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REVIEW: Ghost of Tsushima — Any Way The Wind Blows

 
 
Overview
 

Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
 
Developed by: Sucker Punch Productions
 
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
 
Genre(s): Action-adventure, stealth, open-world
 
Mode(s): Single-player
 
Game Type: ,
 
FG RATING
80%
80/ 100


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

Raves


Creative use of visual effects incorporated into gameplay.
Stunning sceneries.
Fun and fluid gameplay.
Entertaining Storyline.
B/W mode + Japanese Dub = Authentic Kurosawa Exp
UNBELIEVABLY FAST LOAD TIMES

Rants



Repetitive activities.
Some uninteresting branching sidequests.
Generic Stealth gameplay.


0
Posted July 14, 2020 by

Ghost of Tsushima is the latest open-world action title from Sucker Punch Productions, the studio that brought us Sly Cooper and the inFamous series. It’s a samurai epic that is largely inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa, a legendary figure in Japanese cinema, and is one of the most influential filmmakers in cinema history. The idea of emulating the Kurosawa samurai film experience into a video game is a novel concept, but how much of it does it get right?

THE SAMURAI WAY

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The game takes place on Tsushima Island, based on the real-life island of Tsushima in Nagasaki. Though the setting is based on a real place, the story itself is fully fictional albeit anchored on the events of 13th century Japan when the Mongols first invaded. The story focuses on Jin Sakai, the last of his clan and ward of the island’s Jito, Lord Shimura. On the eve of the first Mongol invasion, Lord Shimura led 80 Samurai to defend the island only to be overwhelmed and killed and the Jito captured. Being only one of the very few Samurai that survived the initial attack, it becomes clear to Jin that he can’t win alone, much less alone as Samurai. Realizing this, he begins to employ the help of unlikely allies as well as adopt some questionable tactics that any Samurai would deem dishonorable.

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In essence, story is less about the invasion and more about Jin’s transformation into the Ghost. It goes against his beliefs and what he was taught growing up. It was entertaining to see this play out, but overall, the story doesn’t take itself too seriously and doesn’t dive deep into any complex themes beyond Jin’s resolve in saving his people and coming into terms with impermanence and what he has become. The first couple of times you willingly do un-Samurai-like deeds, you’ll be treated with some flashbacks of Jin’s memories of his Uncle’s teachings, adding weight to what is normally an inconsequential gameplay prompt. The game makes several attempts to guilt you from shunning Jin’s belief then transitions into convincing you that the changes are justified. Jin’s evolution into The Ghost translates well in both story and gameplay just based on my experience alone and how these subtle (and some not so subtle) nudge managed to influence my playstyle throughout the campaign.

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Though the main plot follows Jin’s Journey, sidequests focused more on the people of Tsushima. Aptly named ‘Tales of Tsushima’, these primarily featured the main supporting cast, exploring their individual struggles. The main plot explores themes of honor, desperation, and family which persist even through the sidequests and bits of lore found throughout the island. I welcome the design of branching quests that dives deeper on side-character narratives, though, I would have preferred shorter tales but feature more people rather than long quest lines with only a handful of recurring characters. Because this approach in quest design would only work if you’re invested in the character and since some of them weren’t all that interesting, doing their questlines throughout the entire game felt more like a chore.

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But my favorite of all the activities and storylines in Tsushima are the Mythic Tales. These are special quests that have Jin pursuing legends and myths which all lead to special gear or secret techniques to enhance Jin’s repertoire. As good as these quests were, they did highlight for me the fact that, despite being more stylized than an accurate depiction of Feudal Japan, the game does focus more on being grounded. Meaning quests that build up interesting mysteries or suggestions to the supernatural, always conclude with a less than stellar logical explanation, which is undoubtedly the least interesting outcome to expect. To compare to The Witcher 3, what made mystery quests exciting there is the fact that it could go either way and you often never really know what’s what until you reach the end of the quest, which usually concludes with interesting twists.

THE WAY OF THE GHOST

Again, the main theme of Jin’s journey is his transition from a shining beacon of honor, to a vengeful spirit of, well, not honor. The story is structured so that you slowly make the transition from Samurai to Ghost, but interestingly, this transition is woven into gameplay just as well.

