In my first post detailling Combat and Enemy Classes I wrote that there was so much to talk about, and this is one question that stuck with me the most. What is at the heart of Ghost of Tsushima? The answer is simple. It is about family, which becomes very apparent in the companion quests.
Fair warning: Don’t continue reading if you want to avoid spoilers, for there will be a MAJOR SPOILERS and a lot of them. Also, expect some ramblings.
So, this post will be about how family affects all of the characters, including Jin, who – orphaned and abandoned mid-game by his uncle – ultimately finds himself without a family. Or does he?
Well, one could argue that his companions are his family, but that is, alas, not true. Still, almost all of his companions’ stories are tied to family. They also reflect Jin’s own struggles, and I thought that pretty cleverly done, too, because, to be honest, I did not see through that right away. The companion quests also make it very clear that Jin is not a pure-hearted hero. And even though he struggles to not become the monster he reveals only to the enemy, he is still kind of a monster. We will get to that later.
Now, at the beginning of the game orphan Jin Sakai loses the only family he has left, which is, of course, Lord Shimura. And so his quest begins with a plan to rescue his uncle, who, to his mind, is the ideal warrior. I understand that Shimura is an impressive man. That is where the flashbacks come into play. They serve to make us undestand how Jin views him.
So, Jin is convinced that Lord Shimura is the only hope they have of defeating the Mongols. The way he is hero-worshipping him is kind of endearing, really, especially when he does so after having just accomplished some impressive feats himself.
It is Yuna who makes Jin understand that he, not Shimura, is the leader of their forces, that people look to him for guidance. A heavy burden. Jin’s struggles to shoulder it are described in the companion quests. While some of the companions mirror his own plight – namely Lady Masako Adachi and Nurio – others help Jin reflect on his own motivation, checks and balances or expand his outlook on life. I thought that very interesting as it made me reflect on how to play the game myself.
Let’s start with the man who influenced Jin’s defining years becoming a samurai, his uncle.
Lord Shimura – A Man Of Honor
Jin’s powerful uncle strictly adheres to the samurai code, despite the cost. At one point, he even confesses to Jin that he struggles with it every day. At times you can tell how trapped he feels in that prison of honor and loyalty. He still wants Jin to follow in his footsteps. And while they share a strong bond of family already, Shimura decides to make it official and adopt Jin as his son. The revelation that Jin chose the path of an assassin instead of a samurai, striking from the shadows instead of facing his foes head-on, is therefore devastating.
Yet, despite that, you can still feel his love for Jin. His comments when Jin returns to Castle Shimura, the tears he sheds during the final, heart-breaking encounter of the two men and his last words to Jin certainly prove that. Yet he is true to himself, always, which is something I can admire.
And while Jin chooses another way, his desire to reconcile with his uncle is ever present. After all, Jin does not give up on people easily. Even Ryozo got a second chance, despite his attempt of killing Jin. When Jin realises the true reason behind the meeting his uncle has called him to after defeating the khan, his betrayal and rage mirror that of Shimura when Jin embraced the Ghost as his true calling.
The two choices you have then – to kill Shimura as per his last request or spare his life and shame him – are tricky. But if it is reconciliation you seek, you will have to honor Shimura’s last wish. It is a tough one, but, in my opinion, emotionally more rewarding than the alternative.
Lady Masako Adachi – A Soul Lost
When we first meet Lady Adachi at the funeral of the late lord Sakai, she offers Jin her clan’s aid, should he ever need it. Little does she know that, when that time comes, she will be the only one left of her clan, the last of her family. As you follow her on her companion quests you can watch her fall apart, driven by grief, loss, vengeance and loneliness. The closer she comes to uncovering who is behind the massacre of her family, the more ruthless she becomes.
And while Jin seemingly proves himself a true friend when she turns on him in anger, his true self does shine through as he reminds her that if the two of them fight, the Mongols have won. For that is all he cares about: defeating the Mongols and liberating Tsushima. He would do anything for that, too. It is something his elders warn him of repeatedly, especially Master Ishikawa.
The relationship between Jin and master archer Ishikawa is a vey interesting one. See, Ishikawa finds himself in a predicament similar to that of Lord Shimura. His most promising student, the woman he would adopt as his daughter, turns on him, mocking and defiling everything he cherishes. Repeatedly, he and Jin try tracking her down, only to be thwarted each and every time. Ishikawa becomes more and more ruthless in his methods of trying to trap her, prompting Jin to issue a warning: do not become a monster like her. Which is rich, considering what Jin is prepared to do to reach his goal.
Ishikawa observes something very interesting about Jin. The young man expects his elders to be perfect, which they are not. They are all human, all have their flaws and make mistakes. The same goes for Jin, of course. Ishikawa’s lessons have Jin starting to reflect on his own legacy. Will he be remembered as monster or hero? Of course, as Ishikawa’s companion quest is resolved, we learn that Tomoe did what she had to, to survive, and that she is not the monster her actions seem to make her at first glance. So there is hope yet for our hero. And maybe not.
