Ghost of Tsushima — Issue 39

A ghostly com­pelling tale

Beau­ti­ful. Stun­ning. Breath­tak­ing. The Japan­ese coun­try­side of Tsushima can only be described this way, and this is being mod­est. Immer­sion in the strug­gle and bur­den of a samu­rai lord in 13th cen­tury Japan against invad­ing Mon­gols is stu­pe­fy­ing once you real­ize that it’s intri­cately crafted in a video game. You are the ghost, the Ghost of Tsushima.

Wan­der­ing around the real island of Tsushima, Japan, in 1274 is a fairy­tale. Every loca­tion and nearly every blade of grass or tree tells a story. That story is of samu­rai lord Jin Sakai, a man des­per­ate to save his home from an invad­ing Mon­go­lian force led by the grand­son of Genghis Khan. Jin gath­ers a coun­ter­force, only to be defeated and nearly killed. In the process of heal­ing, Jin finds allies to rally to the cause and peti­tions for help from the shogu­nate to defeat the Mon­gols. You become Jin in your quest to save his home and gather weapons and sup­plies, learn skills, acquire alliances, and fight to repeal the invaders. There is much to learn and see in the open world pre­sented to you even if you aren’t a his­tory buff or care about the pol­i­tics, econ­omy, or goings on of feu­dal Japan. There are no time lim­its for tack­ling mis­sions, and you are encour­aged to free roam and explore the land.

Much like any other open world game I’ve ever played, what I like to call the “Metroid instinct” kicks in and I find myself search­ing every nook and cranny to find hid­den sup­plies and other good­ies. Dur­ing my explo­ration, of course, I come across peo­ple who don’t like Jin. I note the pres­ence of bon­fires, which gen­er­ally indi­cates who I like to refer to as “dudes.” Dudes are the type that are gen­er­ally hos­tile to me and my inter­ests. Those inter­ests involve inves­ti­ga­tion and sav­ing peo­ple in the gen­eral pop­u­lace who require the ser­vices of a skilled samu­rai and con­tract killer. This is usu­ally how the fight starts: Dudes notice me in my fin­ery and my mag­i­cal horse frol­ick­ing in the coun­try­side and now they want to get reck­less about things.

In an absolutely fun mechanic, I tend to get into stand­offs with ban­dits. Now, my fight­ing skills here with a katana and tantō are not the best, but I have been known to make dudes meet their maker quickly. Sim­i­larly, I’m not great with archery, but I make the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion and stealth kill my way through the coun­try­side cleanly and quickly. My grasp of the con­trols is ten­u­ous at best, but that’s on me and my lack of skill and “older folks’ reflexes™”. Ghost’s con­trol mechan­ics are sound and easy to pick up with a lit­tle practice.

As I explore after my fights, loot­ing what I need, I take in the scenery. Ghost of Tsushima is quite pos­si­bly the most beau­ti­ful video game I have ever seen. I’ve been play­ing games a long time, and I can’t say until now that I’ve ever been just wowed by a game where I specif­i­cally take in-game pho­tog­ra­phy to use as a back­ground. This is what you buy the lat­est con­sole for and the best TV for: mar­veling at the graph­ics. I’m not even on the lat­est PlaySta­tion model (I’m play­ing with a PS4 Pro), and Ghost makes almost every­thing else look like stick fig­ures from the Atari 2600 era.

With a mas­ter­ful audio expe­ri­ence, Ghost has the sound and feel of a Kuro­sawa mas­ter­piece. You want to feel like the epic Seven Samu­rai? Turn on the Japan­ese dia­logue and Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. It’s that type of expe­ri­ence. The nat­ural ambiance is also nice. It’s com­fort­ing to know that pay­ing atten­tion to sounds in the envi­ron­ment can save Jin’s life when I’m explor­ing. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times lis­ten­ing for audio cues linked to bears or dudes has helped me avoid an ambush.

While it’s a great expe­ri­ence, Ghost is not with­out its prob­lems. The cam­era work doesn’t always help when it’s time to fight. Often, I’m fight­ing the cam­era to see my ene­mies and avoid tak­ing mas­sive dam­age. The cam­era could use some refine­ment in later updates. And my other issue is the Leg­ends mode, added after the game’s ini­tial release. I was all geared up to play with my part­ner and then real­ized that this long-awaited co-op mode does not sup­port local play. We were hotly antic­i­pat­ing being able to roam around Tsushima together as we’re gamers, engrossed in the tale of Jin who absolutely love samu­rai. But we were highly dis­ap­pointed to learn that the only co-op sup­ported is online. Though the mode is free, it was a mas­sive let­down to real­ize that we weren’t going to be play­ing this epic together.

Despite some minor tech­ni­cal issues, Ghost of Tsushima hits the mark in a lot of areas. A com­pe­tent nar­ra­tive, open world explo­ration, stun­ning visu­als and an easy-to-grasp sys­tem are just some of the good­ies await­ing engross­ment in Jin’s tale of revenge and rev­o­lu­tion in 1274 feu­dal Japan. Ghost of Tsushima scares up a great adven­ture wor­thy of all the praise one can muster.