Ghost of Tsushima (Review)

Ghost of Tsushima is not just another open world game. It is a mashup and reinvention of the open world formula, littered with new ideas and innovations that truly make it stand out amongst the ever growing open-world bandwagon. Sucker Punch Productions’ samurai action-adventure game sucker-punches the staleness of open-world games and carves out its own unique design philosophy that makes it such a cherish-able experience.

Ghost of Tsushima tells the story of samurai protagonist, Jin Sakai, and the Mongol invasion of Tsushima Island in 1274. It weaves a story of revenge and honour, a story full of emotions and deep moments, a story that holds the player in its narrative grip for the complete duration of one’s playthrough. The game starts off with the Mongols facing off against the samurais of Tsushima on Komoda Beach, although the battle quickly goes south as the samurais are slain, Lord Shimura, the jito of Tsushima, is captured by the Mongol general Khotun Khan. Jin Sakai, Lord Shimura’s nephew is the only surviving samurai. The player takes control of Jim Sakai after being rescued by a thief named Yuna. Together, they must assemble an army and defeat the invading Mongol forces. This overarching theme holds strong throughout the game with twists and turns, keeping the story fresh and motivating the player to repel the Mongol invasion and defeat Khotun Khan.

 

On the other hand, Jin Sakai’s personal journey is a great one too. His transition from honourable samurai, to dishonest Ghost, who will do whatever it takes to protect the people of Tsushima, even if it means ignoring the samurai code of honour, and everything that his uncle has taught him, is intriguing and holds the player’s interest. This perfectly sets up Jin’s relationship with his uncle, as a conflict builds between them, investing the players into the lives of the game’s characters. While not the most unique, Ghost of Tsushima tells a captivating and emotional tale, with loss, revenge, and honour, an incredible story for an incredible game.


The game also places a lot of emphasis on supporting characters. Instead of side-quests, each character has their own mini-story for the player to play through called ‘Tales’. By replacing generic side missions, Sucker Punch has crafted tiny narratives that take a look into the lives of all the characters and explore the relationships between the main character Jin and his allies. These tales are one of the standout features of these games due to their deep stories and shining quality, that are at the level of some of the game’s main story missions

 

It would be a dis-justice to talk about Ghost of Tsushima and not mention its visuals. Ghost of Tsushima looks like a painting that is in motion. The use of movement is evident throughout the game world. The wind ushers you to your next mission, grass constantly swaying, leaves falling down from trees in abundance, and a sky splashed with clouds and other weather patterns. There is constant movement in the game world, symbolising Jin’s journey and constant growth. In addition to the incredible use of movement, Sucker Punch has given Ghost of Tsushima arguably the best use of colour even in a videogame. There is colour everywhere the player looks. Dark ashy smoke rising from Mongol farmsteads, field of beautiful flowers, forests with leaves from all over the colour spectrum. The contrast that is created is mesmerising, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Even the sun and the sky blend together in an assemblage of colour that makes it look like it was painted by splashing colour all over the canvas.



The island of Tsushima is split into 3 main regions, where the games 3 acts take place respectively. Each region is hand crafted to be different from the other and provide something unique for the player to experience. The first and southern region of Tsushima Island, Izuhara, has rolling hills with bamboo forests as well as the Golden Temple which makes the best use of colour with golden and yellow leaves falling from the trees around it. Region 2 is called Toyotama, and is made up of flat grasslands and marshes, while the 3rd region, Kamiagata is the northernmost part of the island and is snowy, and cold, with a blanket white aesthetic. This diverse range of climates and topography, while not realistically or historically accurate, provides much needed diversity to the geography of the game world.

 

Exploring such a beautiful world and fighting hordes of Mongol enemies would not be fun without a pumping soundtrack, and Ghost of Tsushima delivers just enough juice for our ears. The soundtrack doesn’t excel during those calm and serene moments of trotting around on our house, but during the intense fights and combat encounters. The score picks up and intensifies over the sound of clashing swords and grunts of effort and does not back down until the fight is over. It acts like the heartbeat of almost all combat encounters in the game, especially the many boss-fight-like duels that take place across main and side missions. One place where the game doesn’t shine is its ambience music. It is present, but not at the level of the battle tracks and doesn’t really catch your ear during gameplay. Rather, it is the sound effects of the land that catch your attention. The rush of a waterfall, the thuds of horse hooves, the whoosh of the wild are wonderfully curated and stand out while exploring the beautifully crafted world of Tsushima.


https://open.spotify.com/album/6N9upMTvxPR79tutqclKtq?si=4Iyu6oqiTIq0pRUM5reoLA

 

Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world game. It has a huge map, plenty of collectibles, repetitive activities, and a checklist of side-quests, yet it never feels oversaturated or stale. The map might be massive, but each area is so diverse that the world never gets boring to travel through. The world is littered with collectibles that don’t really hold value in the game and are not necessary for a sort of progression. This is one place where the game falls short. Mongol artefacts are found everywhere, but there is no incentive, apart from increasing a number in the menu, for finding them. Interesting collectibles that have some relation to gameplay would have really elevated this feature and given players an incentive to seek out these collectibles.



