Breaking Cycles

I just finished The Last of Us Part II and in a sea of grim dark media, this game manages to keep it’s refreshing take on apocalyptic stories and give it a proper run for our money. If y’all are not familiar, in 2013 NaughtyDog released the first game in the series, cementing its spot as one of the top games for Playstation. I’ll give a brief summary but will also talk about the themes, and thus strong spoiler warning! Oh, and if you haven’t played it yet, get to it.

The first game follows Joel, a smuggler that operates in a military controlled quarantine zone, and Ellie, a young teen who is immune to cordyceps (it’s a real thing that afflicts ants!), the fungal virus that broke down civilization. The two traverse the States from Boston, Massachusetts to Salt Lake City, Utah, to get Ellie to a facility where a vaccine can be developed from her immunity. The game ends (spoiler alert) with Joel taking an unconscious Ellie away from the facility, killing many in his escape, because to get the material needed for the vaccine Ellie would have to die on a surgical table.

That’s where Part II comes in. Years after the events of the first game, Ellie and Joel face the consequences of his actions as a group of Fireflies, the people looking for the vaccine in the first game, and their leader, Abby, hunt down the person who killed so many of their own and dashed the world’s hope for a cure.

The game itself is about humanity and cycles. The cycle of violence is all around the narrative, starting with Joel’s past and the countless lives he took, and ending with Ellie’s fall from grace in the eyes of those that matter, herself. Abby, the other protagonist of the game, systematically loses everything and everyone dear to her as a result of her murder of Joel, and Ellie loses a piece of herself with every firefly she hunts down.

The downward trajectory of Ellie’s character happens in tandem with the humanization of the supposed antagonist, Abby, as the players come to know her and understand why she did what she did. It’s not a redemption, but is a revelation of what it means to protect their own.

As the game progresses, the people we fight become less obstacles, and more defenders of what is dear to them. They become endearing, and complex, and someone we root for. Fighting for their families and friends and land. I personally started off wiping every enemy off the map and ended the game by trying my best not to take a life. The linear narrative doesn’t give the players a choice about what happens, but through the tragedy and violence that plays out, there is a kernel of hope, and a perseverance of humanity and forgiveness.

If you haven’t played this series, there’s no other I would recommend more. And for those of you who aren’t fans of horror, this isn’t it! There are next to no jump scares, and the couple that happen are never made to terrify and scare, and are not extremely sudden. Yes there are zombies, but as a person who was terrified of Scary Movie 3, I can attest that this is a manageable amount of scary.