In my review of Ghost of Tsushima, I was more than a little critical. While I did enjoy the game, it’s repetitive mission design, dated and unresponsive combat, and boring side content kept me from loving it as much as I had hoped I would. A solid, but not incredible game.
But you know what I did love? The story! My god, the writing in this game is absolutely phenomenal! It’s one of those phew games where I genuinely believe it would have worked far better as a TV show or a movie than a game. Between the cinematic qualities and the script, it would have fit perfectly!
And all of it revolves around one character. The Ghost of Tsushima himself: Jin Sakai.
The Wound: The Death of Sakai
Jin’s journey begins right at the start of the game. He has a few bits of trauma sprinkled throughout his past, what with the death of his father in a civil war. But that doesn’t compare in the slightest to that battle on the beach.
Calling the initial attack of the Mongol invasion a massacre would be putting it very lightly. Given that Jin and his uncle were the only survivors, and the ladder was captured, it was a pretty bad day. One that only got worse when the Mongols then started destroying his homeland and slaughtering/enslaving his people.
On that day, fighting on that beach, Jin Sakai died. But the man was too determined to accomplish his duty to notice that he had become a Ghost.
The Want: A Free Homeland
Jin’s goal is the least interesting part of his character. The bad guys conquered his homeland, or are at least in the process of doing so, and now he wants to kill them and take it back. Very straightforward. The perfect goal to get a player’s ass in gear after that brutal opening.
No, it isn’t the goal itself that’s interesting. Rather, it’s the barricade standing between Jin and accomplishing it.
The Lie: Honor
When you mention the word ‘samurai’, the word ‘honor’ is the first thing that comes to mind. People often don’t understand that samurai weren’t wandering warriors; they were mercenaries hired by rich Japanese lords. But their honor was certainly the real deal. These guys weren’t the type to go for a cheap or easy kill.
This, naturally, doesn’t always work. Being honorable also makes you predictable. It doesn’t take a super genius to think up a trap for someone like that. Which is exactly why the initial Mongol strike went so poorly for Jin and his allies. The Mongols had planned around them, using their honor to lure them to their deaths.
Jin was raised from a very young age to be an honorable samurai. His uncle, who took over raising him after his father’s death, was very strict about honor in both combat and killing. As such, even after his initial defeat, Jin’s first plan to save his uncle is just ‘go in sword swinging and don’t die’.
Which went about as well as you’d expect.
Even after all of that, Jin is still bound to his honor. But as the game progresses and you unlock more abilities, Jin slowly begins to realize that the honorable approach just isn’t going to work. That not every enemy will meet you head-on in an honorable duel. That the way of the samurai is not flawless. That the way of life his uncle drove into his head for years needs to be abandoned.
The Need: Choose a Path
Jin’s choice is a simple one. Option one: continue down the path of the samurai and lose the war. Option two: abandon the way of the samurai, become a criminal, and win the war. Hey, I never said his options were easy! Just simple.
Ultimately, Jin chooses to walk the path of the Ghost. To abandon his honor, his title, and even his family to protect his homeland. And in the end, this choice proves to be the right one. Thanks to his efforts, the Mongols are defeated and Tsushima is saved.
But it wasn’t a choice without consequence. Firstly: he lost everything. His uncle was forced to confront him with the obvious intention to kill his nephew. His title was stripped from his clan, leaving the Sakai name in shambles. While he earned the respect of his people, he became a wanted man, to be hunted by the law for the rest of his life.
Second: he became the very thing he sought to destroy. Khotul Kahn, the game’s primary antagonist, is a manipulative schemer who fights by dishonorable means; poison, trickery, weapons of mass destruction, torture, blackmail, you name it. And in the end, Jin adopted the exact same tactics. He didn’t destroy his enemy’s ways. He stole them for himself.
If that ain’t the final nail in his honor’s coffin, then I don’t know what is.
Ghost of Tsushima was a decent game with an incredible story. Honestly, the writing is the only reason I can see myself going back to play it again. It really is that good.
Shame it got totally shafted at the Game Awards. But eh. Awards aren’t everything.
At least I hope not. I would like to see a sequel.