Reviewers were especially pleased with the emotional experience of playing the game, particularly with other players. Christian Donlan of Eurogamer described it as a "non-denominational religious experience" that, with the addition of another player, moves beyond metaphors and becomes a "pilgrimage" to the player. A reviewer writing for Edge magazine said the emotional arc of the game hits with "occasionally startling power", while Patrick Shaw from Wired said the game made him feel a "wide range of emotions... wonder, fear, even sadness". Miller said all three times he played the game, "each time, without fail, individual moments... managed to give me goosebumps, and those moments have remained on my mind for weeks afterward". Joel Gregory of PlayStation Official Magazine praised the game's story for being open to the player's interpretation, leaving an ambiguity that drew him in. The addition of an unnamed second player was described by Donlan as brilliant and as a "master stroke", and Edge said it made for "a more absorbing, more atmospheric experience".
The developers designed the game like a "Japanese garden", where they attempted to remove all of the game elements that did not fit with the others, so the emotions they wanted the game to evoke would come through. This minimalism is intended to make the game feel intuitive to the player, so they can explore and feel a sense of wonder without direct instructions. The story arc of the game is designed to explicitly follow Joseph Campbell's monomyth theory of narrative, or hero's journey, as well as to represent the stages of life, so as to enhance the emotional connection of the players as they journey together. In his D.I.C.E. speech, Chen noted that three of their 25 testers had cried upon completing the game.
The name Raphael, though, may have been chosen by More to remind his readers of the archangel Raphael who is mentioned in the Book of Tobit (3:17; 5:4, 16; 6:11, 14, 16, 18; also in chs. 7, 8, 9, 11, 12). In that book the angel guides Tobias and later cures his father of his blindness. While Hythlodaeus may suggest his words are not to be trusted, Raphael meaning (in Hebrew) "God has healed" suggests that Raphael may be opening the eyes of the reader to what is true. The suggestion that More may have agreed with the views of Raphael is given weight by the way he dressed; with "his cloak... hanging carelessly about him"; a style which Roger Ascham reports that More himself was wont to adopt. Furthermore, more recent criticism has questioned the reliability of both Gile's annotations and the character of "More" in the text itself. Claims that the book only subverts Utopia and Hythlodaeus are possibly oversimplistic.