Ghost of Tsushima Review – Holding on to Honor
Title: Ghost of Tsushima
Developer: Sucker Punch
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action Adventure
Looking back at developer Sucker Punch’s catalog of games, you’ll see a trend of fantastical adventures starting with Sly Cooper on the PS2. The team is good at creating long-lasting IPs, to the point where a brand new game is something I never expected from them. I think that’s what surprised me so much about the direction that they took in their newest game Ghost of Tsushima.
Ghost of Tsushima has a story that features many characters and relationships as players assume the role of Jin Sakai on his fight for revenge. However, for me, the real main protagonist would have to be the setting itself. Sucker Punch has created what I believe is one of the most beautiful open-worlds that I have ever played. They’ve filled it with romantic fields of flowers, various trees and mountains, and many other surprises as you travel to your destination.
Its games like this where you often find it easier to just fast travel around, but here, I never wanted to. Having these brilliant set pieces in front of me made me feel as if I really at these locations. Along my way to a mission, I spot a group of bandits who just kidnapped someone, so I quickly put a stop to them. Back on the road, seconds later, I’m in a large open field with a fox that leads me to a secret shrine. Then I come to a small town that has been overrun by invading Mongolians.
Eventually, you’ll make your way to where you want to go, but not without making some memories along the way. The strange part about it is how willing I was to participate in these interactions. You don’t have to, and the game doesn’t require you to, for the most part, but that didn’t stop me from eager jumping from my horse to look at every point of interest that I could find.
Jin has a lot to prove to himself and those he respects. He is one of the last remaining samurai after a battle with the Mongolians almost wiped everyone out. Left to die, Jin is saved, but then quickly learns that his honorable Samurai code doesn’t have a place in this new world. If he wants to survive, he’ll need to adapt, and that’s not readily accepted by him or his teachers.
It’s this path that you follow Jin on throughout the story. He’ll gain ally’s and make progress, but little by little, you begin to travel down this hole of watching someone completely change their way of thinking. There’s a struggle that you see in Jin as he comes to terms with what he’s become. You see it in his eyes, and you see the sense of confusion masked on the faces of those who live by the Samurai code. Everyone is trying to adapt, but tradition is still upheld.
As Jin takes control of his fate, he learns new techniques and skills to take down opponents. There are many ways to spend skill points spread across your in-game menu. So much so that I completely ignored one set of upgradable options because I just forgot they were there. The menu is organized to a point, but it’s easy to get lost in if you aren’t consistently paying attention to it or exploring the items.
The ways that Jin evolves as a character mirrors his skills as a warrior. As he levels up, different stances are discovered, new moves are mastered, and abilities are perfected. Each of these areas can be fine-tuned using skills points as well. For example, if you enjoy throwing Kunai, you can focus on putting points into that area until you are able to throw three at a time. The entire skill distribution system is built around what kind of samurai you want to be.
Missions in the game vary, but if you’ve played open-world games before, you’ll be able to wrap your head around the basics quickly. Main quests are divided into episode-like scenarios where Jin will join an ally or head out alone to take down some enemy camp or follow a rumor. Jin has natural tracking abilities that open up new types of quests as he follows clues to acquire new armor or simply help someone in need.
The main missions revolve around meeting up with allies to progress the narrative. These missions offer a bit more unique ways of gameplay outside of the side missions you’d encounter. They’ll have you invading a base, free prisoners, defending a position, or even hunting a rumored ghost. They are consistently fun and do a great job of pushing the story forward.
The biggest downfall is the enemy AI who seem just to love looking at walls and waiting for you to kill them from behind. Their reaction speed is inconsistent, their movement is random, and they just don’t really do anything for the game’s approach at telling a more realistic story.
This all stems from the from stealth mechanics, though, as you take advantage of the fact that this is a video game. If the enemy’s back is turned, you can pretty much do anything you want while in a sneaking position. It really takes you out the immersive nature of the game’s world.
However, combat can be approached differently with each interaction allowing you to chose to begin the encounter with a standoff. This is where you and an enemy will size each other up, and one hit could take the opponent down. If you add skill points to this action, you’ll be able to take down more than one with the correct timing.
Other fighting styles are found in duals, where you’ll only be able to rely on your swordplay skills. This will have you dodging and parrying enemy attacks as you look for an opening to strike. I really enjoyed these fights and found the challenge in them able to break up the almost comical encounters with some grunt enemies.
Enemies become tougher in later parts as new weapons are introduced. Specific stances do better against certain enemies, and those evolve along with the more challenging encounters. Luckily the controls are exceptionally responsive.
You continuously switch stances and change equipment in a fight, and I was surprised by how quickly my fingers memorized these movements. I thought it was an overall excellent user experience that I wasn’t expecting in a game with so many complex options.
Ghost of Tsushima is an unbelievably beautiful game. However, haracter models from NPCs and enemies can come off a bit lacking, but that doesn’t hinder the experience at all. One great feature is the different audio options that you have. Playing the game in Japanese improved the immersion for me, but the English dialogue isn’t bad at all.
The game attempts to be accessible by making failures not as consequential. If you die or fail a mission, you don’t have to pay much of a price as you’ll restart at a checkpoint, and some enemies that you killed might not even be there your second time around, which kind of sucks if you’re looking for revenge.
Ghost of Tsushima makes it easy to immerse yourself in this dark and historical setting. The story’s pacing is expertly tuned to how the player wishes to take it on, and the controls allow actions to be both fluid and responsive. The enemy AI could definitely use some attention, and the menus are exceptionally vast, but in the end, I was glad to find something that reminded me I was playing a video game because there were moments I forgot.
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