Ghost of Tsushima is a beautiful, expansive gaming experience that draws the player into its world like no other game. The gameplay is unique, the combat is easy to learn but hard to master, and the storyline is incredibly compelling. The player enjoys the views, the story, and empathizes with the characters. Sucker Punch went above and beyond in their efforts to create a compelling and beautiful game. As a result it feels like you are playing classic Akira Kurosawa Samurai movie rather than playing a video game.
A Game With a Semi-Historical Background
The events of the game revolve around the the attempted Mongol invasion of the Japanese mainland in 1274 A.D. Kublai Khan, the ruler of the expansive and powerful Mongolian empire, had conquered most of mainland Asia at this point. In 1274 he launched an invasion of Japan. The invasion began on the small island of Tsushima, off the coast of Japan. The inhabitants of Tsushima put up some initial resistance, but the Mongols conquered the island in less than a day. A storm blew the Mongolian fleet far off course when they set sail. This storm spared the Japanese mainland, and it never fell to the Mongol horde.
In reality, the Mongols mercilessly crushed the inhabitants of Tsushima in less than 24 hours. Ghost of Tsushima imagines an alternate reality where the inhabitants of Tsushima heroically drive off the invaders. The tenacity, fierceness, and determination of the people defeats the Mongols in Ghost of Tsushima rather than the weather. The honorable Jito of Tsushima, Lord Shimura, and his nephew, the unconventional Jin Sakai, lead this revolt against the Mongols. Spurred on by the indomitable and creative Mongolian General Khotun Khan, the Mongols do not go out without a fight. The story culminates in an epic showdown that, if true, would have been one of the greatest military feats ever.
Constantly Evolving Gameplay
A genius aspects of this masterpiece is how the gameplay constantly shifts. Jin’s journey takes 40-50 hours to complete. Over the course of this struggle, your style of play will change along with Jin. Jin’s rigid uncle raised him to follow the Samurai Code, or Bushido. Jin embarks upon his journey by strictly following this and deviating only if absolutely necessary. As the long, bloody conflict drags on, Jin shifts his views. He seeks to follow what he thinks is most important––liberating his people no matter what. Jin is joined in his efforts by some unlikely but loyal allies. These allies include the thief-turned-warrior Yuna who saves Jin’s life. The sake merchant Kenji is an irritating but loyal friend. The distraught Samurai Lady Masako Adachi befriends Jin when he most needs it. Jin’s allies help him realize he can best help his people by shedding parts of his code.
Accompanying this shift in Jin’s views comes a shift in gameplay. The further you advance, the more incentivized you are to throw off the rigid way of the samurai. You begin the game calling out enemies, engaging them face-to-face, and only using your blood-stained katana to finish them off. But as you advance the enemies increase in difficulty, number, intelligence, and skill. What you would have once viewed as a doable challenge now appears almost impossible to fight in a traditional way. It’s not that you can’t do this, just be prepared for a solid challenge. Even if you don’t want to, you find yourself using more covert and ‘dishonorable’ methods of slaying your enemies. Note, however, that, while not honorable according to Lord Shimura and Bushido, these methods are just as satisfying to witness.
Exciting and Ever-Changing Combat
Ghost of Tsushima’s combat is always exciting, as it allows you to play however you want. You may draw your katana and duel a skilled Ronin one-on-one if you want. You can throw a smoke bomb and assassinate multiple enemies, use poison, or use a stealthy bow. Combat is traditional, allowing you to switch stances, use special abilities, and engage in long range and stealth attacks. But it is unconventional in that how you use your abilities and engage enemies is your choice. You can cling to honor and refuse to stab enemies from behind if you want. You can rush into battle, behead a general, and slay everyone around. Or, if you prefer you can silently kill and terrify an entire fort without them ever noticing ‘The Ghost’s’ presence. It’s this flexibility and shift in gameplay that allows Ghost of Tsushima to constantly feel like a new challenge.
Another masterstroke from Sucker Punch is that they give you the opportunity to know so many incredible characters. The main protagonist may be the ever-conflicted Jin Sakai, but you are drawn into the lives of many other characters in a way that goes above and beyond any other game. Jin’s allies and enemies are not two-dimensional characters. They have an unmatched depth that creates an emotional connection to them, wherever their paths may lead.
The game instantly draws you into Jin Sakai’s world, and you view Tsushima through the broken and angry eyes of this samurai lord. You feel his pain as he discovers that his allies and friends are dead at the hands of the Mongols, and his hurt and anger fills you when you have the opportunity to avenge them at long last. Jin’s journey is one that is incredibly emotional and rewarding; but what Sucker Punch did with the emotional complexity of their characters goes far above and beyond Jin. No character in the game is a block script, pre-programmed character. The characters feel dynamic, and the friendships or rivalries that Jin forms feel very real. It is very easy to forget that these are not real, living characters, but are in fact video game characters.