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As Jin starts off as a full-fledged Samurai, naturally you also start out with some straight forward combat that focuses primarily on your katana as and half-bow, with unlockable abilities geared towards facing opponents head-on. Swordplay is fairly standard. You can do a light attack and a heavy attack (which breaks posture/guard). You can also dodge and jump (yes, there are jump attacks). And of course, you also have a block button, which lets you parry attacks if you block at the last possible moment before an attack.

You’ll always be outnumbered in open combat and will have to deal with various enemy types. Each enemy type has its own unique set of moves and different attack timings. Some even have unblockable attacks which make dodging and parrying more challenging as you’ll have to be fully aware of what your enemies are doing and react accordingly. The combat flow isn’t like in Arkham games were enemies seem to be attacking through a strict pattern. In Tsushima, enemies attack simultaneously or in quick successions (especially on the higher difficulties). This definitely adds up to the challenge but pulling off perfect parries and perfect dodges are super rewarding and can turn the tides of battle rather quickly. Oh, and archers are usually mixed in, too. They can be a pain as they’re usually out of view, but they have an audible cue right before firing so tightening your senses definitely makes fights more manageable (Just like a Samurai!).

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Overall, Sword combat plays out similar to The Witcher 3 and the last two Assassin’s Creed titles (Origins, Odyssey) but there are some interesting gimmicks that are uniquely more… Samurai-y.

A samurai would always face an enemy head-on, and in gameplay, this translates to your ability to initiate stand-offs, which allows you to call out your enemies and pick them off one by one in true Kurosawa-esque Samurai showdown fashion. The mechanic is relatively simple but satisfyingly captures the feel of a stand-off. As it begins, you hold the Triangle button as though you’re grasping the hilt of your katana ready to let loose a lethal interrupting slash by releasing triangle right as your opponent attempts to attack. Draw too early, and you’ll fail the standoff and be left with a pixel of health whilst dealing with the enemy all at once. As you progress, you’ll gain the ability to perform multi-kills during a standoff, with each kill granting Resolve used to activate certain skills.

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As you progress, standoffs get a tad more challenging by enemies feigning they’re attacks and randomizing their mixups. This does make it more interesting towards the end but by then, the novelty of it was lost on me and I’d opt into just engaging the enemy straight away and only occasionally use standoff to gain some resolve or to bait out strong opponents for easy standoff kills.

Resolve is a resource meter used to heal yourself or perform special attacks. There’s really only 2 moves you’ll unlock that makes full use of this meter and though both of them are pretty cool, it would’ve been great to have more flashy abilities available. There are however multiple sword stances you can adopt and switch between during combat. Each stance is effective against certain enemy types and you can improve your mastery of these stances by earning technique points through ranking up and use them to purchase new techniques.

 

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Though some of the abilities you gain from upgrading stances are pretty neat, at the end of the day, you’ll only ever switch between stances to match the enemy type just to break their posture which is easier with the right stance. Beyond that, the combat pattern doesn’t vary too much. That said, swordplay is only one half of Tsushima’s gameplay, the other half is geared towards stealth and subterfuge.

If and when the situation calls for it, Jin can adopt a less honorable playstyle such as assassinating enemies, using poison, throwing knives, and hurling explosives. Basically, whatever it takes. Unfortunately, that’s all there is to say about the other half of Jin’s arsenal. Stealth is fairly standard, you sneak around, lure enemies away, perform assassinations from cover, in mid-air, or even do multi-assassinations when 2-3 enemies are clumped together. Nothing you haven’t seen elsewhere already.

That said, it’s not too bad considering that you do not have to choose between the two playstyles. So if you look at both Samurai and Ghost style as the entirety of Jin’s arsenal, then you actually have a wide range of tools and abilities at your disposal to use as you see fit. For instance, I would sometimes start all noble and face opposition head-on, but as soon as I get too overwhelmed, then I start throwing Kunais and smoke bombs to regain the advantage. That said, you can’t really stop Jin from becoming the Ghost.