Yuna – Mentor And Driving Force
Thief Yuna shares a strong bond with her brother, the only family she has left. They watch out for one another, and while she is over-protective, she would also do anything for Takka. Yuna’s companion quests reveals the reason for her over-protectiveness. And while Jin shows understanding for her then, he shows an astonishing lack of empathy towards her when Takka is murdered. I frankly could not believe my eyes and ears.
To be honest, the relationship between Jin and Yuna is somewhat strange. Does he view her as sister, potential lover or just a companion? There is a bit of dialogue that hints at a romance, but it is very subtle and it also feels forced. I really don’t get any romantic vibes.
Anyway. Yuna’s quest to protect Takka stems from her failure to do so in the past. And Jin’s desire to succeed stems from his failure to protect his father and free his uncle. Never mind the fact that he was a child back when his father was murdered and that he tried to free his uncle by attacking a fortress all by himself. Both times he had no chance to succeed and still blamed himself for failure. Just like Yuna.
Nurio – A Mirror Of Jin’s Journey?
Nurio is a warrior-monk who lost everyone he has ever cared for, including his brother, the Guardian of Cedar Temple. He does his best to make his brother proud and protect the other temples and warrior monks. Jin assists him, teaching Nurio that people are more important than artefacts and making him realise that he is as much a leader as his brother ever was.
But when Nurio finds his brother alive, horribly mutilated and kept prisoner by the Mongols, something inside him snaps. Eventually, Jin learns exactly how Nurio views him: as a ruthless killer. In a last ditch effort to redeem his friend, Jin asks Nurio to not become like him. But it is too late. Nurio is ready to leave his life behind. Just as Jin has done.
Ryozo – The Desperate Ronin
Jin’s relationship with Ryozo is the one that shows Jin’s ruthlessness most clearly. In the beginning, all seems well when the two meet again. Jin is looking for allies and wants to recruit Ryozo and his men to help him free Lord Shimura. It is a deal Ryozo is willing to honor, as work has become scarce since the invasion and his men – who he considers his family – are starving.
Jin is so used to giving orders that he takes charge in front of the ronin, making Ryozo look weak. What follows is a bitter recount of past events on Ryozo’s part. Ryozo may have found his calling as leader of the straw hat ronin, but it becomes clear that this was not what he wished for and that he blames Jin for shattering his dreams of becoming a samurai himself. What also becomes clear is that Ryozo cares for his men, very much so. He is even willing to enlist Jin’s help to steal food for them. Unfortunately, each and every attempt at securing supplies fails.
When it is time to storm castle Kaneda and free Lord Shimura, the ronin fail to show, but Ryozo does. He has come to claim the price on Jin’s head. It is the only way he can think of to keep his family of ronin alive. Jin pleads with him and, after Ryozo is defeated, even tries to enlist him anyway. Which is a pretty bold move. Ryozo declines and joins the Mongol forces. It is a deal with the devil and he soon comes to regret it. Ryozo and Jin meet twice more.
The last time they do Ryozo – with no ronin family left, thanks to Jin – proposes a deal himself. It is as ludicrous as Jin’s attempt to recruit him. Ryozo wants to join Jin, wants him to claim he was his spy within the Mongol force. Jin – who has just poisoned an entire camp of Mongols and is out for blood – starts to consider, but then refuses. Ryozo is to surrender and answer for his crimes. For both of their sakes. That is something Ryozo cannot do. And so they duel, and he dies.
The reason for going into the details of their last encounter is the fact that right after, Jin is confronted with another ludicrous proposition. Lord Shimura wants him to blame his killing spree on Yuna and throw her to the wolves, so they can be father and son without the Ghost’s reputation tarnishing the family name. And that is something that Jin is unable to do.
I really liked that one.
Yuriko – A Voice From The Past
Yuriko is Jin’s childhood nanny who governs his clan’s holdings in his absence. She is a sweet old woman and her companion quests melancholy. During their adventures around Omi Village she frequently confuses Jin with his father Kazumaza and it quickly becomes clear that she had a special relationship not only with Jin, but also with his sire. The fact that she teaches Jin about poisons is a little jarring, but then, she could never deny him a request.
Listening to her tales from the past we learn more about the two men who have influenced Jin the most: his father and his uncle. Of course, we will learn even more of Kazumaza in the story DLC Iki Island, but then, that is another story.
Yuriko’s missions are, as mentioned, melancholy, but the last one broke my heart. You know why.
There is no Black or White
So, yeah, I know this is a long post, but I really wanted to share my thoughts on the ambigious characters, especially Jin. I also was impressed with the two endings, which are both sad in their own way. I really rooted for Jin when he told Lord Shimura that he may have no honor, but at least he is not prepared to kill family, unlike his uncle. On the other hand, the love pouring from Shimura when Jin honors his last wish of a warrior’s death is just heart-breaking.
Next, I will be detailing my journey into ancient Egypt, as I finally decided to give the Assassin’s Creed-franchise a second chance.
Until then, keep on playing!