Ghost of Tsushima is the latest creative endeavor from Sucker Punch Productions. Set in feudal Japan, the game invokes beautiful imagery and set pieces that define it as a period piece. Alongside additional marketing using the Kurosawa name, Ghost of Tsushima aims to define itself as something truly cinematic and evocative of certain imagery and themes. Taking cues from other first party open world AAA titles, Ghost becomes a mostly homogenized experience of other games it samples from, just with a different skin.
The story revolves around Jin Sakai, the last remaining member of clan Sakai and one of two samurai to survive the confrontation with the Mongolian forces at the beach of Tsushima. The narrative deals with Jin’s internal struggle as he wrestles with his honor and personal morals and weighs them against protecting the people of Tsushima. It’s a fairly standard plot and carries a surface level understanding of the themes it tries to invoke. While some side stories try to flesh out Jin and make him more than a one-dimensional character, they’re often paired in complete contrast with what the main story has to say. The final conflict leaves something to be desired with either of the two endings the player can select from. And, while Sucker Punch listed some of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s most popular works as their inspiration for this period piece’s narrative, it feels more like a Xerox copy of what Kurosawa created. At best, it is a surface level examination of the themes of classism found within his body of work.
However, the Japanese voice cast does an amazing job of adding a level of emotion to the performance that can sometimes feel missing with the English voice cast. This adds a level of depth to the script that might otherwise feel missing, and it made my experience with the narrative more enjoyable and largely more immersive. I would highly recommend players choose to play the game with Japanese audio option.
The combat in Ghost of Tsushima is exhilarating for the first few hours. The stand-offs are incredibly cool and feel great, and the early game combat is uncomplicated enough to allow Jin to slice through enemies with ease. However, this loop falls into a fair amount of tedium as you go through side quest after side quest. Encounters are largely recycled versions of other encounters you may have done previously–while the map may be different, the way you approach them begins to get funneled into two options. Will you choose to confront your enemy and face them head on or will you use stealthier tactics that mostly consist of using smoke bombs, arrows, and stealth kills?
Even with the added abilities through the few “skill trees” allotted to you, there really isn’t much freedom in how you choose to play the game. Weapons are locked to your katana, tanto, and bow you gain fairly early on, with some added variety thanks to sticky bombs and kunai. Mythic skills help alleviate some of the tedium of one-on-one fights or make story related duels arguably a lot easier and certain stealth perks make forced stealth segments a little more bearable, but there isn’t enough actual variety to hold someone’s interest. In the end, it feels like a simplified version of what we’ve seen in modern Assassin’s Creed titles.
Ghost lacks both the polish of the games that it borrows inspiration from and real enemy variety. Outside of dogs and bears, you’ll frequently encounter four types of human enemies that are designated by their weapon types: bow, spear, sword, and sword and shield. The game will constantly remind you to change to the appropriate stance to deal with these enemies once you unlock the necessary ones to deal with each one individually. It quickly becomes a game of stance dancing with little variety. Combat encounters are mostly the same. Some cool Mythical skills add a bit of visual flair, like the ability to set your sword aflame, but it quickly devolves into a blur of fights that string together without any memorable moments between them outside of a few boss fights.
The game does try to offer a bit of variety outside of combat with locating collectibles for upgrades, cosmetics, and as mentioned above, Mythical skills. Fox shrines, hot springs, torii gates, and finding spots to create haikus are a few extra activities you can participate in. They’re fairly engaging, but fall into the same kind of tedium as the combat, as they end up being mostly the same or rely on platforming to reach your designated destination.
Platforming segments are vaguely reminiscent of the Uncharted franchise, another Sony AAA property. But these bits of platforming can be frustrating, as Jin scrambles against rock, sometimes unable to find the foothold right in front of his face, or as he swings himself off of a cliff face when you get to use your grappling hook. If these bits of game play were more refined they would be stellar, as the platforming puzzles can be really fun when they work. One of my fondest memories in the game is scaling a cliff face, using my grappling hook and Jin’s limited climbing abilities, to reach a torii gate. Engaging in these little puzzles not only rewards players with increased charm slots (and cosmetics if you’ve located a Pillar of Honor), but with a beautiful view of the environments Sucker Punch has created.
And if Ghost of Tsushima has one thing going for it, it is the environment. Beautiful fields of grass sprawl over empty plains, blowing gently in the wind as particle effects swirl through the air. Ginkgo trees pop with a level of saturation that’s visually stunning in contrast to the temples you’ll find within these meticulously rendered forests. However, despite these absolutely gorgeous visuals, there is a strong feeling of emptiness to the world of Ghost of Tsushima. Wild animals are few and far between, and when they are present, they lack the kind of attention to detail in relation to their animations or how they interact with Jin in comparison to other AAA titles like Red Dead Redemption 2. This leaves the world feeling barren, outside of the gorgeous visuals and some really lovely looking set pieces. There is a level of engagement with the world, and with the environment, that is missing from Ghost that could have truly made its open world experience a great one.
For everything Ghost of Tsushima does, it excels in for the first few hours of the game. Unfortunately this is undercut by the lack of variety, as it can easily just become outright boring or unengaging. And that is Ghost of Tsushima‘s greatest offense. While it performs spectacularly in the visual department, has incredible loading times, and had virtually no errors or crashes while I played through it for over forty hours, anything outside of that just becomes more of the same.
Ghost of Tsushima feels like a tech demo–a showcase of the PlayStation 4’s graphical capabilities, especially through its hefty photo mode and the sheer amount of things you can have on the screen at the same time. However, it lacks the mechanical refinement of most modern AAA titles. Ultimately, it feels like the game could have benefited from a smaller scope or a more linear structure. Focus on the duels could have created a more engrossing product, especially if it honed in on the narrative for a more concise and cinematic experience. But as it stands, Ghost of Tsushima is another AAA open world title and doesn’t seek to define itself as anything other than that.
Ghost of Tsushima is immediately available on the PlayStation 4.