Ghost of Tsushima: The Ghost or Samurai Choice

If you've ever doubted your playstyle in Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima, then read this narrative breakdown of Jin Sakai's Ghost or samurai choice. From the story's varying act structure to the unlocking of new abilities, here is how the experience guides the player's choices.

Ghost of Tsushima - The Ghost or Samurai Choice - Header

Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima presents players with a choice between opposing playstyles. Contemplating the Ghost or samurai choice, the player must find a way to drive back the Mongolian invasion. However, where the game differentiates itself from others of its like is in the impermanence of that choice. The player need never worry that their investment in stealth skills will sacrifice open-combat proficiency. Jin Sakai is as much a samurai as he is the Ghost.

This does not mean, however, that the game does not encourage a choice from the player. I believe the story and gameplay integrated a mix of subtle and direct messages to sway the player’s experience. While every player is free to play as they see fit, it is likely many will share a similar experience. Let’s explore the Ghost or samurai choice. Spoilers for the game’s story ahead.

Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut - Official Launch Trailer

Act 1 – Beaten and Broken

The game’s opening act marks the beginning of Jin’s inner conflict. Following a devastating defeat on the beach, Jin was forced to see honourable samurai fall like they were nothing. This doesn’t entirely shake his resolve, but it was a humbling moment. He is forced to rely on stealth momentarily, but only due to his missing weapon. With his blade once more in hand, Jin mounts a direct rescue attempt of his uncle. This too ends in a humiliating failure, forcing the young lord to reconsider his approach.

The game locks stealth skills such as assassinations behind story moments. While many games would treat these as default mechanics, Ghost of Tsushima acknowledges these techniques hold symbolic weight. It’s clear that attacking from shadows fills Jin with guilt, with it occasionally resulting in shameful flashbacks. Even so, Jin encounters various allies of fluctuating moralities, with both styles of gameplay being criticized.

I found that Act 1 was perhaps the only part of the game that truly necessitated both styles. The Ghost and samurai are both viable, but with their own drawbacks. Enemy encampments, for example, have overwhelming numbers that encourage stealth. On the other hand, smaller enemy groups are easily handled with inspiring grace as a samurai. I would argue that direct confrontations are more satisfying, yet they are a calculated risk, especially on lethal difficulty. I experienced Jin’s shame vicariously when I used assassinations, and I only used it when necessary.

Even so, the game seemed to provide more stealth-beneficial rewards early on. Each new reputation rank unlocks a new tool. Jin is given a bow from an ally, and the legendary rewards also provide ranged-combat enhancements. The Ghost or samurai choice is at its most conflicted in these early hours of the game.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

Act 2 – Redemption and Reflection

The game’s second act asks the player to reflect on their methods so far. When I first played the game, I expected the rescue of Lord Shimura to be the majority of the game. The dishonourable methods Jin had employed on his own felt like they would be confronted in the finale. Instead, barely halfway through the story, Jin’s uncle is freed and insists the Ghost methods be put to rest. It should be stated that the game doesn’t force this playstyle on the player. However, Act 2 certainly seems to advocate a reluctant return to the way of the samurai.

In addition to the insistence of Lord Shimura, the game also seems to make the samurai playstyle more viable. By the time I entered Act 2, I had upgraded my gear and unlocked skills and stances. This meant that combat, which used to always be a gamble, started becoming much easier. This was in spite of the fact that tougher enemies were challenging Jin. The battle stops feeling hopeless and the player begins to feel like an unstoppable samurai. Even the missions and side quests support this, with Lord Shimura leading Jin in a direct assault on a fort. Side activities also require more direct confrontations, such as the straw hat duels. Even the legendary armour unlocked in this section is more beneficial to a samurai playstyle.

Even so, the Ghost or samurai choice remained in consideration within the narrative. Jin seems to keep the Ghost at the back of his mind as a last resort. He learns the new Ghost stance and develops poison weapons. But they seem like he’s just being cautious with a shameful final option. It’s not until the end of Act 2 that his doubts are confirmed.

Make Lord Shimura proud.

Make Lord Shimura proud.

Act 3 – Vilified and Victory

The conclusion to Act 2 sees Jin fully embracing the Ghost following an embarrassing display of stubbornness from the samurai. Seeing that his uncle’s sense of honour is seemingly more important than driving back the Mongols, Jin rebels. This is the clearest moment in the story that informs the player they should embrace any means necessary. It in no way removes Jin’s prowess as an open-combat fighter, but it removes the negative stigma of stealth. I witnessed Jin putting his home and its people above his own honour, something the samurai could not do. It finally made it apparent why the game did not include an honour/karma system. There is no such thing as honour in the game, only pride.

Despite how I knew that Jin was doing what was right, the samurai vilified him and he was left alone. His old life as a lord is dead, symbolised by the death of his loyal horse at Act 3’s beginning. Jin also received the Ghost armour for the first time, the very armour shown in all the promotional material. All of this leads into his final confrontation with the enemy, finally defeating the Khan. The ending of the game shows that his time as the Ghost is irreversible, no matter your final choice.

However, what is crucial about the Ghost or samurai choice is how it truly is the player’s alone. Act 3 in no way necessitates stealth as Act 1 did, with the player still being strong enough for duels. There are no stats to force a playstyle, or a morality meter that locks you into choices. Act 3 makes it so every encounter is a choice of style, but it’s no longer a choice of philosophy.

“I am the Ghost.”

“I am the Ghost.”

Is There Really A Choice?

In terms of the game’s narrative, there isn’t really a Ghost or samurai choice for the player to make. Jin will become the Ghost no matter what. However, the player can always decide what kind of Ghost they are. They can fully embrace stealth as their primary approach, or do so only reluctantly. What is so striking about the game is how it guides the player’s style, but rarely enforces it. The narrative and gameplay were crafted in such a way that each option seemed more favourable at the perfect moment. It’s the sign of a strong narrative when the player and character seem so in sync with their decisions.

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