Appropriate for its Seattle setting, the most poignant moments in The Last of Us Part II are set to the music of an iconic hometown band.
An acoustic cover of the 2013 Pearl Jam song "Future Days" serves as a goodbye theme for Ellie and Joel, the defining characters of this incredible sequel.
So: How did this song become the hymn for one of 2020's biggest games? Well, it all started in 2014 with a secret epilogue for the first game.
How did Future Days become part of The Last of Us ?
On Last of Us' first anniversary, Game Director Neil Druckmann hosted Last of Us: One Night Live, a staged version of the story featuring key scenes reenacted by the game's cast and a live orchestra. This was all shown on Sony's YouTube Channel, you can watch it online. However, that video is missing the final scene, Last of Us Part 1's secret epilogue, which was designed as a treat for in-person fans as well as for Druckmann to "Say goodbye" to Joel and Ellie. This farewell was underscored by a tender cover of Pearl Jam's 2014 song, Future Days. The song encapsulated Joel and Ellie's familial love with affectionate lyrics like If I ever were to lose you, / I'd surely lose myself…”
Six years later, the "secret epilogue" is recreated as The Last of Us Part II's opening scene. A few things are changed like the existence of Joel's love interest Esther, but Future Days remains a key part of the scene. As you continue playing, the song becomes a key part of the entire game. Ellie plays Pearl Jam's ballad numerous times when she's feeling somber, reminiscing about Joel, or looking toward's the future. This only happened because Druckmann believed it was crucial for his story.
Unlike the live performance, which wasn't bound by copyrights, Druckmann needed explicit permission to use Future Days in Last of Us 2. According to an interview between Druckmann and GQ, Sony thought this was idea was a non-starter, prompting Druckmann to start a campaign for the whole thing. Over the course of months, Sony messaged the band's manager's assistant, which eventually got them in contact with the actual band.
Druckmann gave his reasons as to why the song was crucial for the game's story, explaining how it would be used in-game. He made further attempts at persuasion by sending a copy of the first game and a PS4 to the band. Naughty Dog even showed the band an in-progress trailer for the game that even Sony had yet to see. At the eleventh hour, as Druckmann was mentally preparing to fly to Seattle to try persuading Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder in person, Druckmann gets permission. The song has since become the most crucial tune in Last of Us 2.
How does Future Days work in-canon?
If you've ever tried matching Last of Us' events to the standard calendar year, you'll know the initial Outbreak happened on September 26, 2013. That's over two weeks before Pearl Jam released their Lightning Bolt album on October 11, 2013, which contained Future Days. This makes the off chance that Joel heard it a little wonky. It's not like he was affiliated with Pearl Jam in a professional capacity or had early access to the album.
According to Neil Druckmann, he saw it on YouTube like a true lurking fan would. The song was performed by Pearl Jam at concerts as early as July 2013, there's one such upload on YouTube which currently has 94k views. Watch the video to know in some timeline Joel Miller watched the same video.
When you explore Seattle (which is Pearl Jam's real-world hometown) in the game proper, you can find a reference to the Lighting Bolt album that would've featured Future Days. A visitable music store in the chapter "Seattle Day 1: Downtown" has a Coming Soon poster for the album on display. Head on over to a nearby room to find a guitar on the ground. Interact with it and Ellie will play a rendition of the song for Dina.
Last of Us 2 is available exclusively on PS4.