in my opinion the most emotional and biggest turning point in the developing Father and Daughter relationship occurs. Ellie survives a horrific near death experience at the hands of cannibal, David, and during the cut scene after the fight, Joel clutches Ellie to him and tells her that she’s safe, before calling her ‘baby girl’. This phrase is imperative as the only person Joel has ever said that to is his late daughter, Sarah. The building of the pairs relationship reaches what could be seen as maximum strength during the most brutal and trying time (Winter) and it brings the pair closer than ever. This relates back to what I said about the seasons, as generally speaking, Winter is the harshest of the seasons. Wild-life dies out, and the coldest conditions are in effect. The normal effects of Winter obviously effect Joel and Ellie during their journey, but it’s the way that this changes their relationship which is beautiful. Finally, Spring. During Spring, new life enters the world. Resurrection and renewal occurs. It’s essentially a reset on natures calendar. The way that this translates into Joel and Ellie’s lives is that their bond is at its peak. The tables have turned, and Joel no longer sees Ellie as a burden. Instead, it’s obvious that he very much cares for her. This is obvious as he chooses to save her life, rather than allow a vaccine to benefit the entirety of humanity, at the end of the game. From Summer to Spring, Joel has flipped his feelings for Ellie completely.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt raw emotion, empathy and pure love for fictional characters more than I have for Joel and Ellie. The world that they’re living in is so delicate, as is their relationship, and seeing both their world and relationship transform alongside each other is an incredible, and in my opinion unrivalled thing. I speak a lot about special games, and The Last Of Us is one of them. Raw and honest emotion hits you throughout the entirety of this journey, and it’s a journey that I will always re-visit, and cherish for the rest of my days.
Thank you Naughty Dog.