The year is 1274. Samurai warriors are the legendary defenders of Japan — until the fearsome Mongol Empire invades the island of Tsushima, wreaking havoc and conquering the local population. As one of the last surviving samurai, you rise from the ashes to fight back. But, honorable tactics won’t lead you to victory. You must move beyond your samurai traditions to forge a new way of fighting — the way of the Ghost — as you wage an unconventional war for the freedom of Japan.
Developer: Punch Productions
Platform: Playstation 4
Director: Nate Fox
Runtime: 18 hours for the main story, 50 hours for completionist
“The most beautiful game I have ever played.”
Review: (Contains spoilers)
Ghost of Tsushima, the game I never knew I always wanted to play. I’ve been a big fan of anything Samurai for a very long time and when I first saw the preview of this game I was all-in — I had extremely high expectations of Sucker Punch and they met those expectations at every level. Time after time, visual after visual, the bar continued to rise when it came to my hype. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this, you could see that weekly because I was constantly tweeting about my excitement.
Of course The Last of Us Part II was amazing, but I’m glad that this exclusive game will end the current generation for Playstation. As you can see from my score listed at the top, I gave this a 9 out of 10. What was the reason to negate a perfect score? You will have to find out in my breakdown below. As a final note before we get into the review, this is the most beautiful game I have ever played and I would be remised if I said I didn’t want more. I think it’s fair to say that I have to have another game inside this world — Sucker Punch, make a Ghost of Tsushima 2.
Story: watching Jin’s transformation.
Ghost of Tsushima is an open world game that revolves around Jin Sakai, one of the last Samurai on Tsushima Island during the first Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274. The Mongol Empire is conquering every inch of Tsushima, defeating all Samurai in their path. They have learned the way of the Samurai and are purposely taking advantage of the old ways and practices to defeat them with ease. Jin Sakai rises from the ashes to fight back against the invasion leaving his honorable code behind in order to achieve victory and beat the Mongols. In this story, we get to watch Jin move past the Samurai tradition and create a new way of fighting — the way of the Ghost. It is loosely based on historical events, but it’s not an accurate re-telling of history — Jin isn’t based off of a real person.
Sucker Punch did a great job establishing this transformation showcasing how it affected Jin at every turn — the inner conflict was on full display. During the game, usually when you learned a new Ghost technique, you would get a flashback of Jin as a child learning the ways of the Samurai. The way these flashbacks created backstory added to the full circle of emotions Jin was experiencing. I’m not saying that Jin is an emotional character because he’s mostly a stoic brick wall, but somehow (at least for me) the small moments where he did break showcased the amount of pressure he was under mentally. (Small things like they way he would talk to his horse or the short moments after a mission were great touches.)
While the story was predicable and nothing truly groundbreaking — I think the mastery of words not said was where this game shined the most. You knew what was happening and most likely what needed to happen, but watching it unfold was something special.
Gameplay: stealth or confrontation?
The gameplay was enjoyable on all fronts and that is aided by the way the story unfolded with Jin’s transformation. At first I was reluctant to the Ghost, just like Jin was — but as the story continued to develop, so did my needs to beat new and more difficult encounters swiftly. The game never forces you to play as ‘the Ghost,’ but it does push you along the path enticing you with new weapons and opportunities; like kunai, blow-darts, wind chimes, black powder, smoke and sticky bombs. When it comes to the Samurai confrontation; there are four stances in this game and each stance has four ability unlocks — depending on the enemy you would use whatever fit the situation. I liked that you couldn’t lock on to a particular enemy because later in the game you would easily use every stance available to clear a new area. Dancing around enemies, changing stances on the fly and evading was always fun and challenging — no encounter felt the same.
The gameplay (in my opinion) worked in a way that you needed to be the Ghost and a Samurai at every encounter. Let me give you an example how I would go about an encounter — I would use my wind chimes to lure an enemy or two in the right position to take them out. From here I would get find high ground and assassinate another enemy or two from above. Finally, I would use poison and hallucination darts to cause disruption in a group of enemies (usually by a bonfire) creating complete chaos. With half or more assassinated Ghost-style I would then take on the rest of the enemies head on like a Samurai. From here I would jump back and forth with my stances, use my learned abilities and, later in the game, activate the Ghost to instantly kill whomever was in my path. Of course there is repetition to taking down enemies, but there is so much variation in embedded this game that I found myself using different weapons at my disposal as the game went on.
