Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Ghost of TsushimaGhost of Tsushima offers players a variety of methods and tools to use in combat against the Mongol invaders of Jin Sakai’s tiny island home. You can stand tall and look your foes directly in the eye as you cut them down in the same manner as generations of warriors before you. Or you can slink about in the shadows, utilizing underhanded ways of defeating your enemies before they even know you’re there. Regardless of how you, as the player, choose to do battle against the Khan and his forces, the story always arrives at the same narrative fork-in-the-road, and a choice must be made.
Sucker Punch ending their games with a moral choice is nothing new, as anyone who has played a title in the Infamous series can tell you. The difference here is that, unlike their previous titles, neither option is clearly labelled as the ‘good’ or ‘evil’ option. The result is that players have been hotly debating on forums across the web over which ending is the ‘good’ ending. Unfortunately, the decision isn’t quite as cut and dry as many would like it to be.
After defeating Lord Shimura in the game’s climactic final duel, the player is able to make one of two choices: Do you fulfil Lord Shimura’s dying wish for an honorable death at the hands of a fellow warrior, as a last kindness to the man who once regarded Jin as a son? Or do you embrace the identity of the Ghost, and let him live with the knowledge that he will be forced to hunt Jin until the end of his days? But before diving too deep into the ending, it’s worth taking a look at the context surrounding it.
For a quick summary of Ghost of Tsushima’s story, Jin Sakai is a samurai whose island home of Tsushima is the first step in a Mongol invasion of mainland Japan, led by Khotun Khan (yes, related to that Khan). He joins his uncle, Lord Shimura, along with an army of samurai prepared to meet the Mongols at their shores. After the battle concludes with most of the samurai slaughtered and Lord Shimura captured, Jin is left on the brink of death. He is later rescued and nursed back to health by Yuna, a thief who tells him that the villages of the island have fallen to the invaders. After a failed solo attempt by Jin to rescue his uncle, he concludes that he must recruit help to raise an army and save his uncle.
From here the story follows Jin as he manages to scrape together a rescue party, save his uncle, and wage a counterattack on the Mongols. However, as the game progresses, a growing rift begins to separate Jin and his uncle. Lord Shimura abides strictly by the Samurai code of honor, whereas Jin has engaged in underhanded guerilla tactics as the Ghost of Tsushima to gain an advantage over the enemy. This conflict comes to a head when Jin is arrested for his conduct after a battle, forcing him to escape and plan his own attack on Khotun Khan around his uncle. Eventually, Khotun Khan is finally defeated, though the celebrations are cut short as Jin is summoned one final time by Lord Shimura. He informs Jin that the Shogun (essentially the leader of mainland Japan at the time) considers The Ghost a threat to the authority of the samurai. Thus, he has disbanded Jin’s clan and ordered the execution of The Ghost. After the two of them engage in a brutal duel that leaves as many emotional scars as physical ones, Jin emerges as the victor. And it is here, with Lord Shimura kneeling helplessly at their feet, that the player is offered the game’s ultimate choice. Spare Lord Shimura’s life, or give him the warrior’s death he desires.
When it comes to sparing Lord Shimura, many have argued that this is the canonically correct ending, as well as being the ‘good’ ending. Throughout the game, Jin has had to claw, scrape and bleed for every inch of his home taken back from the Mongols. Whether it be slitting throats under the cover of night, or poisoning soldiers before a battle can even begin, Jin has become a veritable monster in the eyes of both the Mongols and the Samurai as an organization. Bit by bit, Jin has drifted further from the code of the samurai he grew up devoting his life to, forging his own path in the name of the greater good.
By refusing to fulfil Shimura’s wish for a warrior’s death, Jin has rejected not just his uncle, but everything his uncle stood for and believed in. But given Lord Shimura’s eagerness to throw Yuna under the bus to save his adopted son from his own actions at Castle Kaneda, one could argue that the ‘honor’ Shimura was such a proponent of was nothing more than self-righteousness masquerading as honor. Honor that can so easily be cast off for one’s own selfish desires doesn’t sound very honorable, does it? By rejecting the rigid traditions of his uncle, Jin has created his own definition of honor and justice separate from his upbringing.
But is this truly the ‘good’ ending? After years of purely binary moral choices divided neatly into ‘good’ versus ‘evil’, gamers have been conditioned to see ‘Spare’ and ‘Kill’ as synonymous with ‘good’ and ‘evil’ respectively. But in Ghost of Tsushima’s case, the issue is a bit less black and white than many might initially expect.
To look at the issue from another perspective, Lord Shimura has essentially been Jin’s father figure since he was a small boy. He was there to guide Jin when he first took a life. He trained Jin to be the monstrous warrior he has grown into, capable of taking on hordes of Mongols single-handedly. There’s a reason why Jin initially rushed so recklessly into his first rescue attempt of Shimura. He firmly believed at that point that only Lord Shimura possessed the ability and leadership necessary to drive out the Mongols and restore their homeland. Their ideologies may have begun to split over the course of the game, but that sense of familial connection is a tough thread to cut. After all, Shimura’s condemnation of Jin at Castle Kaneda was one of the game’s greatest emotional peaks specifically because of how close Jin and his uncle were.
Even when the Shogun hands down Jin’s death sentence, Shimura takes it upon himself to carry out the sentence. He fights Jin not out of malice, but out of an unshakeable belief in the tenets he holds close to his own moral compass. When Jin emerges as the victor of the duel, Lord Shimura does not beg for his life, nor does he curse Jin for what he has become. He merely mourns the life the two of them might have had together as father and son.
Many view Jin acquiescing his uncle’s wish as the ‘bad’ ending because killing Shimura means that he has yet to fully let go of the samurai code he’d made so many strides away from throughout the game. But from another perspective, one could view this as Jin’s last show of respect for a man who gave him the tools to be the kind of man he wanted to be. Whether you let him live or not, the Shogun will still hunt The Ghost to the end of his days. Sparing Shimura merely means that there is a likelihood that the two will meet again someday, and perform the same song and dance all over again. Fulfilling Shimura’s request for a warrior’s death can be seen as Jin paying his respects, and severing the final tie that binds him to his past as a samurai. Given how much his uncle has done for him throughout his life, it can be argued that if Jin ever truly loved his uncle, killing him is the kindest thing he could do given the circumstances. Lord Shimura retains his honor, atones for his part in Jin’s exile from the Shogunate, and receives the most fitting send-off a samurai can hope for: to die with a sword in his hand, as a warrior.
Until Sucker Punch comes out with a definitive answer for the players, whichever ending is the ‘good’ ending ultimately comes down to your own sense of justice and morality. Whether you view killing Shimura as a fitting send-off to a lifelong warrior or sparing him as Jin forging his own path through life, the answer isn’t clear-cut. Regardless, this is the kind of moral choice there needs to be more of in video game storytelling. If you can present a choice that gets your player base arguing, drawing logical through-lines across their differing perspectives, you’ve definitely done something worthwhile as a writer. Sucker Punch has done something truly interesting with how they’ve framed this final choice. And regardless of what the canonical answer may end up being (if there is one at all), the discussion it has sparked is undoubtedly a good thing for storytelling in gaming as a whole.
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