An immersive experience:
Picture this: a Japanese field cascaded in white tulips. Two Samurai are locked in motion, readying their blades. Natures ambience acting as soothing resonance to the brutality that is about to ensue.
Cinematic moments like this are executed so well in Ghost of Tsushima. But, even more impressive, is when the scene fades out, and you’re presented with a combat system that is brutal, visceral and precise.
Sucker Punch has not only succeeded in making its duels feel visually epic, they have also developed a combat system with depth – that made each encounter a complete joy.
Ghost of Tsushima offers some of the best melee combat found outside the Soulsborne series. There is a simplicity found in the stance switching, the simple three-string combos and modest toolset that is provided to the player. This minimalist approach shines because of the excellent hit-detection; that makes every strike feel impactful and deliberate. Whereas in say the Witcher 3, Geralt’s movements looked pretty, but felt disconnected from the player’s input; every motion from Jin Sakai(the game’s protagonist), feels responsive to the player.
This is so important in helping to create an authentic, immersive experience.
This level of authenticity isn’t limited to the game’s combat, however. The island of Tsushima itself, is so beautifully and deliberately designed, so as to create an immersive experience for the player. From the various animals that act as unobtrusive tour guides towards most of the island’s key attractions, to the many roaming Mongol patrols that you can find and dispose of along the way.
Now, if I were to offer a small criticism of the game, it would be that there were a few too many collectibles. The initial charm of seamlessly following a Fox to a Shrine, is quickly soured when you realise that there are 49 of these. Yes, 49! This is excessive – and whilst thankfully not necessary to the core gameplay experience, does still undermine the curiosity invoked by the game’s beautiful, immersive world.
Nevertheless, Tsushima feels less like an atypical open world theme park, chock-full with every and any collectable, as you move from point a to b, without so much of a consideration for the environment around you. Instead, the player is strategically guided by clever gameplay systems, such as the waypoint substitute ‘guiding wind’; that are so well integrated within the island itself, that you never feel ‘taken out of’ the experience. This is something that many open world games fail to achieve. Kudos, Sucker Punch.
A simple, sophisticated story:
Ghost of Tsushima tells the tale of Jin Sakai, the head of the Sakai Clan, as he seeks to defend his home from the invading Mongol forces, helmed by the cunning Khotun Khan.
However, the game also tells a tale of duty, honour, and sacrifice. These key themes transform the narrative from a simple, albeit well told, war story, into something a little more sophisticated.
Fundamentally, the events and characters featured in Tsushima are fairly simple to understand. There are a couple twists here and there, mixed with logical character development, but again, nothing that is going to change your life.
As a result, the story feels incredibly focused throughout, supplemented by a small, well developed cast and clear relationship dynamics established through use of flashbacks and side missions.
Without spoiling anything, by the end of the game, I felt incredibly satisfied with how events played out. I was increasingly impressed with how Jin had developed as a character; initially coming across as stoic and dare I say, a tad ‘generic’, to slowly unravelling what was a much deeper, more thoughtful character. Jin is a character who ultimately ties the story and themes together.
The supporting cast, with special considerations to Lord Shimura and Khotun Khan, also help elevate the simple story. Excellent performances from the voice actors, coupled with solid writing, adds a certain ‘maturity’ and sophistication to the game. The early exchanges between the resolute, paragon of pure ‘Samurainess’ Lord Shimura and the cunning, yet equally ruthless Khotun Khan, are suspenseful, thoughtful exchanges that are further elevated by the games sharp writing and great performances.
Also, just to mention, the English dub is superb. I usually try to play a game and/or watch a show in the authentic, native language, but, in the case of Tsushima the English dub helped me feel even more emotionally invested. Each performance feels grounded in reality, with moments of great emotion gracefully captured by the fantastic voice work.
A worthy next-gen experience(on the PS4!):
Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, and now, Ghost of Tsushima. These are all titles that I truly believe pushed the PS4 and console gaming to a whole new level, this generation. Excellent graphical fidelity and strong performances made these games feel truly ‘next-gen’ – whatever that really means.
When writing this review for Ghost of Tsushima, I replayed parts of the game on the PS5, and this made me really reflect on just how good the game looked – not specifically on the PS5, but on my 7 year-old, battle-hardened PS4. The game looks fantastic. Feels fantastic. The controls are responsive; the graphics are breathtaking; and this, combined with the excellent combat, exploration and story, truly made for a worthy next-gen experience.
Ghost of Tsushima was my personal Game of the Year. Whilst it is not necessarily a ground-breaking, revolutionary title(nor does it need to be), it just is very, very, very, very, good. And, I reckon most of you out there will agree.