Review: Ghost Of Tsushima

A beautiful blade that dulls over time.

By Edward Varnell
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Reviewed on PlayStation 4

As the wind blows and colorful leaves frolic in the air, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima has graced the Playstation 4 as its final first party title for the system. This open-world samurai adventure explores various themes while capturing the essence of the samurai movie genre of the past. Does Ghost of Tsushima ride into action with a big swing, or does it fall into the basic open-world trap that plagues many titles?

Tale As Old As Time

You play as Jin Sakai, part of the Sakai clan, who is at battle with the Mongolian Invasion on Tsushima Island. Under the leadership of Jin’s uncle, Lord Shimura, the local samurai and Jin fight against the Mongolian warriors that serve under General Khotun Khan. As the harsh war continues, Jin is wounded and falls down in defeat, presumably dead. He is woken up by a mysterious woman named Yuna, and the adventure begins.

The story is an interpretation of the first Mongol Invasion of Japan. Throughout Jin’s journey, you will meet a small cast of characters who will help you while also having their own stories you will assist with. After meeting Yuna, you will be tasked to help rescue her brother, Taki, a known blacksmith. You’ll also meet Lady Masako Adachi, who will fight by your side, but she is on a quest to find the ones responsible for killing her family and friends. His archer teacher, Sensei Ishikawa, needs help tracking an old student of his who has taught Mongols his arching skills. Buddhist Warrior Monk Norio needs help freeing his people, while merchant and con-artist Kenji has upset many people. They all tell unique stories with actual endings to them. Most of the main story of the game can be done in 20 hours, but helping the team out gives you rewards to strengthen you during game play. There are twists and turns for the main campaign and side stories, but they will keep you invested to seek all of it out.

Chopping It Up

Jin’s basic weapon is his Sakai Steel Katana and Sakai Tanto for quick assassinations. Throughout the game, you will level up and find new techniques to take down your foes. How you go about killing them is up to you. You can have a standoff, which is one-on-one, and when timed right, the game will slow down and show a bloody swipe of the enemy going down. If you decide to go into battle, you can learn Stances to help you fight certain warriors. The Stone Stance is for general purposes; the Water Stance is effective against Shield Men; the Wind Stance is for Spear Men; and the Moon Stance is for Brutes, who are the heavy-set warriors.

With only two attacks–light and heavy–there aren’t any combo-specific button presses. The Circle button allows you to dodge, and R1 is a quickfire attack. Hold R2 to change your stance, or shoot a projectile from your range weapon when holding L2. These methods depend on how you want to handle a small or large scale of Mongolians. You have to be aware of their pattern of attack. Since L1 is your block button, you can time a block that allows you to counter attack. Some attacks have a red glint to them, meaning they are unblockable. The fights get interesting and challenging later on in the game, so you may want to be aware what patterns they follow.

If going in full force isn’t your way of playing, you can be stealthy to take down enemies. From rooftops to moving behind the enemy, stealth takes time to get through big strongholds or even small towns. There are missions where you have to be stealthy and not take anyone down nor be seen. Once you learn the area, you can move through the place quicker. It’s very safe and quite familiar if you have played and done this in other open world games. It adds nothing new or exciting, but at least it’s there for you to engage.

With the combat being simplistic, it does become redundant, even with new skills added on. Most of the time, you’ll button mash or use your heavy attack to dispense your foe. Stealth doesn’t add much when it’s the same technique and movements used, so unless it’s required, just hack and slash away.

There are one-on-one battles, too, but only a few of them actually are done in the story portion of the game; most are connected to side stories. These battles  do change up the formula, but they are mostly like a 2D fighting game in a 3D environment (not fully Soul Calibur but close to it with fluid movement and control).

By Your Side

Ghost of Tsushima offers plenty to do. Following foxes to shrines helps you to acquire more charms and also strengthens some of them. Pillars you find offer you dyes for your gear. Writing haiku and finding small baths help to extend your life bar and more. Right before you start the game, you explore and land on missions or start gaining experience before you touch the main story.

As good as it is, it becomes nauseating doing the same thing with actual side missions that aren’t connected to your companions helping you. You’ll travel or fast travel close to the objective, use the wind to guide you, complete it, and go back to tell the character that it is done. If the person isn’t there, they most likely killed themselves, or they thank you and still mourn. This scenario happens often, and the only pay off is some experience and crafting material.

Speaking of the wind, once you set your destination, you swipe the touchpad on the PS4 to let it show you the direction you should go. This is similar to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s mechanic but easier to use. You can also bow, play the flute, call your horse, and take multiple pictures and share them. Small things to break up the repetitiveness that you’ll fall into once you see what it has to offer.

Color Me Surprised

Ghost of Tsushima is an exquisite looking title in its environment. The leaves, mountains, armor sets, cut scenes, and enormous fields you’ll ride through are beautiful. The detail with the lighting makes past Sucker Punch games pale in comparison. I love running through an area with leaves and seeing the wind blow them. With the beautiful Japanese music soundtrack of voice chanting and the sight of orange, white, and red all dancing in harmony, this game is a pleasure to witness. It’s no The Last of Us Part II, but it is up there in the graphics department.

With that being said, it does become a Ubisoft game with its NPC character models. The NPCs start looking like a Tom Clancy game of today; it is so hard to look at them and not think of how average and dull they are. It’s disjointed because some of the main models look fantastic, while the NPC is pretty much copy and paste. If the budget went to the look of the land and not the actual people you’ll interact with, you’ll question why a lot of this game wasn’t shown more.

The Verdict

Ghost of Tsushima is one of Sucker Punch’s greatest titles to date. A well-told story, exceptional use of color and lighting on the island, decent combat, and plenty to explore make this a must-play game. However, as great as the first portion of the game is, it follows in the trap of relying on the extra activities to expand the length of the game. Even with poor NPC character models, no other weapons to master, and being able to unlock 35% of the abilities before you dive into the game, Ghost of Tsushima burns bright as an alluring new IP but commits seppuku on itself with tedious ideas and side missions.

What did you think of Ghost of Tsushima? Let us know in the comments!

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