Spoilers: This article contains extremely minor spoilers from the early scenes of The Last of Us Part 2
In one of the earliest scenes of The Last of Us Part 2, Ellie comes upon Dina as she is playing with a pair of local kids in a playground. The pair are about to head on patrol when whap, they're nailed with a snowball.
"I hate those kids," Ellie mutters.
"Wanna fuck 'em up?" Dina grins in return, and the fight is on. Using Triangle to gather up snow, Ellie and Dina chase the kids around a small, enclosed playground, using the wooden equipment for cover as they fight. It's a race to see who can reach 10 hits first; if you win, Dina brags and flexes over the defeated children.
It's not much in the grand scheme of things. Mainly, it's a cute opportunity to tutorialize some of the elements that will be important later in the story; namely heaving bricks and bottles to distract enemies. In Jackson, you can innocently use R2 to hit a kid who has been automatically targeted with snowball. In Seattle, the stakes are obviously much higher.
Organic tutorials that blend seamlessly into the story are fashionable in games like this, and they tend to work well. They're fun; they don't disrupt the flow of the story too much, and they can help to set the scene. In this case, it adds a playful element to Dina and Ellie's nascent relationship, making their romantic connection more believable.
Funnily enough though, this isn't the first time that a game has used a snowball fight to teach its mechanics. Witness Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which features a snowball battle of its own, but in a way that's very different from The Last of Us Part 2.
In one of the very first scenes, we see the kids who comprise Final Fantasy Tactics Advance's main cast lining up against a group of neighborhood kids. They tease Mewt, who is meek and quiet, and the rest of the group quickly springs to his defense. The kids subsequently group into teams, and the fight is on.
With Final Fantasy Tactics Advance being a turn-based tactics game, the snowball fight naturally reflects these rules. It's much less organic than the one found in The Last of Us Part 2, naturally, as the characters overtly describe game mechanics like "the green panel," and there are tutorial boxes. But in spirit, it's very similar. It serves to get you comfortable with the tactics, encouraging you to attack from behind or the side in order to have a better chance of hitting with a snowball, all in a low-risk and enjoyable environment.
It's significant in other ways as well. It quickly establishes the relationships between the cast members, showing how Mewt is frequently bullied by neighborhood kids. It also grabs you with some lovely, snowbound scenery, establishing its storybook mood in contrast to its immediate predecessor, which is steeped in medieval fantasy and bloody politics.
Looking back, it's kind of remarkable how far ahead of its time Final Fantasy Tactics Advance's snowball fight really was. It would be several years before organic tutorials became really fashionable—think of the main character in Shadow of Mordor sneaking up to his soon-to-be-murdered wife to give her a flower—and that was mostly thanks to modern consoles and indie games. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was a Game Boy Advance game that served as an intentional throwback to the 16-bit era, but it still managed to be rather clever and forward-thinking in its design.
It's undoubtedly little more than a coincidence that The Last of Us Part 2 has a snowball fight of its own. Indeed, snowball fights have periodically popped up in other games through the years: Call of Duty Modern Warfare had a fun holiday event that replaced its guns with snowballs, as did Yakuza 5's snowball fight quest. But they were little more than distractions; they weren't there to teach the mechanics and establish some of the story.
In terms of The Last of Us Part 2, I'm guessing Naughty Dog's development realized it had this snowy environment in Jackson, and figured that a snowball fight would be a fun way to take advantage of the scenery. It maybe speaks well of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance that The Last of Us Part 2, one of the PlayStation 4's most prestigious releases of the year, came up with a similar concept more than 17 years later.
The Last of Us Part 2 will be out June 19, and you can read my review right here, where I praised it as a darker, more introspective bookend to the original game. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, on the other hand, is out right now. If you can get hold of a copy, I recommend it. Most people will tell you that its predecessor is the superior game, but I still have a soft spot for the GBA's little pseudo-sequel. If nothing else, its snowball fight shows how some of its better ideas still resonate.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance screenshot taken from LP Archive.