There’s a lot to unpack in this game when it comes to the different abilities you can unlock and use. I can almost guarantee that you won’t find the time to use all of them on a consistent basis. Me personally? I rarely used black powder or sticky bombs. It wasn’t that they weren’t useful, I never seemed to need them. As a matter of fact, I rarely used kunai too — I always forgot I had them on me. There are so many different ways to go about a single situation or encounter — I don’t think you could use the word repetitive to describe this aspect unless you never adapted to what was given to you on your journey.
Exploration: this world is jaw-dropping!
Let’s dig our heels in both positively and negatively.
Something I will talk about constantly is how beautiful this game is — you’re awestruck time and time again at everything happening and changing around you, exploration continually rewarded curiosity. You would think a game like this would have the same type of atmospheres, but you’re wrong — massive changes would occur between each Act as you uncover a new landscape, but each landscape would have dozens of pockets of bold atmospheres to expierence within them. Even when you came back to a place you had explored before, the time of day or weather would be drastically different to the point where you would question if you had even been there before. You would notice the smallest details like the addition of fireflies at night or big changes like enjoying an epic sunset or a massive thunderstorm.
Beyond the beautiful open-world landscapes, the UI was a game changer. While exploring there would be nothing on your screen unless you clicked to see how far away you were from an objective — being guided by the wind with no markers really enhanced my expierence — I loved the minimal UI. You’ll also notice a lot of small touches, one of my favorite things Jin would do while riding across a field of wheat, cotton or flowers is lean over and put his hand out to feel the environment. Sucker Punch really took the time to draw you into their world with little things to make you feel like you are living inside the game. The more you play this game the more you will realize this is happening. By the way — those Mythic Tale side quests tailored to exploration were some of the best moments in the game. Don’t pass those up.
I’ve been a gamer all my life, but something I’m starting to learn when it comes to articulating my words about video games is how many layers there are within a single game. Every layer is up for scrutiny and just one bad dose can not only ruin an expierence, but make is miserable for the player. The negative bit I’ve seen quite a few times online — just like The Last of Us Part II is this idea of ‘filler.’ In Sucker Punch’s game this seen in finding all the Hot Spring, Haiku, Fox Den, Bamboo Strike & Inari Shrine Locations. As a player that’s received the Platinum Trophy on this game, the only aspect that felt was tedious was the Fox Den’s. Hot Springs gave deep thought, a moment of peace and backstory, Haiku’s created a sense of beauty the player got to choose and act on, Bamboo Strikes were quick and enjoyable, while Inari Shrine’s were cool puzzles that rewarded the best charms in the game with beautiful views as you pay your respects.
Fox Den’s were an entirely other bit for me. There are 49 in this game and by the time I came across my 10th Den I was over it. Some Den’s were quick and easy, but some were long for no reason — the most annoying part was when a fox would run though a group of enemies and you would have to try to avoid them or defeat them depending on skill and location. (A few times I’d come across the marker and the fox wouldn’t be there, I’d have to load in a few times to make him appear — a glitch of some sort.) There was only one case where a Fox Den encounter was different, but I’ll leave that for you to find in the game — there should have been some more of that.
There weren’t hard negatives in this game, but there were things (like the Fox Den’s) that become annoyances. The only other problem I had with this game was with the charms and the outfits — they should have worked together. I believe that each outfit should’ve been able to be slotted with their own charms. For example, if I wanted to get crazy with a bow then I would wear Tadayori’s Armor with charms that aided to it’s perks like Azumi-No-Isora which makes arrows silent on impact. If I wanted to travel and explore then I would wear my Traveler’s Attire and attach the charm of Inari which increases supply of everything I grab on the way. I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way, but it bothered me and, with the help of the Fox Den’s, that brought me down from giving a perfect score. I just think these were easy fixes that should have happened, which in turn, would have heightened gameplay even more. Think about it, there are so many charms that you’ll never touch because you’re already swapping armor in and out on the fly — the last thing you want to do is constantly change out charms time and time again.
Photo Mode: every game should follow suit.
I know this review is trending on the long side, so I will try to keep this section short. I’ve played a lot of games, but none have taken advantage of the customization that Ghost of Tsushima gives its players. Developers in the past have talked about how their Photo Mode wasn’t used as much as they would’ve liked, but this game invites creation like I’ve never seen before. Time after time I would catch myself marveling at the scenery and instantly thinking “this would look amazing in Photo Mode.” As much as taking a picture was great, the jaw-dropping moment for me came with clipping visuals — being able to manipulate particles, wind speed, wind direction, time of day, weather and music — you can create some amazing visuals. Days after beating the game, I’m still jumping in, climbing to the highest peaks and clipping videos.
