It’s rare for a production like The Last of Us to be influenced by events from a spin-off comic like The Last of Us: American Dreams. Yet the people at developer Naughty Dog were so impressed with Ellie and Riley’s story that they wanted to incorporate elements of it into the game. It’s not entirely unexpected, since creative director Neil Druckmann wrote the comic, but it certainly sets the bar high for this prologue to The Last of Us.
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In The Last of Us: American Dreams, we see how Ellie is dropped off at a military orphanage. The Cordyceps infection has rapidly devoured America and Ellie’s parents presumably with it. Ellie, however, does not like the monotonous life at the orphanage and expresses this by making a lot of noise. In no time, she is involved in fights and has gained the attention of the biggest bullies, like Riley. The authorities, however, are less charmed by Ellie’s contrary outbursts and immediately assign her to various chores. When Ellie sees her rival Riley escaping from the military base, she can no longer suppress her rebellious hormones and goes along.
Of course, their adventure doesn’t go entirely smoothly. Infected people roam freely outside the protected areas and on top of that, a war between the Fireflies and the local army has been raging for ages, a battle that claims new lives every day. The somber atmosphere that is constantly present in the game is just as strong in the comic book. Difficult decisions must be made and the reader is once again reminded that humanity is not nearly as peaceful as it once was.
Although the cartoonish drawing style of the comic book is nowhere near the bleak realism of the game, illustrator Faith Erin Hicks somehow manages to recreate the same atmosphere. The drawings are quite simplistic in themselves, but still burst with detail where it is needed. Emotion is especially important in a The Last of Us story, and Ellie’s big eyes, for example, manage to express those emotions well. As icing on the cake, the characters also feel very “real” and Ellie’s sarcastic comments in particular are fun and well-timed. Riley also has particularly good character development. Although she is introduced as an annoying jerk, by the end of the comic you can only sympathize with her. So in a slow and natural way, she grows in the comic into the person she is described as in the game.
Connection with the game
This brings us to the greatest asset of The Last of Us: American Dreams: the connection with the game. Anyone who has paid a little attention while playing the game will get a grin on the face more than once while reading this comic because of the subtle nods to the game. For example, it is confirmed that Ellie has indeed ridden a horse before and we learn a little more about the knife she always carries. The comic is full of little details like these that make American Dreams a real addition to the Last of Us universe. Few game series combine different mediums in this successful way, but with The Last of Us, American Dreams does this right from the start.
The many links to events from the game ensure that The Last of Us: American Dreams is not just another game comic, but is truly a crucial part of The Last of Us universe. While there are no shocking revelations in the story, certain relationships between characters are explored further and we finally find out who Riley is. Anyone who can’t get enough of Ellie’s rebellious antics and is interested in her past will nevertheless do themselves a favor by picking up American Dreams.