In this Ghost of Tsushima Review we’ll be discussing the open-world Action Roleplaying game developed by Sucker Punch and published by Sony Entertainment Interactive. I just finished my playthrough on stream, which took me a bit over 40 hours, but could have been even more if I had completed every activity that this beautiful game has to offer. Read on to find out what we think about a game that was highly anticipated, but not a lot of people knew what to expect. Note: there will be mild spoilers in terms of activities you can do in the game, but there are no story related spoilers, so you need not worry about that.
Ghost of Tsushima Review: A Stylish Samurai Tale
Developed by: Sucker Punch Productions
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: July 17th
Price: 59.99 USD Standard Edition
Story and Setting
Ghost of Tsushima is set on the island of Tsushima, which is the closest part of Japan to the Korean mainland, and lies 50 km off the cost of Korea. It takes place in during the Mongol invasion of Japan which occurred in 1274 AD, and is loosely based on historic events of the time period.
You play as Jin Sakai, the “Ghost” of Tsushima, a hero and legend to the peoples of the island, who is known for his combat tactics and the ability to strike fear into the hearts of the Mongols. A large part of the story revolves around you “becoming” the Ghost as you drive out the Mongol invaders, and there is a focus on growing this through out the game. Characters in the game start to react to you differently as you complete certain objectives and you can hear the villagers and townsfolk star to speak of the “ghost” as if he were some mythical man that had unlimited power.
One really impressive detail here is that the Mongols were famous for studying their enemies before invading, and this is shown incredibly in the dialogues with the main antagonist. He not only speaks the language, but he’s also familiar with the code of the Samurai, allowing him to predict what they will do.
Ultimately though the game is about honor, as you might expect a game about Samurai to be, and whether or not it’s worth sacrificing for the lives of others. What I really love about the narrative of this tale, is that while it’s not completely original, it’s woven in a manner that lets the player decide what is important. What lengths would you go to ensure victory? It’s not a black and white question, and the answer is not as simple as some might make it.
The gameplay of Ghost of Tsushima for the most part is largely similar to the recent Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You’ll explore the Island of Tsushima as an open world (usually on horseback), with the main plot points clearly marked. Side quests are uncovered as you explore the regions, and there are various other activities marked by a “?” that reward you with stats, gear or cosmetics for completing. You are free to do things in just about any order you wish, with very few exceptions.
However, it isn’t the similarities to ACO’s gameplay that make the game great, it’s the differences. These are mainly in the way that the combat is handled and the way the story is told, but since we’re talking about gameplay here, and I don’t want to spoil the story for you, let’s focus on that.
Ghost of Tsushima takes a gamble by creating fast and furious combat with no lock-on, which is something I largely criticized earlier on in my playthrough, but ultimately I think it was the right choice by Sucker Punch. The game has a very cinematic feel as you pan to the side for a “movie-like” view while in combat, waiting to deflect and parry enemy blows even though you need not turn your character. And because you often face multiple enemies at a time, being able to clearly watch your flank makes sense from a technical stand point as well. Some people will yearn for lock-on though, so it would have been great if it was at least an option.
It all has a very “The Last Samurai” feeling, and as someone who absolutely loved that movie, I got goosebumps repeatedly while playing. The combat of Ghost of Tsushima is not extremely challenging, and reminds me a lot of Devil May Cry where the goal isn’t to simply defeat your enemies, but rather to do so in the most “stylish” way possible. Except in this case instead of some 1000 hit combo, you’re trying to annihilate your enemies with the fewest strokes possible, without moving an inch if you don’t have to.
Mechanically you’ll swap Stances and gain abilities through out the course of the game, that make the Combat more and more interesting with time. These will allow you to face enemies more effectively, and you’ll be using them often to take down different Mongols or Ronin.
What I find particularly amazing about Ghost of Tsushima is that it gives you the freedom to play as a Shinobi or a Samurai or both, and it pulls this off in nearly every encounter in the game in a seamless manner that Odyssey never did. While you can play Odyssey as a pure “warrior”, it often felt punishing to do so because of how much easier the stealth gameplay was. However, you are rewarded in GoT by the Standoff feature, which sets you up to take down multiple enemies at once, improving your odds and granting you Resolve which is needed to perform special abilities in combat.
This makes the choice of Samurai or Shinobi up to the player, with no punishment for choosing one type of gameplay over the other. And let’s face it you feel like a fucking badass when you walk up to a front gate, challenge the enemies inside and then cut them down in front of their fellow soldiers with minimal effort. Who doesn’t love that?!?
Audio & Visual
Visually Ghost of Tsushima is one of the, if not the best looking game on Playstation 4. It’s absolutely incredible what Sucker Punch has been able to accomplish on such an old console, with very few performance issues mind you. Not everything is perfect, there are some texture pops and the water in some places just looks outright terrible, but it’s hard not to comment on just about every place you go, because it’s just gorgeous far more than it’s not. Sure, The Last of Us 2 had better character models and animations, but the environments of that game have nothing on Ghost of Tsushima, and this is largely because of the scale of the game. It’s much harder to make so much look soooo good!
On the audio front the voice acting of the game is on point, and though not completely flawless, it’s not going to detract from the experience for you. The lack of lip sync animations for the Japanese audio left me playing in English, which was not my preference. Luckily the English was done fairly well, particularly for Japanese characters, which is almost never the case in other games or Anime. So it wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been.
The music and sound effects of the game are phenomenal and I have no complaints here. The use of music at some pivotal points of the game was frankly done perfectly and I felt angry, sad, pumped up and every emotion Sucker Punch wanted me to experience at exactly the right time because of it. They even used traditional Japanese music and sounds to elicit these effects, and is akin to Red Dead Redemption 2 in this regard, though not quite as good.
Replayability & Pricepoint
Ghost of Tsushima is 40-50 hours long if you do everything there is to do, and see everything there is to see, which is pretty damn good. This is far above industry standards, which usually have triple A games sitting somewhere around the 30 hour mark, so I think people will be happy with this.
Open world games offer “replayability” in the form of additional exploration, and Ghost of Tsushima delivers on this by providing compelling landscapes, gorgeous vistas and interesting side quests and equipment to unlock. There are plenty of cosmetics, dyes, and unique items to be found all over the island, including saddles to fashion-up your mount.
The game also has different endings, so players could want to have a second go-around. This is somewhat dampened, however, by the fact that there is no New Game Plus, and you cannot skip cutscenes. This means even unimportant and uninteresting “free the hostage” moments will play their entire length. This can be frustrating when you just want to get on to the best parts again. For this reason the score here will take a bit of hit, even though it’s by and large just fine.
Ghost of Tsushima has a certain style that few titles possess, and is the samurai game of your dreams – bringing the trademark Kurosawa style to Playstation. From the way you flick the blood off your blade when sheathing your sword, to the way you extend your hand to feel the flowers as you walk through them, it’s the smallest of details in Ghost of Tsushima that make the game rise above the rest. Sure they had to get a lot of things right in order for it to matter, but these are the things that propel it into an instant cult classic.
I was not expecting Ghost of Tsushima to reinvent the wheel in terms of mechanics and gameplay, and indeed it didn’t. It was all the other things that I didn’t account for like the story, character development, attention to detail, and frankly just how much fun it would be to do the same activities over and over in its meticulously crafted world.
If you were disappointed by The Last of Us II and have been looking for something to cleanse your pallet and wash the bitter taste of disappointment out of your mouth then this is the game for you. Ghost of Tsushima is the best game I have played so far this year, whether it’s on console or on PC, and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with its romanticized version of the Samurai. It’ll likely be one of my favorite games of all time, all said and done, and that is saying something.