*Contains major spoilers for The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2.
(This is an opinion piece and is written from the purview of the author.)
Naughty Dog is now a classic developer of video games making titles for the PlayStation and the PC platform. The hit games under their belt include Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted and of course The Last of Us series. All these titles have sold millions of copies and have attracted countless people to gaming. Today’s article will be about the latest and perhaps the best ever game from the company: Last of Us Part 2.
The Last of Us: A Character Review
The first game of the series, The Last of Us was released on PS3 and won over 200 game of the year awards. Obviously, a lot of attention was garnered and people were hooked on the game. But what makes a game about man-eating predators so interesting? There have been a number of games that have focused on the popular genre for a while now, what sets the game apart from its contemporaries?
The reason is, in actuality, quite concise. The truth is, The Last of Us isn’t totally about zombies and the accompanying violence. At its crux, both the games focus on one theme, i.e. loss. The chief characters of the game- Joel and Ellie both have suffered cumbersome losses. Grief doesn’t translate into pure and unfiltered violence and the first game showcases that. The loss of loved ones for Joel and Ellie both-despite their age difference-means that they build high walls around themselves.
Instead of rage, there is guilt and pain. Joel’s loss of his daughter Sarah causes an emotional void. Even after 20 years, in a world that has accustomed itself with the existence of the Cordyceps infection, Joel’s world is still just as empty. He still wears the broken watch gifted by his daughter, he still has nightmares not about the millions of ravenous flesh eating creatures, but of the death of his daughter.
The reason he attaches himself to someone is to fill the void in his life. In the first few hours of the first game, it was Tess, the headstrong and brash young lady who often did things the hard way.
Joel in an effort to reconcile with his past, even after 20 years since the tragedy finds himself embedded in a predicament involving Tess. I personally don’t think that he liked smuggling goods and that he perhaps did it just to stay with the only person we can see him having an emotional contact with apart from Ellie.
All of Joel’s action reflects his need of staying with his loved one. To go wherever she goes, no matter what he personally thinks, no matter what the circumstance forces him to do. In some aspects, the infection has reduced the world into an atavistic society that involves scavenging, hunting and even cannibalism.
In a world where the ends justify the means, is there a place for a person filled with loss? Does the world accommodate loss or even tolerate it? Both the games take us on a journey to explore that phenomenon in ways that wildly differ from each other.
Ellie, the protagonist of both the games is obviously, without a silver of doubt, the main attraction of the games. Although there is a huge difference between the first game’s and the second game’s Ellie, I can confess that it did not come as a surprise that she changed in the way that she did. It could and should’ve been expected in a world of the sort that she lives in.
The first game introduces us to a young teenager that is full of questions about the world. A girl that is strong, reliable and most of all obliviously innocent of reality, someone who has not seen the “outside”. She accompanies Joel on a journey where they cross the entire country to procure a cure that could save the entire world. Ellie is a girl that wants her life to matter and to amount to something. Unknown to her, she is blessed with the very thing that can allow her to do so.
Ellie from the first game is a person that still possesses a certain amount of positivity. She is pleasantly perplexed with the life in the pre-outbreak world. She is able to see the beauty in life from the scraps of a world long gone. This can be seen in her habit of collecting cards and her puerile obsession with comics and dinosaurs. However, to say that the second game is a contrast in characterization is an understatement.
The Ellie from Last of Us Part 2 is a completely different person, noticeably from the inciting incident onward. Ellie is not the same childish and innocent teenager from the first game. After Joel’s death, she becomes a blood-lusting beast bent on revenge and what she terms as “justice”. Although there is an ambivalent reality behind the occurrences of the game, people have argued that Ellie’s transformation was too severe.
In my opinion, considering the events that occurred in the time-skip; namely, the realization of Joel’s betrayal to Ellie’s dream, we can anticipate the antipathy that Ellie feels for him and even to an extent, for herself. The burden of the truth and the fact that the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for saving the world is gone due to a singular love for a person creates a deep seated revulsion in Ellie.
She sees the world in a parameter of how many she could save. This is-for those who have played the game-the exact opposite of her mindset after Joel’s death.
Just as she begins to try to forgive him, Joel perishes at the hands of who she imagines is her arch nemesis-Abby. After Joel’s death, Ellie is pushed over the cliff of sanity into a spiraling obsession of equating losses. Now, she views the world from a set of unfair scales weighing heavier on one side to avenge Joel’s death.
She doesn’t care about the repercussions, nor does she care that his death was, in fact, a repercussion. Knowing fully well the actuality of the reason why Abby murdered Joel, she still pursues revenge, mainly for the same reason that Joel saved her. Her love for Joel outweighs any and all circumstances. She does the same as he would have done for her. In essence, she wants ‘to do right by him’.
What people would think of this young girl, morphed by the world and her circumstances, but also cementing herself and her truth from her own volition is upto them. But it is important to note a single typifying truth: we can’t be sure of our own morality, unless we are tested on it.
Abby is the other side of the same coin. A new character introduced in the second game, the brawny blonde girl definitely did not create a likable image in my eyes. As I progressed through the game, and started to understand why Abby did what she did, I felt a pang of emptiness. She is a character that exists to oppose Ellie. At first, she IS the villain, but only after Seattle Day 3 do we realize that she is almost as much of a victim as Ellie.
In retrospect, I would say that without Abby and without learning her side of the story, I would have missed out on a very important and ever-present fact of the world of The Last of Us. There is no hero, there is no villain.
People in the game, just like real life, exhibit different shades of grey in their personalities. Rather than saying that no one is perfect, I like to consider reality in the sense that no one needs to be perfect. After all, the world itself is far from ideal. In an ideal-less world, there is no need for perfection, there just exists the need for fulfillment of the requisite of survival.
Abby survives and she spares the life of Ellie. Ellie survives and she spares the life of Abby. They both suffer losses and Ellie is left alone but Abby isn’t. While Ellie represents a requiem for her wishes, Abby symbolizes a new beginning. Whether it’s with her companion Lev, or with the news of the regroup of the fireflies. There seems to be more to the story of Abby as she heads back towards her former home with hope.
What is the Dynamic at Play Between Ellie and Abby?
In relation with Ellie and Abby, THE most important aspect is the presence of TRAUMA. Both the characters allow their trauma to lead them to kill. Trauma is a forceful psychological impact that can elicit various behavioral outcomes. Their reactions and motives for revenge are quite natural and contrary to popular belief, in fact, their most humanistic traits.
As most people know trauma can not be gotten rid of easily and we can see as Ellie tries to adjust to her homely lifestyle, she is unable to do so. The pain gnaws at her just as Abby’s pain recurs in her dreams. Both of them are a victim to blood shed on causes that are as hard to swallow as tearful phlegm.
Does Ellie have a new beginning? As she heads out in the wilderness at the end of the game, does she have a journey planned? Perhaps even a destination? We can only wait on news for the third installment to what is definitely one of the best stories ever told in the format of gaming and beyond.
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