“This path doesn’t lead to peace.” Lady Masako tells Jin, looking upon a funeral pyre as she stands amidst a snow-covered estate in Kamiagata. Jin asks her where it leads, and we watch as her expression shifts to one of uncertain sadness. “I don’t know, I have to keep walking it to find out.”
Ghost of Tsushima is a brilliant samurai game published by Sucker Punch and released on July 17th, 2020. The game follows Jin Sakai following the Mongol invasion of Tsushima before they attack mainland Japan. As you play Jin, the last samurai of Tsushima and the titular Ghost of Tsushima, you fight as the sole force against the Mongol’s reaching mainland Japan.
The game does many things well — the landscape is beautiful, the characters are well-rounded, and the gameplay is intuitive and easy to follow. However, one of the things the game does best is how it captures perspective and uses it to show us Jin Sakai’s fall from grace and eventual redemption.
The game follows three arcs, and as we follow Jin’s story, these arcs work as benchmarks in Jin’s decline. In the first act, we see Jin coming to grips with his new situation as the last samurai of Tsushima, he is condemned as brutal at times, but he still holds onto the samurai legacy. In act 2, we begin to see his collapse with his creation of the ghost stance and his poisoning of a Mongol camp. In act 3, Jin is no longer a samurai in the way he was when we first met him. He is hardened and grasping at what he has left in his life. Eventually, we see him abandon his Samurai honour code and accept the mantle of Ghost.
As the player of the game, however, you don’t feel Jin’s descent. Everything is from Jin’s perspective throughout the game. Although there are moments where you might’ve felt like you had crossed a bridge you can never return from, you only get a sense that what you are doing is wrong by how characters react to your actions. You feel your morality slipping not through your judgement on your efforts but how others judge your behaviour. It works powerfully.
Throughout the game’s first act, you get hints that something is wrong, especially when going through Sensei Ishikawa’s early tales. He confronts Jin and condemns his brutal behaviour, and this is only the first instance that begins to hint at something larger. This sense is only exacerbated when the peasants of Komatsu Forge watch you brutalize and slay several Mongol’s invading the town. It’s brutal, bloody, and satisfying, but that feeling only lasts a moment when the peasants cower in fear from you and deem your behaviour unline any samurai they had ever seen. That marks the moment of no return for Jin, as Yuna (the thief who has been helping you throughout the game) entitles you the Ghost, a vengeful spirit sent to rid Tsushima of their Mongol invaders. The peasants accept this explanation, but, as the player, all you can do is watch as your reputation slips out of your control.
In a sense, the game captures perfectly that perhaps Jin did die on Komoda beach with the other samurai. While physically he is still alive, much of what he valued has fallen and been proven ineffective. The Mongols know samurai tactics and use them against the population and samurai of Tsushima. Jin works as the perfect opponent to Khotun Khan. A man who has left that behind and uses what he knows to undermine the Khan’s expectations of what samurai are known to do. His tactics are helpful, but it is a path you cannot turn around from, despite Jin’s constant tellings to himself that he’ll abandon assassination and poisoning tactics once the Mongols are gone.
Unfortunately, as Jin continued to walk that path, there was no returning. Lady Masako learns that lesson at the end of her tale, and Jin follows suit, realizing that his path doesn’t lead to peace, not really.
The Mongols are gone, but at what cost?