Feudal Japan is a period rarely explored in games, especially in the triple-A space. Playing as a
samurai, trained in the ancient art of sword combat, has near endless potential. Sucker Punch, the
development studio behind inFamous and Sly Cooper, has taken on this challenge with Ghost of
Tsushima. Instead of featuring anthropomorphic animals or super-powered heroes, the Sony-
owned studio’s latest project takes a more much grounded approach. Combining satisfying
combat with the company’s trademark fluid movement, the result is a beautiful action title that
emphasizes experimentation and discovery above all else.
Ghost of Tsushima begins with protagonist Jin Sakai fully prepared for battle, alongside his
uncle Lord Shimura and an army of Japan’s bravest fighters. The Mongol Empire is yearning to
control Japan, and the island of Tsushima is their first target. Unsurprisingly, all hell breaks loose
and Jin is gravely injured. A thief named Yuna helps Jin get back on his feet, initiating his quest
to liberate his home and save his uncle from the Mongols.
Once you enter the open world, you’ll be struck by Ghost of Tsushima’s exquisite visuals and art
direction. The vegetation, wildlife, and architecture all wonderfully capture the majesty of feudal
Japan. Character models also look top-notch, even though the lip syncing can be off at times.
Weather effects help establish the tone surprisingly well, ranging from welcoming sunlight to
intimidating thunderstorms. Nature’s grace expertly compliments the game’s brutality, much like
the samurai films that inspired it.
As good as things might look, a huge game world is nothing without stuff to do. Thankfully,
Ghost of Tsushima takes a novel approach to exploration. Rather than clutter the screen with
waypoints, Ghost uses the environment to guide you to points of interests. Although you can still
bring up the in-game map to view the icons, you will be following the wind to reach your
destination. Foxes and yellow birds can also lead to hidden shrines and hot springs, both of
which can help improve your stats.
The island is littered with interesting locations. Nearly every corner has something of worth to
offer, making it easy to ignore the main missions and go sightseeing. You are constantly
rewarded for entertaining your curiosity, even when your discovery might just lead to a cosmetic
sword kit. Personality and mystery are brimming from the world’s seams. Unfortunately, the
game’s narrative falls short of its admirable world design.
Ghost of Tsushima tries to tell a story large in scope, but the overarching conflict lacks
complexity. The biggest contributor to this is the game’s main villain, Khotun Khan. As a cruel
man who spent time studying the residents of Tsushima to form the perfect war strategy, the
Khan has so much potential to be gripping. Despite the strong setup, he ends up becoming
nothing more than a cliché bad guy. You’re never given the chance to understand the Khan’s
motivations outside of wanting to control Japan, thus making him feel expendable. On the other
hand, the character-focused moments shine bright.
Jin makes for a very compelling protagonist, caught between the ways of the samurai and
becoming the dishonorable Ghost. He struggles with paying respects to his family and origins,
but also realizes fair play isn’t going to get him far. What makes him special, however, is how
well the game makes you sympathize with him. Jin certainly does horrible things at times, but
you as a player understand his tough position. The supporting cast is also great, and they help
bring Jin’s personal tale even higher.
Outside of the main story, the game features a plethora of side quests dubbed Tales of Tsushima.
Most of them have you dealing with the citizens’ problems across the island, but a good chunk of
them center around your main allies. These quests have a much stronger focus on character
development and take hours to complete. The stories are satisfying and help flesh out the world,
such as a widow seeking revenge for her family’s murder. Regardless of what you decide to
pursue, you’re guaranteed to run into some Mongols.
Combat strikes a fine balance between swordplay and stealth. Fighting the Mongols with your
blade is far from mindless, requiring you to block and parry attacks accordingly. You might be
able to slam the square button out of desperation, but the enemy variety will keep you on your
toes. Foes with shields and spears, for example, are affected by different stances. Switching
between them is simple enough once unlocked, but the true challenge is keeping a cool head
when surrounded by five or six adversaries. If dealing with enemies face-to-face isn’t your style,
there’s always stealth to fall back on.
When embracing the ways of the Ghost, Jin uses cruel tactics to assassinate Mongols without
being seen. The game’s stealth mechanics don’t do anything new, yet they keep the action
moving at a brisk pace. Upgrades help expand your toolset to include smoke bombs, throwing
knifes, and a few others. Stealth is often the preferred way to deal with large groups, allowing
you to pick and choose who to eliminate before revealing yourself. The only downside to the
stealth is how easy it is to exploit the enemy AI. Guards can be easy to outrun and hide from,
causing them to give up and continue patrolling. At times they will walk back-to-back with each
other or hunt alongside deadly dogs. The next moment, one or two guards will be standing
around just waiting to be killed. Their inconsistency hurts the stealth experience but doesn’t do
enough damage to make it irredeemable.
Perhaps the most commendable aspect of the game’s flexibility is its lack of punishment towards
the player. Did you spend the last ten minutes sneaking around a Mongol camp, only to be
spotted by the remaining three guards? Simply fight them with your blade. Are there too many
Mongol soldiers around? Take them out one-by-one quietly. Outside of certain mission
objectives, you’re never reprimanded for playing the way you see fit. This can be taken a step
further by wearing armor that enhances your preferred playstyle. By the tale’s end, you’ll feel a
sense of ownership over Jin’s actions.
Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t hit the narrative goals it sets up, but the engaging characters and
flexible combat make for an excellent journey. Whether you like to hide in the shadows or make
your presence known, Sucker Punch provides plenty of options for you to take advantage of.
Couple this with an engrossing open world and you have one of the most approachable,
immersive samurai games to date. Now that the PlayStation 5 is right around the corner, Ghost of
Tsushima serves as a fantastic bookmark for Sony’s generation of exclusives.