The Romanticized Tale Of A Troubled Samurai
This year has seen some amazing games come to the forefront, but possibly none more highly anticipated than Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima, the PS4 exclusive blockbuster samurai action-adventure title. From being teased with bits and pieces of gameplay over the past two years, the game had already earned the excitement of gamers looking for the next fusion of the samurai sword clashing, horse-riding, and beautiful open world experience. Ghost of Tsushima does not disappoint - it feels familiar, wonderful, and is exactly what we’d all been waiting for.
A Beautified Feudal Japan
Ghost of Tsushima takes place on Tsushima Island, during anywhere between the 13th and 16th centuries. The reason for saying this is because we see a number of cultural influences both amongst the samurai, combat, and toolsets that speak to the growth and change in the times. Sucker Punch has done a wonderful job of creating a fusion of a time period that is truly meant to be consumed via gaming.
The first thing that jumped out to gamers during the early trailers, sneak peeks, and teasers, was the beautiful look of the game. Everything from the beautiful rain, to the flowing colored blossoms; this is a joy to look at. Not only is this the cake, but the icing on it might be the wonderfully robust camera mode. Trust us, you cannot take a bad still in this game.
We find our protagonist, Jin Sakai (voiced by Daisuke Tsuji), on the beach at Komoda. He sits atop his horse next to his uncle, and lord of Tsushima Island, Lord Shimura. The Mongol army has attacked, and are storming the beach. Led by Khotun Khan (voiced by Patrick Gallagher), the army is relentless, brutal, and cunning. The samurai fall at Komoda beach, with Lord Shimura being captured, and Jin left unconscious in defeat to Khotun Khan. Our story begins here, where Jin must find his way to safety as one of the few remaining samurai to survive the Mongol invasion thus far.
The story is told with fictional characters, though it does take some very real events into account. Utilizing the historic event of the Mongol invasion of Tsushima Island in 1274 is a great setting for what would be the breakdown, and rebuilding of our protagonist. Through the charismatic, soft-spoken terror that is Khotun Khan, Jin Sakai finds himself at an impasse between moving forward with honor, and re-claiming Tsushima by any means necessary.
Ghost of Tsushima’s combat and gameplay are a sweet spot between games like The Witcher 3, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Assassin’s Creed. You find yourself on one hand, recreating a beautiful Akira Kurosawa style standoff in a gorgeous bamboo forest, and on the other, infiltrating a Mongol camp in order to assassinate the camp’s leader. The game plays with this premise on Jin’s “honor” and the fact that he is in fact a changed man after the events at Komoda beach. The Mongols defeated the samurai and their tactics, so it was time to resort to more unconventional means at the time. Much of these “means” are reminiscent of the ninja, who we LOVE to control in gaming. Again, this speaks to the hodgepodge of history that Sucker Punch has put together, as those tactics had not been recorded until far later in history.
That said, Jin plays both ways very well, and it’s seamless going from standoff, one cut-one kill Jin, to the smoke bomb and kunai slinging Jin. The gameplay takes the best parts from some of the best games on the market, like mentioned above. The exploration, combat balance, and combat movement of The Witcher 3, the depth of item use of Horizon, and the world climbing navigation, and sneaking, and assassinations of Assassin’s Creed, though it does all of these things far better than the AC franchise.
Tsushima Island is a vast landscape with a breadth of terrain, towns, and trouble. From the calm coastal areas to the mountainous rocky paths leading to ancient shrines, to the underbrushes leading to pillars honoring the fallen, exploring this open world will only benefit the gamer.
As a completionist myself, I went ahead and got 90% trophies on my first playthrough, making sure I mostly cleared the entire map. This didn’t come from some insane sense of needing to do everything, rather came from a genuine interest in what lies beyond this beautiful plane, or where might this fox lead me if I follow it.
The game rewards the player in many ways that calm, excite, push, and pull. Finding a shrine can yield a charm with special bonuses to Jin in combat, and honoring the dead might yield a new cosmetic item. At the same time, you may encounter roaming Mongols, or bandits, and have to duel them beside the road. Upon a successful standoff, it’s not uncommon to just as easily come across a hot spring, where Jin can rest and recover his health. The game provides amazing ways for you to gain these items and bonuses, that both reinforce the culture of the game, but also manage the highs and lows of the intense combat, and calm observance of the environment while compiling a haiku while reflecting on the potentiality of death.
Jin’s character starts off as a noble, a samurai who intends to do his duty and uphold the security of his home. He does not stray from this, and at times can seem monotonous and gray. It is not until the storyline progresses, that we see his character expand slightly more. For those who enjoy spending 20 extra hours doing side missions and exploring the map, this means having a very dry protagonist aside from the main questline. Though it’s understandable that some of this falls in line with his demeanor as samurai, we see how as the story progresses, he begins to open up and show more depth.
There are also many tools to use while playing as the ghost, all to be used in their own ways and adaptable to the gamer’s playstyle. You always feel as though you have something to give you an edge, and worst case scenario, your trusty katana is always there. This empowers the gamers throughout the playthrough, giving you a variety of ways to execute tasks.
My Big Pain Point
There are many things to do in Ghost of Tsushima, and while the game has a ton of substance, there are times where you feel as though you’re in filler portions of the side story. One of the biggest parts of other games we compare this too, such as The Witcher 3, has side quests that could hold up against some other games’ main storylines. This game does have those, just far and few in between.
Additionally, in a game as beautiful as this one, there is far too little attention given to cutscenes, even dialogue. It is often monotonous, and you rarely can even make out the features of the characters you’re talking to unless they’re part of a major questline. Furthermore, I would love to see use of a cinematic, or cutscene that was beyond a conversation. After a while, you feel like you’re looking at a Seth Macfarlane production with minimalist animation during the talking. Mouths move, hands gesture, and that’s the extent of your cutscenes for the most part. I would have loved to see Jin stylistically kick some bad guy ass while I put my controller down and watch. With a game priding itself on visuals, I found these aspects lacking.
Ghost of Tsushima is an incredibly fun experience that takes gameplay elements from some of the best games of this generation, and expands on them in many ways. It is undoubtedly a Game of the Year candidate, and very high at that. The game is beautiful, feels great in your hands, and as the game progresses it gets so much better. You truly get out what you put into it, and it’s strongly recommended that you explore aside from the main storyline.
Finally, there are multiple ways to enjoy the game. It was created in English for the audio, and due to outcry, they added in Japanese audio as well, which is also well done. Bear in mind, the lips are synced to the English audio only. Also, there is a “Kurosawa” mode, which allows you to play the game in a robust black and white, old school cinematic samurai mode, which was honestly perfected for a game. Recommendation here is to do this for the endgame, as we cannot state further how gorgeous the game looks in all of its color. Do yourself a solid, and buy this game.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Reviewed By CorneredFOX