Ghost of Tsushima Review- Vengeance in Old Japan, Samurai Style

Posted August 29, 2020 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Release date: July 17, 2020

Available on: PS4

While there are plenty of video games featuring samurai, few really capture the breadth and spirit of the genre. Taking a cue from director Akira Kurosawa’s 1956 film Seven Samurai, developer Sucker Punch Productions, the people who brought us inFamous and the Sly Cooper series have delivered a game that in both story and setting that embodies the best of both samurai games and films. Inspiration not only came from Kurosawa’s work (the game even has a mode named for the famed director) but from games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2. The resulting game Ghost of Tsushima delivers on all counts- combat, visuals, story, characters, and an epic scale that will have you easily lost in 13th century Japan for 40 + hours. It’s not only one of the best titles in its genre. It’s also one of 2020’s best games.

Ghost of Tsushima delivers the tale of Jin Sakai, the son of a samurai who was raised by his uncle after his father’s death. During the initial battle of a Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima, led by Khotun Khan, Jin is severely wounded and is left for dead on the beach, only to be rescued by a thief named Yuna. From there Jin finds his way back to lead the fight against the Mongols to retake their homeland. Along the way he must struggle with maintaining his honor as a samurai, and doing what must be done in order to survive and turn the tide in their favor. The theme of honor vs survival is just one of many that permeate the game’s story, which also include themes of family, loyalty, and the nature of war.

Gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima should be familiar to those who have played the titles in Ubisoft’s Assassin Creed series. Crafting upgrades for weapons and armor are nicely streamlined (collect materials and take to the appropriate craftsman), and the combat makes good use of your standard light/heavy attacks where a well timed block will aid you in parrying your opponent. Taking a page from Nioh, there are different stances you’ll learn. Each stance is particularly useful against specific enemies, and switching between them involves a simple button press. And you will be switching between stances often, especially as the game goes on.

Weapons include Jin’s katana, his dagger, and a bow. You’ll also get to use other gadgets in combat as well, such as shurikens, black powder bombs, and darts. Jin’s sword will be your primary focus for a majority of the game, but stealth sections will have you using other forms to dispatch your enemy. There are two types of bow, and each one has two different arrow types to rain hell down on the Mongol invaders. How much you decide to us stealth is mostly up to you (only a handful of missions limit you to stealth options), and the weather will reflect your actions. Large amounts of stealth kills will bring stormy weather, while the more “honorable” direct approach will result in clearer skies. It’s a neat mechanic to reflect your play style, and it’s not the only way weather plays a unique approach in the game.

There are no waypoints in the game, or directional arrows to guide you on your map. Instead, the game uses environmental clues to point you in the right direction. A button press will highlight the direction of the wind to lead you to your destination. Other clues are golden birds that will lead you to points of interest, smoke plumes on the horizon, a group of butterflies, and a flock of white birds. Using these methods provide a clever way to keep your screen uncluttered by intrusive UI. These also serve to have you pay attention to environmental clues, and that’s made easier by the game just being gorgeous to look at. Colors can be especially striking in spots, be it a field of red flowers or the golden leaves of a grove of trees. Thankfully a decently robust photo mode will aid you in recording the game’s spectacular images.

Travel isn’t the only area to use visual cues. When you approach the enemy, you can initiate a Standoff, where you challenge them to face you in combat. Standoffs are accomplished by releasing the Triangle button at the proper time. Do it successfully, and your opponent will go down easily. Fail, and you could find yourself short of health and scrambling for safety. Upgrades allow you to string kills together, and enemy AI will try to fake you out, making it imperative for you to be observant. It makes for a nice contrast to the stealthier assassination kills, and helps keep combat fresh over the game’s three acts.

The game’s mission structure also helps to keep you engaged. Missions are divided into three types- Jin’s Tales (main story), Tales of Tsushima (side quests, including arcs that involve specific NPCs), and Mythic Tales (quests that involve searches for special weapons or armor). Outside of the main story, missions can be tackled how you see fit, and I especially recommend doing those that involve other characters, as they add to the depth of the overall story. In addition to quests, there are fox dens to find (the foxes lead you to shrines which enable you to equip charms, and often want pets afterwards), spots to compose haiku, bamboo strikes to aid you in your swordplay, and various collectibles to seek out. Completionists may put in well over 100 hours to see everything, though you can wrap up the main story and a hefty chunk of side quests in half that time.

The game world itself is very vibrant and alive, with multiple species of wildlife to encounter, and villagers to speak to. Environments range from lush forests to snowy woodlands, from fishing villages to fortified castles. Voice acting is well done, and you can choose English or Japanese to be spoken. Oddly enough, the lip animations sync up better with the English vocal track than the Japanese one. The soundtrack is fantastic as well, capturing all of the moods of the game expertly. Some choices may give you a different ending, and should you elect to proceed ahead with the main story in favor of all else you will have plenty of post credits game to play. The story, while familiar, is nicely written, and the characters are well defined, even the villains.

In all, Sucker Punch delivers on one of this generation’s best open world games, paying proper homage to Kurosawa’s films and the samurai genre overall. Combat, stealth, movement are all a joy to perform, and the story has plenty of thrilling moments and even a few emotional scenes that will tug at your heartstrings. The characters are all likeable and engaging, and the game is both beautiful to look at as well as listen to. This is definitely one of the bright spots of 2020, and as one the year’s best games should not be missed.

9.5/10 stars

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus