Ghost of Tsushima PS4 Review: Sony Interactive Entertainment’s long run of amazing first-party titles comes to a stunning close with arguably one of this generation’s greatest games.
More often than not, when a game is hyped and delayed then hyped and delayed, it turns out to be something of a turkey.
Having missed its release window twice over two years, PlayStation gamers could be forgiven for thinking that Ghost of Tsushima was going to follow in the same fashion.
Here we are in July 2020 and the highly anticipated title has been finally released, and while it is very late, it was definitely worth the wait.
Developed by Sucker Punch this is the final title to be published under Sony Interactive Entertainment before the PlayStation 5 is released and the brand becomes PlayStation Studios.
Following the PS5 release, PlayStation Studios will be an umbrella company covering all Sony-owned developers including Sucker Punch.
Ghost of Tsushima is the game PlayStation gamers have been waiting for from Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Of course, there are many other excellent first-party developments such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, The Last of Us Part 2 and Horizon: Zero Dawn among others.
However, Ghost of Tsushima is unique in that it has been designed to capture the beauty and complexity of an entire society and culture.
Japan and the Samurai have always been mysteriously captivating and the history of both the country and the sect are unmistakably intertwined.
Set during a semi-fictionalized version of the Mongol invasion of 13th century Japan, the game opens with one of the most stunningly detailed and action-packed game sequences I have ever seen.
As the Samurai meet their invaders on a moonlit beach, the savage determination and cruel tactics of the Mongol Empire is excellently stated as one-by-one, Jin Sakai’s Samurai brothers fall.
After a heart-pounding, semi-tutorial battle sequence, Jin Learns that Khotun Khan, a fictional Mongol leader has kidnapped his Samurai master and uncle, Lord Shimura.
While trying to rescue Lord Shimura, Jin and indeed yourself will have to face Khotun Khan in an epic battle where you are ultimately defeated and left for dead.
This is where your journey begins.
Jin is rescued and nursed back to health by Yuna, a local thief and rebellious fighter.
Upon returning to health, Jin learns that Tsushima is now under Mongol occupation, Lord Shimura is now a prisoner at castle Kaneda stronghold and he is the only remaining Samurai on the island.
Upon requesting Yuna’s help, she agrees if Jin will help liberate her brother from a Mongol camp where he has been enslaved because of his smithing skills.
From this point on you are free to explore Izuhara, the lower half of Tsushima island, and it is massive.
The island is divided into three territories of Izuhara, Toyotama and Kamiagata and each is further divided into traditional Japanese prefectures.
Once you set out and begin exploring, you will immediately realize the scale and beauty of this game.
The visual fidelity of Tsushima is like nothing before seen in a game from this generation and had it been released earlier would have set a standard for any proceeding open-world title.
Pampas plants, glow with the Sun and sway in the breeze while the leaves of Golden Forest gently fall all around and criss-cross on the wind.
For all the beauty and serenity of the world that captivates and amazes, the invader horror and razed towns perfectly balances the reality of war with Zen-like accuracy.
While walking calmly along a cliff edge with the sounds of the sea in your ears, you can make out the black smoke plumes with the glow of flames in the distance with your eyes as another town is pillaged by the Mongol horde.
Right from the start, you are left to either pursue the main story or go your own way and help the people of Tsushima as you wander the island like a brooding Ronin.
As Jin explores the island and its many towns and villages you will hear gossips and tales of his, or rather your, exploits.
Along with talk of what’s happening in terms of war and how the Mongols are swarming the island, you can get a real sense of how the game world is being affected.
There are many side-quests to be found by listening to conversations or talking to the right NPC’s and completing these can help grow your Legend.
Doing good deeds increases your Legend and with each level grants a new Ghost technique.
Ghost is the stealth component of the game, something which is handled very well since Samurai never engaged in such tactics, preferring to meet their opponent face to face in mortal combat.
Jin is clearly conflicted by using Ghost techniques which older generation Samurai would consider dishonorable.
However, given that Jin is alone, it would be almost impossible for him to tackle a Mongol horde one on one.
A tactic I found useful was to use Ghost tactics to pick a few invaders off and then engage the remaining enemies with traditional Samurai techniques.
Ghost tactics include stealth kills, smoke bombs and kunai which can be thrown at enemies to either kill or stagger them, making a quick kill easier.
Samurai swordplay in the game is excellently implemented and extremely gratifying once you get used to the fighting mechanics.
Combat is similar to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and equally as challenging.
At first, you may get hit quite a bit, but once you get the hang of the combat system you will be pulling off moves worthy of an Akira Kurosawa movie.
Speaking of which, the presentation of combat in the game is very reminiscent of a Kurosawa movie.
With intense duels and standoffs, the game even has a Kurosawa mode with Japanese dialog and a vintage black and white aesthetic.
