The Last of Us is in my opinion the best narrative of a story in video game form (based on what I’ve experienced; there could be others). I won’t be getting into gameplay or mechanics of the game itself because I know some readers will not be familiar with that aspect (so let’s keep it general). However, I think everyone can admire and stand with me when it comes to enjoying a well-told story. The Last of Us does this.
The game follows Joel–one of our main protagonists–in a future that is decimated by a disease that affects people’s brains and bodies, leading to eventual violent tendencies. He’s a survivor, suffering demons from the first days of the outbreak. This leads to his eventual goal for the game. His task is to escort a young girl, Ellie, to a location across the country where she can be safe from would-be antagonists who seek to do her harm.
Without going into spoilers (just in case any readers have yet to play the game and are planning to), it’s not the most embracing of relationships as Joel is worn down by the world and carries the pain of losing his own daughter years prior. Ellie is a girl who was born into a broken world and her wonder about the world lost leads her to ask Joel lots of questions and be what a teenager might be in those circumstances: curious.
From setting to setting, the game pits Joel and Ellie against enemies in various forms and they have to do whatever they can to survive and find safety. Woven throughout this drama and the intense gameplay, you as the player are privileged to be part of the relationship that grows between them. Joel is a father without a daughter and Ellie quickly becomes the potential surrogate despite his wanting to be done with the mission at hand, struggling to bond with what he thinks might be stolen away from him yet again.
My love for this game comes from the dynamic between the two characters. I have a soft spot when it comes to stories that involve a parental figure and a child who rely on each other and come out changed for the better in the end (see my review of Logan). By the end, both Joel and Ellie are different, experiences real growth. I can admit, but there’s a point in the game that is so emotional that I definitely teared up a little.
A minor narrative detail throughout the game is when the game slows down and Joel and Ellie are going from one place to another (or from conflict to conflict). Here is where the casual conversations take place. Ellie will see something or you can direct Joel to look at something in the environment and Ellie will react, asking questions that explore her thoughts, Joel’s thoughts, and end with the two talking as if the world has not gone toes up. It’s a small detail strung throughout the game but adds a layer no other game has taken advantage of to my knowledge before it. It’s a genius character element!
Yes, The Last of Us is a video game and while a great many lack in great storytelling, this one sets the standard. It was funny, I found out a friend of mine recently started the game and I told him I would come and watch him play to witness his experience with the game. It’s something I cannot go through for the first time again but I love that others can. Even if they do not feel the same way as I do about it, to me it’s worth experiencing just as much as I think some films or TV shows should be experienced. It’s storytelling done right and I will always be drawn to those examples.
Call to Action: It’s not a simple, “Oh you should go out, buy a Playstation and the game, and play!” No, that’s not feasible. Instead, I’ve attached a non-spoiler review video for your viewing pleasure. There’s some in-game language and violence in the video so you’ve been warned.