The players had to make tough decisions in 2020. Some of the best games this year presented some existential choices that went far beyond the usual binary “good and bad”. That was no more true than in The spirit of Tsushima, which ends with one of the most challenging choices I’ve ever made in the game.
We asked readers what they thought was the hardest choice in the game this year and they overwhelmingly agreed. The spirit of Tsushima The ending took the cake with almost 40 percent of the vote and it’s easy to see why if you made it to the end of Sucker Punch’s open world samurai game.
Let’s go inside heavy spoiler territory for the end The spirit of Tsushima here, so be warned before proceeding further.
The spirit of Tsushima tells of Yin Sakai, a samurai who fights to protect Tsushima Island from Mongol invasion. The game largely revolves around the idea of honor, with Jin constantly deciding whether to issue a samurai code by sneaking into the shadows to kill enemies rather than confront them. This is mainly played through the interaction of the game between stealth and hack-and-slash action.
That internal conflict eventually comes to a more emotional head in the final moments of the game. The story ends with a duel between Jin and his uncle Lord Shimura, who ordered the execution of his nephew. Jin emerges victorious, but this is where the paralyzing choice arises; you are asked to spare or kill your uncle.
This is not your simple black and white option in which killing is evil and showing mercy is good. Lord Shimura requires you to complete it, as it is honorable in samurai codes. Saving it may seem like a morally correct path, but the player ultimately refuses to give it a warrior death by doing so. It’s a complete inversion of the way games have taught us to watch moments like this and makes it more challenging than any fight in the game.
When I chose Dialog, I had to lower the controller. I don’t usually think too much about my choices in games. If I play the role properly, I know exactly how my character will react to the situation and I can fire the right line within seconds of reading the options. This was different. I spent a few minutes pacing around my apartment trying to remember exactly what my internal logic was during the game. I refused to use stealth in my playing, so I mostly stuck to my code. But should that same logic apply to loved ones I was just fighting to save?
In the end, I decided to spare him, trying to convince myself that I had a moral advantage and I didn’t just choose a cowardly cop who further betrayed my uncle’s wishes. I still don’t know if I made the right decision.
What is so effective? The spirit of Tsushuma storytelling is to properly connect play and theme in a meaningful way. The game does not only explain to the player the systems of honors from the 13th century in the exhibition dump. It illustrates this through the gameplay itself, allowing players to feel the weight of any association or opposition. It’s a game about respecting tradition, but knowing when it’s time for the old guard to die and adapt to the weather. At the end of my passage, I may have just longed for the change I wanted to see in my world.
Fortunately, other decisions about the 2020 games were not so tense. Our readers said their second tough choice this year was which color of characters to choose Between us and which island layout to choose Animal Transition: New Horizons. Of course, these are in themselves quite awkward decisions for those types of perfectionists who have trouble choosing the color of a mini golf ball (mine is red, for the record).
No matter the big or small possibilities, the choice is what makes video games such an appealing medium with unique storytelling potential. The spirit of Tsushima the final simply wouldn’t have landed the same way without the player making the final call and shaping his own goal. A film adaptation would have to decide for me, and that’s what actually looks like a coward’s way out.
A year in the games is Inverse celebration of the best new video games of 2020 and the most impressive moments of playing.