What do you do when you need a good cry? Listen to Adele? Watch dog adoption videos? Chop onions? How about switching on your PlayStation and playing a game… Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind. But the critically acclaimed, The Last of Us is a sure-fire way to get those tear ducts watering. 

The Last of Us Joel

It’s hard to deny the success of the franchise, created by Naughty Dog. With a successful sequel, a third game rumored to be in the works, and a TV adaptation, this game has had a profound impact. But what is it the game gets right regarding emotional storytelling? 

Let’s delve in.   

A brief overview of The Last of Us

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus. Most of the population is now “infected,” turning people into destructive zombies who stop at nothing to kill. You play as the central character, Joel, tasked with delivering a 13-year-old girl named Ellie across the US. He sees her initially as “cargo,” but as the game progresses, you witness his humanity start to come through. 

Grief and death are central themes of the game

The opening act will leave players fighting back the tears with a shocking and tragic turn of events. It’s difficult to watch and will turn the toughest person you know into a blubbering mess. The fact the game opens with this sequence is no accident. It provides the background story as to why Joel is the way he is. It also acts as a precursor to what to expect – Death. And not just in a typical way that games treat death. It is an examination of death’s impact and how it morphs into grief that stretches for years. 

You care about the characters

This is one of the biggest strengths of the game. It makes you care. 

As mentioned earlier, The Last of Us doesn’t treat death like other games, nor does it with its characters. You get to know the characters. You see them talk to each other, not just through cutscenes, but while playing the game itself. 

Joel and Ellie will often have conversations as you explore the world that makes for terrific character-building. They grow on you. Like any person you would spend time with. And why? Because they could be real people you know. Not superheroes, not some one-dimensional character, but actual human beings who have suffered and yet, despite everything the world throws at them, they keep going. 

The character arc of Joel

With Joel, you see a man who has been hardened by the unforgiving world. He has suffered enormous loss and comes across as harsh and cold. But as he travels with Ellie, you watch the relationships thaw his heart. A girl who starts off as “cargo” become a daughter figure. Someone who he cares deeply for. You’ve seen the relationship play out in front of you. And when it comes to his choices, later on, they become defining moments of his character transformation. 

The music in The Last of Us

The music in The Last of Us sets the game’s mood. It’s composed by Gustavo Santaolalla and has a minimalist, atmospheric style, primarily using guitar and cello. One way the music helps create an emotional impact is by using specific musical themes that represent certain characters or ideas. These themes help convey the emotions and themes of the game.

In The Last of Us, there’s a main theme that’s a simple, sad guitar melody that’s associated with Joel and Ellie and their relationship. This theme is used throughout the game to represent the emotional journey of these characters and help create a connection with the players.

Final thoughts

The Last of Us tells a story that is poignant and touching. Few games are able to achieve something similar. It shows you grief and its effect on the characters. You learn to love them and watch their transformation as the game progresses. The game will make you cry and leave a lasting footprint that you’ll consider long after you’ve finished. 

Got a favorite gaming moment that had you bawling like a baby? Tell us in the comments below and we’ll check it out!