Ghost of Tsushima: Review
Ghost of Tsushima, a PlayStation 4 exclusive brings a new take on Samurai and Ninja gaming, where we join Jin Sakai on the fictional island of Tsushima, repelling Mongol invaders and suppressing bandits. But does this highly anticipated samurai game live up to expectations? Or has it failed to meet the mark and fallen on its own sword? This review will tell all and will contain minor spoilers of the games core plot and introduction.
Ghost of Tsushima brings an incredible story of redemption, rescue, and honour, as we follow the path of Jin Sakai, a young samurai lord who joins his uncle, and all of the islands other samurai in the defence of their island from Mongolian invaders. From the minute the game begins the story captivates you as we bear witness to the horror that is the Mongolian Empire. Within the first 20 minutes, we are left with a relatively stereotypical story, where we are the lone survivor of a battle and have been only survived by being rescued by a peasant who dragged us to a nearby town. But this is as far as Ghost of Tsushima goes with the standard lone survivor narrative. From that point on the story feels much more akin to classic samurai films, where we are gathering allies and questioning what honour truly means to us as a person, as Jin runs the knife-edge between Samurai and Shinobi.
Both the main quest-line and individual side quests add progression to the main story, with the side quests treated more as a “directors cut” of the game, where the story from each side quest is an extension to the game itself, rather than an unrelated distraction. As we progress the story of Jin, be it through the main quest or through the side quest, every decision we make will factor towards the ending of the game, which can end in one of 2 ways dependant on whether Jin sticks to the path of “honour” or becomes the savage and dishonourable Ghost. For me the part I loved the most about Ghost of Tsushima is that Jin’s story has already begun, we are joining his life at a major turning point, meaning he has a lot history with the NPC cast, allowing us to learn a lot about both Jin and his comrades as they travel together to fight together.
Gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima is some of the most varied and dynamic you can get in a 3rd person open-world adventure, however, it is not without its flaws, the best aspect is the combat system, which offers many ways to fight, as both samurai and ghost. When playing as a samurai you can choose to run head in and charge your enemy, katana in hand, with 4 different stances to break down their defences. If you want a true samurai experience though you can challenge the enemies best warrior to a standoff, where timing is critical and dependant on your skill level will allow you to take on 1 or more opponents, and fell them in 1 slash of your blade before returning to the standard sword fighting. When fighting you will also gather an array of tools, which edge more toward the ghost style of gameplay, however also benefit the samurai. These tools include Kunai and sticky bombs and can stagger enemies, making for a much faster gameplay experience against tougher foes. Playing as the samurai requires precision in your timings to parry and counter-attack in flawless, fluid-like motions. Ghost of Tsushima brings another level to the samurai gameplay too, by making all boss fights play though this game style, making timing and stance everything as you tackle ruthless Mongolian generals, warlords and many other unforgiving adversaries, because you will not have your tools to assist you, just yourself and your katana.
Playing as the ghost brings a more stealthy element to Ghost of Tsushima, making you feel more like a shinobi rather than a samurai. With the ghost style, Jin will withdraw his katana and utilise his tanto, a small dagger similar in appearance to the katana. This stealth gameplay is very reminiscent of the early Assassins Creed games, where Jin can hide in long grass, on top of buildings and inside tents to sneak up on his enemies. Combining the stealth skillsets with all the tools available to Jin you can deal with a large number of enemies much more effectively than as a samurai. The Ghosts Skillset is particularly useful when you are dealing with delicate scenarios such as hostage situations and liberation missions where both civilian workers and Mongol slavers occupy the same location. Wherever civilians are involved it is always wise to play as the ghost, because if you go in head-on looking for a fight then one or two Mongolians will break off from the main fight to make an attempt to kill the hostage.
There is a 3rd combat option in Ghost of Tsushima and it plays hand in hand with both the primary playstyles and that is the role of an archer. Archery will allow Jin to deal with enemies from medium to long-range, allowing you to pick off stragglers, thin out large numbers of enemies, or snipe a few hard to reach targets before moving in as the ghost. Playing as an archer is a great addition to the already dynamic combat system and though all of these incredible gameplay options may sound like they are quite overwhelming to manage with a controller Ghost of Tsushima has managed to pull it all together in an easy to manage the system, in which aiming (left trigger)manages your ranged weapons and your fire button (right trigger) allows you to manage your close-quarter weapons and stances.
