Ghost of Tsushima Review
Set on Tsushima Island in the year 1274, the game revolves around one of the island’s last samurai, Jin Sakai, during the first Mongol invasion of Japan.The armies of the Mongol Empire, utilizing weapons and military tactics unknown to the Japanese, have conquered and devastated many countries and Tsushima is all that stands between them and the mainland of Japan. The island was devastated by the first wave of the Mongol invasion; its samurai forces were easily defeated, allowing the invaders to conquer large swaths of territory where they terrorize the local inhabitants and gather resources to build up their strength. Jin is one of the few survivors of his clan, wiped out while trying to defend the island.
With his world shattered, Jin realizes that the way he was trained to fight is useless against such a powerful enemy. Ultimately, he must learn the way of the Ghost, an unconventional fighting style that emphasizes small-scale attacks, creating fear in the minds of the enemy, and using their own weapons against them, to defeat the Mongols and prevent them from launching a full invasion of the mainland. Ghost of Tshushima is an open world action adventure game done in a way I have never experienced before. To break it down to the most common game for those who aren’t familiar would be Assassin’s Creed if they did one in Japan. However let me tell you why this game is that, and so much more.
The game is extremely authentic down to every detail imaginable, you can tell that a lot of care and research went into making Ghost of Tsushima as accurate as possible. The game takes inspiration from Akira Kurosawa films like Seven Samurai and Sanjuro from the 50’s and 60’s. There is even a mode included (with permission from the Kurosawa estate) that filters the game to look just like those classic films, even down to the audio distortion. Sucker Punch also had consultants for historical sword combat, instruments of the time, and even birdsongs. You can choose to have the game be entirely in Japanese with English subtitles if you want some true classic Samurai vibes. This game is clearly a love letter to the historical ways of the Samurai.
The Island of Tsushima is a beautiful and sad landscape to traverse throughout this game. From the beautiful temples and floating cherry blossoms in the trees, to the burning corpse riddled beaches where epic battles took place the team makes it so that each destination feels unique but clearly ties into and belongs together. Although fast travel is utilized in this game to reach some waypoints you’ve visited before, I often would find myself riding my horse from where I was to soak in the landscapes, sunsets, and animals I would encounter. There are lots of side missions and collectables to do along the way that really flesh out this MASSIVE game. One of my favorite side quests was to hunt down the fox dens and you would follow a fox to a nearby Inari Shrine to pay respects to them and the Kitsune who protect them (to of course get power ups). All of the weapons are authentic to the time period and are designed exactly as they would be with the proper adornments and everything. From your Katana to your shorter Tanto and your long and short bows, everything is dripping with style and authenticity. As you play through the game you can customize them with different looks and styles that would have been traditional during the time period. You also encounter many different styles and types of armor, from lightweight armor used by archers, to traveling clothes for long journeys, to the full-on super badass samurai armor complete with helmet and mask, it’s hard to pick and stick with one to play with for long.
Let’s talk about game play now, the map is absolutely huge with three separate districts for you to encounter, each one unlocking as you complete the main quests from the previous one on your mission to end the Mongol invasion. As you discover areas you have main missions which are highlighted in Gold and are required to move forward the main story, your side quests are in silver and can be done at any time (but completing them help upgrade your character and unlock extra things), and then you have your various other things like shrines, fox dens, etc that are also extra things to do to help Jin develop more as a warrior. Combat is smooth and extremely satisfying no matter how you choose to play. Speaking of which…. Samurai are known for attacking their enemies head on and never relenting or backing down. So you can rush into enemies and even call them out to have an epic showdown, (these are some of my favorite moments and are super cinemagraphic) you hold down your button as you standoff against your opponent and wait for him to make the first move leaving him open, when he does release the button for an instant stylish kill. As you level up you can chain this as you kill one person another dashes in and another if you are successful. If that’s not your style you can just run in and start slashing away, Jin learns for distinct stances and fight styles of the Samurai throughout the game each one more effective against certain types of enemies. You can attack from far away with your bows and arrows, or heavy arrows, or fire arrows, or explosive arrows….you get the point. Or you can attack like a Ghost using tools not traditional of a samurai such as smoke bombs, throwing knives, distractions and more. So the game allows you to play truly however you want to. While the violence is there sure, it’s not overly graphic or gory but there is a lot of blood. Like Tarantino levels of blood, which can be turned off in the settings as well.
The story is extremely well written in the style of the movies that inspired the game. As mentioned much earlier the game is extremely authentic and because of that, there is a strict Samurai code (mentioned above in combat) and Jin was raised from a young age to live by the code. However the events of this game cause him to question his code and do things that would dishonor the code, but is the only way he can succeed in his mission. Jin often has a great internal struggle with this, which makes the game story much better than hunt down this guy, hunt down that guy, get that village loop. Jin finds recruits to aid him where-ever he can, each with their own intentions and ways which Jin learns from and sometimes conflicts with. This journey about growth, survival, and honor has all the markings for a great blockbuster film. I often struggle with the longer open ended games with lots of side missions because I lose interest in the story. Ghost of Tsushima does enough to keep me hooked and thinking about playing the game when I am not.
Overall I honestly cannot believe we are talking about launching a new console generation in a few months and Sony has delivered two of the best experiences I’ve had in gaming at the end of the PS4 life cycle. Sucker Punch knocked this game out of the park and delivered another must play experience for anyone who owns a PS4. They brought their own twist to a style of game we are familiar with but truly makes it their own and improves on many of the aspects others let us down with all while using a genre (Samurai) that we don’t see often in a game outside of a fighting game and gave it the care and respect it deserves. Do not sleep on this game, you won’t regret it!
A review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for this review.