GHOST OF TSUSHIMA
By Tom "TomBsTone" Bronneberg on July 20, 2020
Ghost of Tsushima is, hands down, my most anticipated video game of 2020, and I played my ass off the first few days so I could put together the most complicated review I ever wrote. But let's start at the beginning. Ghost of Tsushima, man.... That first E3 launch trailer was absolutely mesmerizing. It had beautiful scenery, a beautiful setting, beautiful music, just beautiful... everything.
For me, Japan is the summum of everything I like: kung-fu, samurai, ninjas, nature, landscapes, way of life, woodworking, respect and honour... In short, everything but the food, because I don't like fish... But everything else I like. So after that launch trailer I was psyched. But therein also lies the danger. This could well be the best game ever! On the other hand, I could also be very disappointed... but which is it?!
Sucker Punch Productions is a game studio, best known for the "Infamous" series. Now, at this point, I'll have to be totally honest with you: I didn't play those games at all. I don't know why, but somehow it didn't tickle my fancy. So when they announced Ghost of Tsushima, I was a bit curious about how this would work out. And, like I said, its complicated... so bear with me.
After watching the first trailer, I decided not to watch any more of the trailers that were released online. I wanted to discover and experience every little thing for myself. From the start, I was under the assumption that this would be more like a story driven, full movie video game. So imagine my surprise that, after the opening cinematics, the game turns out to be an adventure sandbox game.
At first glance, Ghost of Tsushima isn't unlike other games of recent years, like Horizon Zero Dawn, Mad Max and Days Gone, meaning that these are games that are all about same game type. The main Hero(ine) has compelling back story, something to ride across the positively huge map with, fast travel options and a plethora of stuff to discover, resulting in hours and hours of gaming fun. So, contrary to what I expected, Ghost of Tsushima is also one of these games. And this felt kind of like a disappointment... (wait, don't shoot me yet!)
Let's start at the beginning, shall we? You start your journey as Jin Sakai, who was trained in the ways of the Samurai by his uncle. As we catch up to Jin, he and his uncle are about to do battle on the beach of Tsushima Island during the first Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274. During the fight that ensues, you get separated from your uncle due to the overwhelming force of the Mongolian army, and you spend the rest of the game trying to get your uncle back from Mongol captivity and save Tsushima Island.
I'm not going to talk more about the story because you need to experience this yourself. Instead, I am going to talk about how the developers at Sucker Punch managed to make one of the best games ever.... EVER I tell you! But hey! Wait just a bloody minute, Mr. TomBsTone! Two paragraphs back you said you were disappointed! What's up with that? Well yes I did... and I was wrong... very wrong! I am sorry...
As surprised as I was after the opening cinematics and tutorial, the emotional story and feel was overwhelming. A few hours into the game I was sold. This is not what I suspected! This is not the game I thought I was going to play, NO! This, dear readers, is the game I needed to play! Is it the most original game ever? No of course not, but what game can still say it is? Especially in the AAA range. So yes, they took a lot of stuff from a lot of games and distilled it into their own masterpiece, but hey! Others could have done the same thing, and they didn't, so don't be mad at Sucker Punch for doing it the right way; you all had your chance!
Now it is time for a compliment. During the prologue, I experienced a small glitch where the game shut down during what I think was a standard auto save point, but after that I didn't have a single glitch or bug whatsoever. And believe me, I tried a lot of stuff. I even tried jumping down cliffs and getting in between crawlspaces to see if I would get stuck, but the game handled everything very well. The graphics are smooth, the loading times are pretty fast ( on a PS4 Pro ) , and the menus are easy to understand and logical in use. One of the selling features of Ghost of Tsushima was its "cinema" mode. Or photo/video capture functions. And at first I thought to myself "I could just use the screen capture function in the ps4, so who would use something like this?", but after exploring the island of Tsushima I found my self saying "man that looks like a nice spot to make a selfie" quite a lot more then I'd like to admit.
The Island of Tsushima is huge and positively filled to the brim with an abundance of sceneries to explore, from stretched out plains filled with beautiful flowers, to towering cliffs at the seashores, to dense forests filed with tall trees or bamboo. There are many secrets to discover like Haiku spots and hot springs where you can reflect on yourself and your life. Or temples that provide a puzzle like platform experience and grant you upgrades after you complete the trials. Oh, and if you ever come across a happy fox running around a beautiful tree, just follow it to wherever it may run. Trust me, it's worth it! The wild life is ever present and can be thoroughly dangerous at times. Dangerous or not, it gives yet another layer to the amazingly beautiful island, which holds a lot of things for you to discover, explore and collect!
Alright, I have to tell you something... Sucker Punch might have made a mistake here (or a joke, I'm not sure)... in every game where you need to collect stuff, there is mostly a currency that's relevant to the story, you know like Ears in Days Gone, or Gil in Final Fantasy games... Now this is a Japanese story, for which they also hired English speaking people with mostly Japanese accents to do the English voice acting. With me so far? Good! Now take into account that the main currency in the game is "supplies"... Yes, let that one sink in for a while. And for all of you who were born in this millennium, look up an old move called UHF. I mean it, just google "UHF supplies" and you will understand what I mean... So now each time I pick up something from a cart or from a body, my 4 year old sitting next to me yells out "SUPPLIES!"
But I'm drifting away from my review... For me, Ghost of Tsushima is perfectly balanced. The controls are tight, shortcuts and commands act like they should, tracking is a bit different but you will get used to not having an indicator... or a hud for that matter. Ah man, did I forgot to mention that there is NO HUD. At least, it will hide immediately after you use something from the hud and there is no mini map!!! NO MINI MAP! Just you and the wind to guide you. What this leaves is purely you and the game, nothing to distract you from the everything that makes Shadow of Tsushima the truly beautiful game that it is. Another part of the beauty of this game is the more than excellent voice-acting, which helps to give it its realistic character.
Most sandbox games tend to do too much; too much weapons with different stats, too much armours with even more stats, just too much... but luckily, Ghost of Tsushima doesn't. The main focus of this game is clearly to take you through a story, and not just a story but a journey. Jin starts out as a normal honourable samurai. Things arise and he changes his ways and lifestyle during the progression of the game. You will experience for yourself what it means to be a Samurai, how much Honour plays a role for them, and how they lived their lives. After having experienced this you will be as conflicted as Jin is when he has to change his views on being a Samurai, and needs to change his way of life and fighting style to accomplish his goals.
Especially this inner conflict is really compelling and very well done. You see the struggle build up inside of Jin as he drifts further away of his Samurai roots and slowly becomes the Ghost of Tsushima.
Of course, I can't tell you everything about this game. There is still plenty more for you to discover that I didn't mention in my long review. So I will just end my story by saying: Thank you Sucker Punch. I will be playing this game for many moons, or should I say sunrises...
"Domo arigatou gozaimasu."