Let’s Play: Ghost of Tsushima
No one knew what to expect from Sucker Punch, the last title released by the studio was Infamous: Second Son in 2014, and apart from the Infamous franchise, they only had the Sly Cooper franchise (which I love), under their belt. After six years without a release, it was hard to predict what would happen with their brand new game Ghost of Tsushima, but it didn’t take more than three days for Sony to announce it was the fastest-selling first-party original IP for the PS4. This review comes in one week after the game’s release, as I’m a regular gamer who has no early access privilege, I had to play a lot to be able to write this on time. I couldn’t put the game down; it took me about thirty-five hours to finish this game. And, was I sad when it did.
Ghost of Tsushima is a game based around the Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274, where they start the invasion through Tsushima. After doing some research on the history behind the game, I honestly feel like the attention to detail given by Sucker Punch to this game is unparalleled, while not a perfectly accurate historically, having the people of Tsushima as consultants for the game surely helped maintain some fidelity, and it shows. The campaign and storyline you get to experience through the main character, alongside the historical accuracy make the game pack an emotional punch.
The game starts portraying the historical invasion where a handful of samurais, try to fend off the immense Mongol army from Japan and fail. The players are thrown immediately in the middle of the battle as Jin Sakai, from the Sakai clan, an honorable samurai from a traditional family. The events of this battle generate various casualties, hostages, and deaths that set-up the journey ahead and intertwine all the characters arcs together.
Sucker Punch’s direction makes a great job in detailing and showing the complexity of Jin’s internal struggle to balance the way of the samurai and his traditions, against fighting for the greater good of his people. He’s a conflicted and fully developed character, that strays away from the typical vengeance-driven, hate-inspired protagonist. Through side quests, cutscenes, dialogues during horse rides, and great use of flashbacks, the game builds an emotional attachment between the player and the hero’s motivations/challenges. His arc showcases a lost soldier, a conflicted son, a divided warrior, a proud heir, and a compassionate lord that does not shy away from tough decisions.
The game also details the story of the side characters extensively through side quests. Five characters accompany you in your journey and have their own traumas, experiences, and searches for closure as a consequence of war. All of them have rich and unique traits, stories, and journeys that defy Jin’s moral compass, and the interactions amongst them push the protagonist into new zones of growth and discomfort.
As the antagonist, we have Khotun Khan, a fearless, ruthless Mongol general. A member of the family of the legendary Genghis Khan, he’s presented to us as someone at service of a bigger cause, attached to his heritage, set in his old ways, but unbound by the moral code that the samurai carry. The similarities between the antagonist and the protagonist reflect how much does it take before our values take a back-seat for the things we love. He is not just a brutal, savage, ruthless, barbaric warrior, Khotun is a strategist, as seen through various moments in the game. A moment that particularly stands out to me is him learning Japanese as a way to learn their values, traditions, strategies, and subvert that knowledge against the samurai. He also often tries to negotiate, convert enemies into allies, and adapts his strategies to the unraveling of the events of the game. His arc is solid, and the character development gradually grows in proportion to the scale of violence he chooses to unleash upon the island of Tsushima.
One of the first things you will notice is that this game has no HUD as you walk around. Every single piece of information you need becomes available just when you need it, and it disappears just as fast. This makes you focus on the rest of the game, the scenery, the characters, your objectives, whatever you’d like, and I’d say this is the cherry on top of the immersive experience of this game.
The combat is straightforward and has obvious influences from other similar games, such as Nioh, Sekiro, and, Assassins Creed. The game has a light attack, a heavy attack used to break guards, blocks, parries, quick-fire weapons, long-range weapons, and four combat stances that improve your damage versus specific types of enemies. Honestly, do not go into it expecting a ground-breaking, innovative, once in a lifetime combat system, because it is not. Things like Ghost Stance (which looks, feels, sounds and plays majestically), stand-offs, special skills, and stealth missions help diversify combat and make it interesting, of course just like in every open-world game that has a huge map, and insane amount of side quests (looking at you The Witcher 3) combat does eventually get stale at the end-game, but this shouldn’t dissuade you from playing it.
The game blends functionality with emotion greatly, such as having your parents accompany you in your journey as the “wind on your back, and the “birds in the sky”, the former takes you to the objectives on the map, while the latter takes you to places of interest. Ghost of Tsushima does not rely on the supernatural to upgrade the main character’s power or gear but instead chooses to do it by enriching the back-story and experience through the folklore, culture, and tales of Japan. Every single piece of progress, skill, and upgrade is attached to some form of representation of the Japanese culture, by Hot Springs, Shrines, Haikus, Spirit Animals, and Mythic Tales.
I could not forget my absolute favorite quality of life adjustment from this game. NPC’s, ACTUALLY, walk, run or ride the perfect speed to always be ahead of you marginally. Talk about ground-breaking right here.
You are presented with three difficulties easy, medium, and hard (and no, no achievements are tied to hard), as always difficulty is a personal choice, but I’ve played the three of them, so you don’t have to. I will sum it up by saying if you ever watched Samurai X and want to feel like the Battousai, you’ll have a blast playing it on easy. Medium difficulty is just a straightforward experience where combat with multiple opponents might trouble you.
The hard difficulty is challenging, but since souls-like is a staple for difficulty now, I’ll start by saying it’s nothing like anything from From Software. It might make you explore more, use gears and equipment more wisely, swap your charms around, and take a more defensive, strategic approach to the game, but all in all, you can run through it without going insane and breaking your controller.
When the game starts, you are prompted with the option to play the game in standard mode, Samurai Cinema, or Kurosawa mode. Standard mode is English dialogue with or without subtitles, Samurai Cinema is Japanese dialogue, with English subtitle, and Kurosawa mode inspired by legendary Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa making the game black and white, Japanese dialogue and subtitles. Personally, for immersion purposes I recommend you play it in the Samurai Cinema mode, and even though Kurosawa is as immersive, the black and white filter just strips the game of a big part of its magnificence the scenery.
I cannot stress how wonderfully designed this game is, and even with a massive map, no two places feel the same. The colors, trees, grass, cliffs, mountainsides, roads, villages, lakes all feel unique, and that world alone makes you want to get lost in this game, I honestly had to stop myself from running around doing all the side quests, and exploration because I wasn’t getting anywhere, and for me getting that lost and immersed is what being a gamer is about. As if the level design wasn’t enough the sound design for this game is borderline perfect, the sound of the wind, sword clashes, battles, arrows, horse riding, rain, thunder, waterfalls was polished and refined countless times. Oh, and finally, an impeccably crafted soundtrack (which comes with the digital purchase) accompanies you, making sure your quest is even more epic. Trust me, you only need to play the first ten minutes into the opening credits to feel it.
Ghost of Tsushima takes you on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey and delivers in every plot they introduce in the narrative. With all the attention to detail, comprehensive storytelling, and ever-changing characters it’s almost impossible not to feel emotionally attached to the events that unfold. One of the most immersive experiences I had by gaming in recent memory by far, Sucker Punch delivers a superb adventure that will stand the test of time. An open love letter toward the Japanese culture, that cuts much deeper than similar games, Ghost of Tsushima is a gift to any gamer out there.