Many open world games have repetitive activities, but these activities don’t become problem when they are fun to do and provide a genuine sense of progression or some sort of achievement. Ghost of Tsushima’s side activities are sprinkled all over the map, but the innovation begins before the player even begins doing the activity. There are not map markers or glowing symbols that lead you to these secrets, but instead, visual cues such as foxes, and golden birds lead the player to their destination. Some of these activities include bamboo strikes which grant resolve, a sort of special meter that allows Jin to heal or perform special moves, hot tubs, which make Jin reflect on important story events as well as boosting your health, writing haikus that grant you sweet looking headbands. In addition, Tori gates lead you to platforming challenges that lead to Shinto Shrines. These shrines give the player different charms which are passive upgrades that can be equipped to buff Jin’s stats. These activities never feel stale even though they are abundant across the map, mainly because the game never forces you to do them. It’s up to the player whether they want to indulge in these activities or not.



The combat is hands down the best part of this game. The swordplay is slick, the stealth is satisfying, and the already robust base mechanics are accompanied by various different tools that Jin unlocks throughout his journey. Combining these tools makes for a very interesting combat system that can be approaching like a samurai, or like a ghost. The game makes use of various environmental objects to complement a stealthy approach to situations. Long grass can be used to hide from enemy sight, a grapple hook can be used to swing from house to house, and ropes attached to roofs can be used to traverse over enemies. This allows for each Mongol camp to be approached differently, and Sucker Punch doesn’t just stop there with each encampment and farmstead having unique layouts and designs.


If the player chooses to honour the samurai code and fight the Mongols head on, the combat system doesn’t falter. Heavy attacks can be used to stagger the enemy and break their guard, and then normal attacks can be used to deal damage. A comprehensive combo system and a range of animations make the attacks feel different. Jin can also unlock stances to deal with different types of enemies such as the robust stone stance against swordsmen, or the free-flowing water stance against shieldsmen. Switching stances on the fly can be hard and slow at first, but muscle memory makes it smooth and quick as the player progresses in the game. The combat in Ghost of Tsushima is slick and satisfying, there is a weight behind every attack, and I never once got tired of parrying and slashing up Mongols during my 30+ hours in the game.



A key feature of this game is that Ghost of Tsushima does not have a lock-on system. In the early hours of this game, the lack of this common feature can be troublesome, especially when dealing with groups of enemies, and even more when fighting in cramped areas. But as the player improves in skill, this system or lack thereof becomes a great help to the player and radically improves the game’s combat. It allows players for maximum control over their attacks and allows players to switch between enemies with relative ease, swiftly taking down the approaching Mongols. While still troublesome in cramped areas, the improving skill of the player and mastery of the games systems allows Sucker Punch to throw a crucial feature out of the window, and still come out relatively unscathed.
 
The game also places a heavy emphasis on blocking and parrying. Holding L1 can block all attacks, baring the un-blockable ones indicated by a red cross on the enemy’s weapon. By tapping L1, Jin will perform a parry, spinning the enemy to the side, and creating an opportunity to strike. Tap L1 right before an enemy’s hit lands, and the parry will become a perfect parry. This staggers the enemy and their swift death imminent. The use of parries and blocks instead of dodges and rolls, turns the combat into a beautiful and elaborate dance of steel until the Mongols are lying dead on the ground. A swift bow to pay your respects and few seconds later, you’ll be walking off into the sunset.


Ghost of Tsushima is Sucker Punch’s first new IP in years, since Sly Copper and the Infamous series. Even though the open-world formula has not been revolutionised, Sucker Punch has come to near perfection in terms of crafting an open world that the player doesn’t want to leave. The gameplay has so much variety and progression feel meaningful with missions never just leaving the player with a few extra skill points, but always providing Jin with something new and interesting. The story isn’t the most unique, but it sticks to its guns and tells a meaningful story about Jin and the island of Tsushima. Ghost of Tsushima is the fairy tale ending that the PS4 deserved, and with a sequel being inevitable, we can only wait and see what Sucker Punch delivers next.


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Ghost of Tsushima Developer: Sucker Punch Productions Initial Release Date: 17th July 2020

Platforms: PS4 Score: 4/5

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