The Ending: what I thought after the credits rolled?
This game doesn’t have cause and effect when it comes to player choice, you’re watching Jin evolve into something he never imagined in order to save his people and the island. All of this changes in the final seconds of the game — when you defeat your Uncle in the final duel you are given the option to either honor your Uncle by killing him or by walking away and letting him live. Which did you choose? For me, I let him live. The final mission really confirmed (for me) that Jin had transformed the island for good, Samurai or not. When Jin and Lord Shimura come across the man stuck in the mud taking all of his supplies to help the Ghost army — that summed up the impact Jin had created on the island. He has saved everyone and now even the simplest person wants to return the favor. I also watched the director of this game on Kinda Funny Games speak about the true ending of this game — guess which one it is? Letting him live. In this outcome Jin truly becomes the ‘Ghost of Tsushima’ by turning against the Samurai way — “I have no honor, but I will not not kill my family.”
Watching Jin put on the mask and walk up the stairs away from his Uncle was so powerful. He is becoming the vigilante Tsushima needs — it gave me Batman vibes from The Dark Knight, “You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me. Because that’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes, truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more to have their faith rewarded.” The first thing I did after watching the credits roll was check YouTube for the other ending. In this case, the ending where you kill your Uncle was still beautiful which is why I love the idea of letting the player choose. If you still felt like you were part-Samurai then you honored him with death — if not, you walked away.
I don’t know what a sequel would look like, but I do want one inside of this world — there are so many different ways you could go about it. You could use characters we’ve played as who are dealing with the ‘new’ Tsushima that’s been created post-Jin… we could even play as the character tasked by Lord Shimura to hunt down Jin just a few short months/years after the end of this game. I could imagine a story where a true-Samurai of the same skillset as Jin is tasked to track down and kill him. On the journey this new character learns everything about him and why he transformed into the Ghost to save the island. This could lead to so many powerful moments, choices and opportunities — my mind runs crazy with opportunity — Sucker Punch give me a call.
I’ve wanted a Samurai game forever, as a long time Assassin’s Creed fan I was waiting for them to do it — I never thought someone would want to make something like Ghost of Tsushima. Once I saw the footage, my excitement grew minute by minute all the way to release day. My bar was high and my expectations were met! There is so much to love about this game beyond the main campaign, the side quests were compelling enough to create a love for secondary characters and the combat mechanics were full of player choice. This game is jaw-dropping beautiful and the depth of that beauty is something you want to uncover way after the credits roll. Any weak points that this game could have is overcome by the gorgeous open-world expierence you are thrown into.
When the credits rolled for me the only achievements I was missing for the Platinum were some hidden ones like playing the flute at my friends grave, bowing at some hidden alters and creating an outfit for the Cooper Clan Cosplayer. I didn’t seek out any other trophies, I uncovered them by exploring this game which never felt like a chore — I wanted to explore. Sure, the main story markers were on the map, but as I uncovered fog I went to every question mark on the way. I found myself tackling a main story component and then spending a few hours completing anything I found before I moved on to the next mission. It wasn’t a requirement, I wanted to do it. Honestly, every open-world game needs to look at Ghost of Tsushima for the future, this is what every game should feel like. I can’t say it enough. After beating the game I have since gone back in and upgraded every single armor set to it’s highest level, collected every singing cricket to unlock the last flute song and, like I mentioned earlier, I actively seek out new locations to share visual clips online.
Playstation is ending on a high with both The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima — it’s amazing to me that in the past few months we got to play both of these games and a whole new console is just a season away. I’m not sure how the port will work to PS5, but this is the first game I’m going to load up on the system because it’s the most beautiful game I’ve ever played — I want to see how much better it can look and run on next gen. Put it to you this way, out of any potential sequel that I could have my way with, the only game I would put above a Ghost of Tsushima 2, is God of War 2 — that’s how much I loved this game. What a swan song for the PS4, WOW.
Thank you Sucker Punch, I will never forget this game.
Are you a fan of Ghost of Tsushima? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
While your here, check out more of my 4K & Blu-ray reviews. Even more, see the newest trailers, press releases, music and more on the rest of the site. Follow me for faster updates on Twitter and Instagram.