An Unlikely Mix of Allies
From the revenge-driven and distraught Lady Masako Adachi, whose entire family was slain during the chaos of the invasion (but not, importantly, by the Mongols themselves) to the conflicted and ever-angry Sensei Ishikawa, Jin’s allies have a deep emotional range and stories that draw you into their lives. Jin’s closest ally, Yuna, is the unlikeliest of friends, and one whose character arc is as surprising as the ending of the campaign’s story. Jin enlists an unsure sake seller/sometimes-trader to the Mongols, as well as a monk seeking to avenge his brother’s memory. But somehow, despite the eclectic mix of characters that in any other game would seem chaotic, Ghost of Tsushima’s cast of characters makes sense. These allies have experienced pain, struggle, and destruction at the hands of the Mongols and their own people, but they also experience redemption, progression, and eventually peace.
A Game With Many Memorable Characters
This is a game that does not have merely one protagonist, but in fact has many. The team at Sucker Punch did such a great job with creating characters that you cannot help but be drawn in even by the main villain, Khotun Khan, or a number of side villains such as the traitor Ronin Samurai (and Jin’s former best friend) Ryuzo, or the misunderstood and angry former student of Sensei Ishikawa, Tomoe. There is no black and white in this game. Every character has redeeming qualities, and every character has traits that, at times, make you lose faith in them or outright dislike them. These Game of Thrones-esque character arcs and emotional developments draw you in, immerse you fully in the culture and the struggle, and leave you feeling connected to the game and the characters in a very deep and real way.
Breathtaking Landscapes In-Game
Ghost of Tsushima is one of the most beautiful games to come to the PlayStation 4. The open-world island has a varied and ever-changing environment that reacts to the weather, the time, and your location. The game’s landscapes offers an incredible amount of diversity, from seaside cliffs to bamboo forests and open plains filled with beautiful white flowers, Ghost of Tsushima is a visual masterpiece that you can spend hours marveling at through your gameplay.
The island of Tsushima has three distinct regions. Jin begins his journey in Izuhara, a region with expansive white flower fields, coastline, and forests. Riding your noble Samurai steed through these fields, along the shore, or through a forest marked by brilliant red, yellow, and green-leafed trees is an almost cinematic experience. The light from the sun reflects off of the trees, mist rises from the sea in the early morning hours, and the white flower fields sway differently in a strong gust of wind or in a storm. The environment reacts to the weather and your movements through it, and Izuhara is a beautiful region to begin your journey. If the environment did not change for the rest of the game, it would still be an incredibly gratifying visual experience. But that is not the case, and it only gets better from here.
Next, your journey takes you to Toyotama, the middle region. Like Izuhara, Toyotama is home to forests and fields. What sets Toyotama apart is its beautiful mountain views, cherry blossom forests, and marshy swamps. The views are so beautiful that you will inevitably find yourself climbing atop of a high, misty peak for the sole pleasure of taking a screenshot of this gorgeous view. The photo tool is one of Ghost of Tsushima’s best features, and I took full advantage of it. This tool allows you to change the weather and time of day for screenshots, and it was perfect for the beauty of Toyotama. You will love climbing a mountain and watching a breathtakingly beautiful sunrise/sunset as you cycle through the time and weather. There is no better view than watching the the sun glint off of swamps, lily pads, and leaves from a mountain in Toyotama.
The final destination in your picturesque journey is the inhospitable Kamiagata region far in the snowy north of Tsushima. This area is bitterly cold, but breathtakingly beautiful. The diversity in landscapes here is, understandably, much more limited. But yet, despite being almost entirely a mountain and snow-covered wasteland, Kamiagata is perhaps the most beautiful region of all. The constant snowfall looks almost real, and how the glint of the sun on snow, ice, and half-frozen rivers differs is a testament to just how much effort Sucker Punch put into cultivating the landscape for players. Their focus was not just on creating a fun, engaging gameplay experience, but to have it be almost cinematic in nature, making you feel as though you were watching a movie reel rather than a PlayStation 4 game.
The Verdict: A 10/10 Game
Ghost of Tsushima, likely the last PlayStation 4 exclusive, is memorable for more than just this. The smoothness and ever-evolving nature of the gameplay creates a memorable gaming experience. The storylines of the characters, whether friend or foe, draws the player in and allows you to empathize with them on a deep level that is not felt in other games. Finally, in addition to these features, the game itself looks like a high definition movie. The beautiful trailer videos we’ve become accustomed to letting us down when we begin gameplay were actually perhaps underwhelming in this case. No video, screenshot, or review can ever hope to fully capture the beauty of Tsushima (though I have certainly tried), but suffice it to say that it is a cinematic masterpiece. If you haven’t given Ghost of Tsushima a try yet, now is the time, it’ll be well worth your money and energy!