Ghost of Tsushima is not just about combat though, as it embraces the world of feudal japan and allows us to explore a vast, beautiful open world, filled with many bonuses and cosmetics that all add to your character in one way or another. When exploring Tsushima you will find many locations including; Temples which will donate gifts and resources. Shrines dedicated to all of the Shinto Gods, that offer you charms that will give attack and defence bonuses. Shrines to Inari which will unlock additional slots for charms. Bamboo Strikes where Jin can hone his skills, increasing his resolve. Hot Springs, where Jin can reflect on his past and will receive an improved health bar as a result. Jin can also honour the departed and if at a cemetery he can collect a singing cricket, gathering these will unlock new songs, however, if Jin honours the dead at a monument to the fallen he will collect a new cosmetic feature for his katana and tanto. Finally, if you want to take a moment of respite in Ghost of Tsushima you can take some time to write a haiku at various, inspiring points. Completing a haiku will give you a new headband as a cosmetic feature. I have found myself distracted by these incredible mini-exploration features time and time again because like the story you are drawn to them through unique and immersive methods, be it the golden birds of Tsushima guiding you to a location, or by a fox, known as the “messenger of Inari” who will guide you to one of Inari’s Shrine.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned back at the beginning of this section, Ghost of Tsushima’s gameplay is not without its flaws, for me the biggest issue was the camera angles when fighting in tight quarters, such as in a dense forest of building. When in these scenarios the camera can often get locked into a position where you cannot see your enemies, making it almost impossible to tell when the enemy is about to attack, making parries useless. Whilst this issue requires a fix it is not often that this happens, and could be improved by adding translucency to walls and dense areas during combat. Aside from this one gripe, there is very little wrong with Ghost of Tsushima aside from the rare, minor graphical glitch, that could easily be patched out in future updates.
With its traditional Japanese soundtrack and use of traditional instruments throughout the audio to Ghost of Tsushima is spot on, however very limited, as it is the same few notes of a song played by NPC’s and with Jin, only 4 songs are available to play on the flute. The soundtrack during the game's cutscenes and gameplay, however, do vary. Once again its use of traditional instruments does keep the immersion with the themes of the game. It was just a shame that there were no heavily memorable tracks like in many games that I would call an instant classic.
Voice recording both in English and Japanese is incredible as emotion and tone carry over hand in hand with each character's actions. Our main protagonist Jin, played by Daisuke Tsuji (Death Stranding, The Man in the High Castle) especially brings his role to life flawlessly as his voice carries the conflict going on in his head, his anger to the Mongolians, and his love for his loyal steed. Along with side Daisuke, we also saw incredible voice acting from the supporting cast which includes renowned voice actress Sumalee Montano (Picard, Gears 5, Destiny 2) who brings to life our former Thief Yuna, Patrick Gallager (Night at the Museum, Ghost Recon BreakPoint), who brings to life our main antagonist Kohtan Kahn, and Eric Steinberg (Star Trek: First Contact, Mortal Kombat Legacy) who portrays the stern Jito Lord Shimura.
Going hand in hand with its gameplay the sound effects of Ghost of Tsushima are perfect. From the clashing of steel to the whip of a bow and the thud of an arrow, each and every sound effect hits the mark. Finding a flaw in this area of the game is extremely difficult, as for myself it’s non-existent.
Graphically Ghost of Tsushima is beautiful in almost every detail, be it in the sweat running down Jin's face, to the detailed trees and grasslands across the horizons. Developers Sucker punch have really put an effort in with their attention to detail in Ghost of Tsushima, that even the most mundane tasks such as travelling to a new location are captivating, as the graphics draw you in making it feel as though you are travelling across vast fields, bamboo forests and bloodied beaches. The level of detail that has gone into the weapons and attire of the characters is equally as amazing, as every level of detail has the same telltale marks of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, be that the traditional samurai armour, the signature look of the archer's armour, or the ronin’s loose-fitting garb and straw hat. Sucker Punch also brought an amazing level of detail to how the environment affects Jin's clothing, as a long fight of melee combat will leave Jin soaked in the blood of his enemies, and if crawling around under buildings, or are repeatedly pushed to the floor you and your armour will be caked in mud. Your sword will also receive the same treatment as your armour with blood and dirt and in a traditional samurai fashion, it will need to be cleaned before sheathing, in some of the slickest in-game animations for this action.
If you want a truly unique experience then Ghost of Tsushima’s Kurosawa Cinema mode will bring you to a whole new level to the samurai experience. Kurosawa Cinema mode is based on the movies of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa ( Seven Samurai, Rashomon), whose influence can be felt throughout the game, not just in this unique cinematic mode. The Kurosawa mode brings an incredible cinematic experience to Ghost of Tsushima, as the game goes monochrome with light film grain overlayed. As you play in this mode you may find that it’s a bit more of a struggle to judge what attacks to dodge as you lose your colour coding for whether to parry or dodge. Aside from that, the game mode is in itself an incredible experience and I personally use it during the one vs one boss fights, to bring that cinematic experience to life.
Overall my experience with Ghost of Tsushima has been an incredible journey filled with wonder, discovery and incredible gameplay. I was blown away by Ghost of Tsushima and the level of detail that went into every aspect of the game. The journey of Jin and his companions drew me in right from the very beginning and has kept me captivated all the way through, not just in the main quest, but also in the side quests and exploration quests. Throughout the story, I balanced my gameplay as both Samurai and ghost and enjoyed utilising both skill sets, even when I was met with stern reminders of the path of honour when I strayed too far in one direction. Overall Ghost of Tsushima is very deserving of its overall score of 9/10 bits and is an amazing way to bring this generation of console gaming to its final chapter. This title is definitely one I did not mind spending the money on to receive on launch day, as it is a well-polished game with only a few minor issues that can easily be rectified in its next update.