Ghost of Tsushima takes gamers on a virtual journey across the scorched countrysides of feudal Japan as Jin Sakai, one of the last remaining samurai on the island of Tsushima after a Mongolian invasion devastated the island.
A majority of the game’s 25- to 30-hour main plot sees Jin on a quest to defeat the Mongol warlord Khotun Khan and liberate his home, but at the same time, the samurai undergoes an internal struggle that culminates with a twist ending. This emotional struggle was the main allure for award-winning musician Ilan Eshkeri to co-compose Ghost of Tsushima’s 22-song soundtrack, along with fellow composer Shigeru Umebayashi. What was it like writing the music for that sucker punch ending twist?
Heavy endgame spoilers for Ghost of Tsushima follow. Read at your own discretion.
"Ghost of Tsushima is the story of a young man who is in a state of emotional conflict,” Eshkeri tells Inverse. "Jin was raised to live by the samurai moral code of honor, but to save the people he loves he needs to go against that code. So he's in an emotional crisis the whole way through the game. That bit right there is what drew me in."
Throughout the game, players are forced to assassinate, deceive, and poison soldiers in the Mongol army. It's the only way Jin can make any meaningful progress in defending his home against the overwhelming invasion. These ninja tactics allow him to triumph over Khotun Khan in the end, but it ultimately puts him at odds with his uncle and father-figure, Lord Shimura.
Jin’s final duel in Ghost of Tsushima isn’t against Khotun Khan or any other Mongol leader; It's against Lord Shimura, the person who taught him to never stab an enemy in the back. After the Mongols are defeated, Japan’s Shogun orders Lord Shimura to kill Jin as punishment for breaking the samurai code of honor. Jin sacrificed everything he held dear just to save his uncle, and in the end he's forced to brandish his blade against him.
For Eshkeri, this was this moment that proved to be the most difficult for him to compose music for because of the raw emotionality of the scene.
“The final fight needed to be active and powerful, but it also needed to be extremely emotional,” he said. “I knew people would want to be [concluding Jin’s journey] but I wanted them to have tears in their eyes when they were going through with it. Trying to achieve that proved to be one of my greatest challenges.”
Jin eventually bests his uncle and is faced with two choices: Kill Lord Shimura to honor his wish of a warrior’s death or spare him. While this final decision might not have too much impact on Ghost of Tsushima’s endgame, it means everything to Jin as a character.
Players can have Jin maintain the samurai code of honor by killing his uncle, or spare him and fully embrace the persona of the shadowy Ghost of Tsushima who abandoned tradition to save his home.
Gamers can feel the gravity of the decision with every drum beat and flute whistle of Jin’s final encounter with Lord Shimura.
Ghost of Tsushima is out now for PS4.