Ghost of Tsushima – Game Review

Played on: PlayStation 4 Pro

Released on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro

Genre: Role-Playing Game

Posted: 5th September 2020

Ghost of Tsushima was developed by Sucker Punch Productions, the team most well-known for their other creations: Sly Cooper and inFAMOUS. Ghost of Tsushima is one of the final first-party games developed for the PlayStation 4 at the end of the current console generation.

Rather than a more fantastical premise or setting like their other well-known games, Ghost of Tsushima is aiming for a more realistic and grounded tone with the game being focused on telling a creative non-fiction based story around one lone man finding his place in Legends and fighting back against an invading army.

Ghost of Tsushima’s narrative is truly superb and masterfully told. It is deeply compelling, character-driven and is one of the best narratives I’ve experienced in a video game for a long time.

From start to finish, my emotions were firmly at the mercy of the tale that the writers were wanting to tell – and they knew this full well.

You play as Jin Sakai, an honourable Samurai on the Island of Tsushima in Japan, and nephew to the Jito (Territory Steward) of the Island. The game opens with the Mongolian invasion of Tsushima in the 13th Century. With their enemy being too strong and overwhelming them, Jin soon finds himself as one of the last surviving Samurai on the island. He is left to reclaim his home alone. However, he cannot do so successfully and uphold his Samurai Code. Instead you – as Jin – must don the title of the dishonourable ‘Ghost’ to fight back and protect your home.

The inner conflict that Jin feels, as the once strictly honourable Samurai, as he strays further and further away from his code while building the Legend of The Ghost is expertly shown. The growth and changes that Jin goes through had me invested at every step of the way.

The game handles the peaks and troughs of emotion very well, imbuing the player with the same shame, joy and anger that Jin feels.

I couldn’t help but experience everything that the game had to give me.

Outside of the main narrative, Ghost of Tsushima offers many side quests, referred to as ‘Tales of Tsushima’. Many of these are like your run-of-the-mill Role-Playing Game side quests. However, some are so much more.

On your journey, you’ll encounter allies to help Jin in his plight. They too have their own tales to tell.

These tales are much more character-focused and deliver more of a narrative arc than the other tales. These tales are a wonder to experience as well. The end to each of these were never what I would have expected at the beginning of the questline. There’s nothing ground-breaking with the stories they tell, but due to the way the game develops these characters, they were stories that I wanted to follow.

Everything outside of the narrative is excellent too.

Ghost of Tsushima boasts a stunning aesthetic appearance. From the beautiful open-world design filled with variety and vibrancy, to the minimalistic Heads-Up Display (HUD), everything about Ghost of Tsushima shows a clear care to the creation of the game.

The developers clearly had a very specific experience envisioned for players and they were committed to make it a reality – and it shows. Every care has been given to making Ghost of Tsushima a highly immersive experience for all those who play it.

For those that aren’t aware, Ghost of Tsushima was designed in a way to pay homage to the works of the prolific Samurai cinema director Akira Kurosawa. The game caters itself in different ways to meet this goal. Outside the English voice option, the game also offers a Japanese dialogue option with English subtitles, as well as ‘Kurosawa Mode’ in which the dialogue is in Japanese as well as the colour gradient being set to black and white with a grainier sound to create an authentic Samurai cinema experience.

Not only does Ghost of Tsushima shine in its story, but even more so in its gameplay.

The combat of the game is split two-fold. The first is Jin’s Samurai swordsmanship; engaging in thoughtful and reaction-based melee combat. The second is as ‘The Ghost of Tsushima’: an even slower, stealth-based combat system.

As a Samurai, Jin has the potential to build his strength and develop his skills as a swordsman. Through killing Mongol leaders, Jin can learn new fighting stances that make him better equipped to handle the different foes the game throws at him.

Samurai combat feels amazing.

It is highly satisfying and rewarding to be patient and learn the right times for dodges and parries. The combat isn’t hack-and-slash, and can actively punish you for becoming impatient during a fight. The growth of Jin’s abilities as well as the way your own competency with the control scheme grows as you play can lead to some incredibly fun and exciting combat scenarios. With the right mastery you can feel downright unstoppable; like you could take on the entire Mongol army by yourself.

One key ability that Jin has as an honourable Samurai is the option to enter into a battle through a standoff. In a standoff, you wait patiently for your opponent to lunge towards you to attack for you to cut them down instantly – furthermore, you can develop this skill to instantly kill up to five enemies, immediately changing the tide of the fight by reducing the numbers drastically.

Close combat isn’t your only option in a fight, however. Early in the game you gain access to a bow and arrow to fire at enemies from far distances. This is great to aid you in reducing numbers of enemies before even approaching the location.

Moreover, once you establish yourself as ‘The Ghost’, you acquire a few additional toys, such as my personal favourite: the Kunai – a throwing weapon that can be used to break through an enemy’s defence, leaving them open for you to wail on them.

As ‘The Ghost’, the main focus of gameplay is to sneak about a highly occupied location from the shadows – either from tall grass or around corners to remain out of sight from your enemies. From there, you can slowly move yourself into the right location; either lure a group away from you with your ‘Ghost Tools’, or guide an enemy close enough to be assassinated. Anyone that has played a recent Assassin’s Creed game will be familiar with this style of stealth gameplay.

