Return to The Last of Us after having overcome its sequel: an experience that enhances its emotional side

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After the mythical giraffe sequence, Joel tells Ellie: “we don’t have to do this”, to which she replies that everything they’ve been through couldn’t have been for nothing. Riley was the first, but from Boston to Salt Lake City, Ellie said goodbye to Tess, Sam and Henry. The only hope that she had left, as Ashley Johnson herself verbalizes in the comments of The Last of Us: Parte Iwas to believe that she was special, that so much sacrifice responded to a kind of messianic role to justify the deaths that weighed on his conscience.

At that point, the story that Naughty Dog raises continues to motivate the player based on an external conflict, the search for a cure that ends the cordyceps pandemic. But the title is already working on its last turn, the one that has to focus the narrative on the internal conflict that the game began to work on from its prologue, Joel’s emotional journey and his selfishness as justifying elements of the atrocities that, as players, we will commit during the last bars of the title.

With this remake, the narrative unity of the two titles has been reinforced, bringing those two chapters even closer together, which actually make up a single story. The Last of Us: Parte II It is a continuous sequel in the good sense of the word, one of those that expand the proposal through significant contributions. This is given, clearly, in the mechanical. Ellie is shown as that apprentice who has surpassed the master; she has more agility and resources than Joel ever had. But It also happens emotionally.. As if it were a maturation process, the second installment boasts a greater richness, which grows in terms of emotional complexity while echoing the actions that shelved the first installment. The Last of Us: Part II no longer needs to deceive the player, it does not need to pose an external conflict as a false engine of the plot, because the player has already been educated in the emotional complexity of its protagonists.

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The analysis of The Last of Us: Part I has meant my fourth approach to the original work, but the first after completing its sequel. Facing it after having overcome the misadventures carried out by Ellie and Abby allows us to deal with everything that happened with a new look, one educated in that emotional complexity so exploited in the second installment that, however, it sprouts during the first. The perspective, therefore, varies. I remember my first assault on the hospital in Salt Lake City as motivated by empathy for Joel’s emotional development. In my case, he understood that the world could not take something so beautiful from a person who had suffered so much. I convinced myself that there must be another way to deal with Ellie’s trials, one that didn’t require ending her life. However, as the game progressed it became more and more difficult for me. Now, knowing the consequences that this act will have for Ellie herself in the future, it has been even more complicated. emotional resistance it is bigger.

Returning to The Last of Us after having overcome its sequel means placing a greater emphasis on what Mateo Terrasa describes as enjoymentin his book The Aesthetics of Difficulty (2022). A concept that, as the author himself clarifies, was introduced in game studies by the philosopher Alfie Bown, and that refers to a complex emotion that is built on the pleasure that we extract from the pain experienced in the work, from those sensations that we do not want to experience in real life, but that within the framework of a video game foster our ability to process emotions projected through their characters. Knowing the events that will come after the events of the first title gives greater significance to everything that happened in this. The construction of the relationship between the protagonists of it is lived more intensely, the reception process that Joel experiences takes on a new meaning and his selfishness becomes, if possible, more human and terrible.

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Something similar happens with Ellie. Winter, her chapter, means her first contact with revenge. Until then, Ellie had acted in self-defense against her, both supporting Joel (with his rifle) in trying to escape from Pittsburgh, and defending him from aggression by other humans. Her contact with David, however, is more complex. It is on this occasion that she passes from fear to a glimmer of trust that, finally, turns into betrayal and, with her subsequent capture, into terror and despair. When Ellie kills David she is not only ending the life of someone who threatened her safety, in that stabbing he is pouring out all his anger and frustration, all the emotional charge accumulated by a situation that is beyond his control and that he is not able to manage. It is the staging of her loss of innocence and, in fact, from then on Ellie will no longer be the same character. She even changes her dynamic in her relationship with Joel, with Joel being the one who is more willing to open up, and she is the one who closes as a group, taking refuge in some of her thoughts that, without a doubt, have been turned darker. At that moment Ellie opens a door that, years later, she will unceremoniously go through to avenge her father figure.

With the fateful future that awaits Ellie in mind, all these moments gain in intensity. Going back to The Last of Us after completing its sequel helps to visualize the great job that was done expanding each of the characters in its sequel. It invites you, as a player, to identify the lines of dialogue that have served to cement the future actions of the protagonists, and to identify the key moments that mark their evolution as characters.

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When Joel tells Ellie that “we don’t have to do this”, he is verbalizing an idea that has been in his head for some time, and that crystallizes behind one of the most iconic scenes in biology: that of the giraffe, the symbol of the wonder in the first The Last of Us, the moment that is able to return, for a few minutes, that patina of lost innocence to Ellie. However, following her response, Joel watches as the last giraffe fades behind the nascent vegetation. Innocence is fading and he, with his selfishness, will end up banishing her.

Going back to The Last of Us after having overcome its sequel can be classified as something mechanically anecdotal. Nevertheless, emotionally, it means taking another look at two of the personal journeys that have deeply affected many players.