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Personally, I tried to stick to Jin’s Samurai code and face enemies head-on as much as I could. I was pretty dead set on that, but over time it got clear that this wasn’t meant to be a choice and that Jin was bound to become the Ghost no matter what. Not having the choice to stick full Samurai until the end may sound like a bad thing, but the narrative actually manages to successfully present plausible situations that necessitate Jin’s transformation in a way that you would agree. I would still try to be as honorable as I could, but when it mattered, I don’t feel any remorse for channeling the Ghost if the end justified the means.

COLORS OF THE WIND

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Visuals are where Ghost of Tsushima really shines and is for me, already enough to justify a purchase. It’s also where the game succeeds the most in emulating Kurosawa’s work, as Kurosawa was known for some of the most iconic use of scenery and weather in films even today.

The use of some very impressive particle effects which is directed by gusts of winds is not only visually impressive but also ingenious in its way of incorporating it within the gameplay. Straight up, I can say that the immersion they were going for wasn’t fully met, however, it doesn’t take away from just how mind-blowingly cinematic getting from point A to point B can be. Though there are a day and night cycle, it doesn’t seem to just rely on generic global lighting and instead appears to be meticulously composed specific to the time of day or season. Particularly impressive are when the Sun is highest in the sky and when it’s setting on the horizon. The environments and locales in GoT are really more stylized than they are realistic. There are lots of contrasting colors and impressive use of color separation. Too often, you’ll come across some absolutely jaw-dropping scenery from gameplay alone. I banked about 60gb of storage space from all my captures. It makes absolute sense that they mapped a dedicated photo mode button (right on the d-pad). They obviously knew people were gonna want to snap screens every 2 seconds, for sure.

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Photomode allows you to play around with the time of day, weather state, and particle effects such as dynamic falling leaves of various kinds, fireflies, ashes, and even songbirds and crows. Photomode also pauses all the action but leaves some of the physics such as in foliage, wind, and cloth. You can adjust the direction of the wind and even adjust the strength/speed of the wind which, when paired with some of the particle effect options, make for some awesome cinematic compositions. Tsushima also has some of the best cloth animations I’ve seen in any game which perfectly compliments the heavy use of atmospheric weather effects.

Additionally, the game also attempts to immerse you into an authentic Kurosawa experience by including a black and white mode as well as Japanese VO, adding some interesting value on doing additional playthroughs. Tsushima really is a sight to behold, but outside of environmental details, the game also flexed some interesting details in the character models particularly when it comes to sweat. However, they’re reserved mostly for the more important scenes which had close-ups that were very few and far in between.

I also have to mention just how INCREDIBLY FAST this game loads.  It doesn’t matter how far you’re fast traveling to and from where. It loads so fast, I hardly ever get the chance to finish reading the tooltip during loading. I have no idea how Sucker Punch was able to achieve this but this is an incredible feat considering how detail-extensive Tsushima’s open world is. Hats off to you, Sucker Punch.

VERDICT

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It’s got a fairly enjoyable main story with less interesting sidequests. Fresh and fun swordplay but with all too familiar stealth mechanics. An ingenious use of particle effects and illumination that seldom leads to interesting places.

Ghost of Tsushima is a visually stunning open-world Samurai epic, but one that feels more like a double-edged Katana. There just seems to be a down for every up. But, thankfully, the outward-facing edge is much, much sharper than the one facing in, and you’ll still feel like a badass Samurai once you swing it around.

Metaphors aside, Ghost of Tsushima is a worthwhile experience and manages to produce an authentic take of medieval Japan wrapped around breathtaking sceneries and flashy swordplay that will surely fill up your hard drive with hundreds of epic Kurosawa-esque moments.

The main campaign will take about 20 hours; give or take a few hours. 100% will take about 30-50 hours.

[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher]


Dian Raval

 
Dian is a writer for Flipgeeks who, in his spare time, stares at a wall in his basement. If you'd like to discuss music, video games, or the infinite wisdom of concrete, follow him on twitter @iburnandfume or subscribe to his YouTube channel @iburnandfume. He's pretty much iburnandfume in everything. Apparently he... burns and fumes.


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