The failure of The Last of Us show. (Fan Creations)

by Korny @, Dalton, Ga. US. Earth, Sol System, Monday, March 06, 2023, 10:35 (358 days ago) @ Cody Miller
edited by Korny, Monday, March 06, 2023, 10:40

The small moments that fill the game wouldn’t make sense in a tv show, no matter how much time you had to include it.

“I’ve written before that part of what I like about videogame design as a dramatic instrument is their ability to put us a hundred percent into the moments editors would leave out of a film”

-Tim Rogers

And so we come back to the unavoidable deficiencies in AAA game to film adaptation.

I’m playing through NieR: Replicant, which starts with a prologue where a boy is protecting his sick younger sister in a cold, post-apocalyptic convenience store. Obviously with this premise we are supposed to feel for her, but I didn’t at this point. Sure the setup was straightforward, and after he fought off a number of enemies, she tried to share a lone cookie with him before collapsing and leaving him screaming for help.

This is what an editor would totally leave in a film, and how they expect to hook the audience.

The game then jumps roughly 1,500(!?) years into the future, and the same boy(!?) is taking care of his same sick younger sister(!?), named Yonah. He scolds her when she leaves the house to visit the local library, and ties her ribbon, which has come loose on her trip uphill to the library. Her illness (a strange type of curse) gets worse, and he has to find a specific at-home remedy to alleviate the effects of the curse. The rest of the game has so far been in service of trying to find a cure for the curse itself.

This is also what an editor would totally leave in a film. And how they expect to develop the care that the audience has for the sister. This is what we’ve seen in The Last of Us. Every important beat is there, regardless of how they’ve shifted events and locations.

In most loading screens, we are shown glimpses of what Yonah writes in her diary. It’s often unimportant stuff, but sometimes it’s an update on events that have been transpiring as I play, from the limited perspective of a girl who sits in her room all day trying to get better. Her thoughts are often comically misinformed, such as when she ponders how similar to her mother my “kind” traveling partner (a cold, reckless, foul-mouthed, unacceptably-dressed warrior) must be, or she accounts the small ways that people in the small town they live in go out of their way to make her feel better.
There’s a whole side quest that I’ve been working on to try to get two kind twins to sing together for me, but in Yonah’s diary, they simply did that for her, probably several times by this point. Things that I have to earn in the game from others have been things that they do out of love for her.
In between main story missions, Yonah has also been sending me on sidequests to get some out-of-the-way ingredients for her. The first quest was for ingredients for a soup that she wanted to make for me, despite me knowing that she’s a terrible cook. The game also let me pick between two cooking tips to give her, but she botched the option I did not choose, and the food is terrible.
She then sent me on a quest to obtain a very expensive fruit that’s only available in a distant town.

All of this is what an editor would cut out of the film, and yet, I’m out here making a beeline for that distant town several loading screens away, just to buy an expensive fruit for a quest that will not drive the story forward in any way. These are all the “unimportant” things that have made me care about Yonah, and that are driving me to follow the main quest in a personal way that the “stakes” of the story can’t simply motivate or manipulate me through their sheer “importance”.
Sure, keeping Ellie safe is “important”. Sure, hitting all of the main story beats is “important”, but it’s the character moments that sell us on a journey. It’s a loved one going out of their way to surprise another with homegrown strawberries that cements an emotional connection. It’s finding a floating pallet to ferry a girl who can’t swim across a body of water. It’s explaining movie posters, ads with underwear models, it’s collecting comic books, it’s going through Ellie’s bookbag to see what she considers the most important things in the world…
The show has had absolutely none of this for Ellie. It’s why Episode 3 feels like such a high point, and why the main journey feels so emotionally unearned, despite these characters’ relationship being the focus for six episodes.
I’m enjoying the watch, but man… It’s hard to feel like they can turn it all around in the 46 minutes they have to cover the entirety of Spring, which had a very slow and deliberate progression in the game. Throw a whole flashback story in the mix, and yeesh.

Also, despite being an accidental purchase, and in the year of the Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes, I’ve started to suspect that NieR Replicant is likely going to become my GoTY in the same way that NieR Automata absolutely shattered my worldview of what a game can do with storytelling and the concept of a New Game+.

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