What’s so great about Ghost of Tsushima’s combat gameplay is that, aside from a few story moments, how you approach a combat scenario is entirely up to you. You’re welcome to approach from the front for a standoff, or to slowly pick enemies off one-by-one as ‘The Ghost’. You’re the one in control.

Outside of combat, there is more that can be done across the Island of Tsushima.

To navigate the island, the environment is your guide in Ghost of Tsushima. There is no mini-map to point the way to your next destination, instead you can mark your desired location on the map in the main menu and follow the gusts of wind to your location. It’s such a simple concept, but a unique one all the same.

The island of Tsushima isn’t completely overloaded with filler locations to find and complete. Although, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot that you can do in this game.

There is always something to set your sights on while traversing the open-world: from hunting down the Mongols that have overtaken territory, to locating and ascending the Shinto Shrines for more charms, or even composing your own Haikus.

Climbing is a mechanic that becomes progressively more common as the game progresses. I found the climbing to be very enjoyable. Rather than obstacles that are just in the way, blocking your progress from point A to B, they can act like small puzzles – especially the Shinto Shrines.

The overall gameplay of Ghost of Tsushima builds to what is a very satisfying and tight gameplay loop.

Virtually everything that you do in the game helps to build your ‘Legend’. Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t have a traditional levelling system, instead you ascend different ranks of your own Legend; along the way earning ‘Technique Points’ to spend on new abilities, or upgrade the abilities you already have.

These abilities can vary in usability. However, it is all dependent on the player’s style. I found some abilities relatively useless, while others became my bread and butter during combat. None of these abilities seem useless, just not my go-to for my particular play style. There is always an opportunity to find use for them – perhaps more so on higher difficulties that the game has to offer.

The biggest part of Ghost of Tsushima’s gameplay loop are the collectibles and resources.

Firstly, there is a large number of armour sets that you can gather in Ghost of Tsushima, and each of them have their own set of unique armour abilities that can be used to benefit you during your time with the game.

Not all types of armour are designed to be used in combat, in fact, some are purely designed for getting the most out of exploring as you can, such as the Traveller’s Attire.

Much like with the techniques you can unlock, the different armours can be very situational and not all of them may be of use to you. However, again, different players may have different preferences. Ghost of Tsushima allows for players with different approaches to gameplay to feel accommodated for.

Secondly are the various charms that you acquire on your journey. Charms are small equipable buffs to your abilities that come in all sorts of shapes and flavours. Some can be used to boost the amount you can heal in battle, while others can increase your damage output or maximum health.

Next, being a Samurai, or mysterious Ghost isn’t all about skill alone. It’s about style too. There is a massive amount of customisation options available for every piece of equipment.

You can find dyes for your different armour sets, different head and facewear, and even change the design of your katana.

With such massive numbers of options available, it’s easy to make your time as Jin, the Ghost of Tsushima, your own.

Finally, scattered all throughout the Island are various different materials that you can collect: Supplies, Bamboo, Flowers, etc.

These resources can be exchanged for services from different professionals around the island. Through these craftsmen, you can upgrade your equipment. The upgrades can be pretty game changing too, such as: greatly increasing your damage output from your weapons, upping the number of ‘Ghost Tools’ you can carry, and improving your sets of armour.

As I said previously, different armours can have different unique abilities. Upgrading your armour can increase the potency of these abilities – making you more of an unstoppable Samurai machine, or an even darker shadow in the wind.

Almost everything that you do in Ghost of Tsushima is designed to improve your skills. It’s a tight, continuous and highly enjoyable loop.

Something you may have noticed during this review, is that I’ve frequently said that there are many things that I personally found no use for, but I felt other players could. I think that is a fundamental aspect of why Ghost of Tsushima is, in my opinion, an absolutely incredible game to play. There are simply so many options for approaching a scenario that no two players’ experiences will ever truly be the same. I feel that I could go back through the game again and play it entirely differently than the first time, and the game would fully accommodate for that – from location layout, to armour and charm loadout, the possibilities are vast.

I adored every aspect of Ghost of Tsushima, it was a game that held me tight in its clutches from beginning to end. It’s a game that each time I play it, I can see myself enjoying just as much as the time before.

Reviewed by: Sam

Thank you for reading my review of Ghost of Tsushima, I hope you found it enjoyable or useful – or both!

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3 thoughts on “Ghost of Tsushima – Game Review

  1. Red Metal Sep 6, 2020 / 4:06 pm

    I really have heard nothing but good things about this game from fans. Critics aren’t as sold on it, but I’ve found them to be increasingly unreliable over the years, so I’m definitely interested in checking it out. I normally wouldn’t be sold on a game taking cues from films because taking cues from films now would be like putting a directionally challenged person in charge of navigating your car during a road trip, but considering that this game pays homage to Kurosawa, I’d say Sucker Punch is drawing from a great source.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Black Disc Gaming Sep 6, 2020 / 9:54 pm

      I agree. Critic media has seemed to be changing in recent years, so I think it’s always important for those that read reviews to take any form of review with a pinch of salt, because it’s all ultimately subjective.
      That said, there certainly is a lot to enjoy with Ghost of Tsushima and I do highly recommend it if you’re interested in a character-driven narrative.
      You’re right, I wouldn’t be sold on a game taking cues from current films either. But the strict focus on themes and atmosphere from Kurosawa’s films is definitely an exception to that.

      Liked by 1 person

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