Standoffs are a great game mechanic that can greatly help in battle, especially with larger groups of enemies.
Holding Triangle to start a duel, you must release the button at the right time as the enemy attacks in order to execute a swift and brutal kill.
Standoff upgrades can be purchased so that you can dispatch a further two enemies during a Standoff.
This may sound simple, however, enemies will feint an attack in order to put you off and lose the Standoff, upon which you will lose a lot of health and some Resolve.
This could lead to losing the battle since Resolve is required for healing and special moves.
Seeking out Hot Springs will reward a small increase to health while bamboo stands will reward an increase in Resolve.
Hot springs only require you to bathe in them while bamboo stands require increasingly difficult button combinations to complete.
As the game progresses you will come into contact with more difficult and quicker enemies, including those trained in swordplay.
As you play more, you will ultimately get more confident with combat and improve your parrying and dodging techniques.
Parrying and dodging is a necessary tactic and can lead to one-hit kills which are vital when surrounded by enemies.
Enemies will carry a multitude of weapons including swords, spears and shields all of which require a different stance to shatter using heavy attacks.
Stances can be earned by defeating Mongol leaders who can be found at camps and towns that have been invaded and are vital for success.
Using the required heavy attack from a particular stance will stagger your opponent allowing you to move in with quick attacks to damage them.
Using different stance moves can quickly dispatch the more difficult enemies in stunning style as they all have different animations and special moves.
Different enemy types also have their own moves and combos and you will need to learn these if you are to be successful in combat.
While it is tempting to engage all enemies at once, and sometimes this is possible, the best tactic is to engage and isolate.
Getting one or two enemies to follow you and move away from the group can greatly improve combat success.
In some cases though, soldiers are extremely aggressive and will try their best to swarm you with long-range spear attacks, archers and brutes.
This is where learning each enemy’s attack patterns really pays off.
The more enemies you defeat and the better you do it will also count towards granting Technique Points as well as growing your Legend.
Technique Points are the game’s upgrade system which can be spent on better Samurai moves or Ghost techniques.
For example, Standoffs can be upgraded so that you can take out multiple enemies in one Standoff, or combination heavy attacks can be learned for each stance.
Random encounters in the world can help with learning the game’s combat system before you jump into the main story quests.
It is wise to spend some time getting to know the combat system as the main story quests mostly consist of large battles that will require you to utilize all of your skills for success.
Should you fail to learn how to fight, you will ultimately be killed a lot, or at the least will underperform, which is extremely frustrating and actually less fun than dying.
I say this because it is quite sad to see a Samurai try to pull off moves only to fail, which is of course something that just didn’t happen.
I feel this is important because just like Fallen Order, the joy of the game is in defeating enemies in the movie-worthy style one would expect.
There is a real sense of achievement when you have just engaged a large group of enemies and dispatched them all with a supreme skillset without even taking a hit.
Then with a quick swipe of the touchpad, Jin rids his blade of the blood of fallen enemies reminiscent of a Kurosawa movie.
Perfect parries and dodges give way to special moves that look amazing and can get rid of even the toughest enemies in one slash or stab of the sword.
The Katana is the primary weapon of the Samurai so learning it’s techniques are vital.
Of course, Jin also carries the smaller Tanto which is used to execute sneak attacks when you choose to go Ghost.
All of the game’s items, including the Katana, Tanto and clothing or armor have vanity upgrades.
Katana and Tanto sets can be earned from quests, purchased from Merchants or found at a Pillar of Honour.
Dyes for armor, clothing, headbands and hats can also be purchased from the Merchants but require gathered flowers.
New headbands can also be found at the game’s many Haiku spots.
These scenic spots have you create Haiku from varying different pre-written prose from which you can choose.
With Haiku, there is no right or wrong way to compose them and you will be rewarded with a different headband from each spot regardless of the final poem.
Other vendors include armorers, swordsmiths and bowyers who can upgrade weapons using resources found in the world.
Armors are a little harder to come by and require certain missions or even better, one of the game’s many Mythic quests.
Mythic quests are excellently formed and require Jin to seek out specific spots or people in order to obtain a powerful new armor, weapon or fight move.
These special missions usually have you going to beautiful places you may otherwise have missed and usually culminates with a heart-pounding and very cinematic duel.
Such a duel to learn a special sword move, for example, took place atop a mountain during a lightning storm, Highlander style.
There are other collectibles in the game such as banners that will unlock new gear for your horse or Mongol artifacts and records that shed some light on how the island has been affected as a whole.
While Mongol artifacts give some insight into the history of the Mongol Empire, I feel there was a missed opportunity to educate about the Samurai themselves.
Annoyingly, there is nothing in the game that enlightens the gamer about Samurai history, Tsushima island or even Japanese culture itself.
That’s pretty much the only bad thing I can say about this game and it’s not even really relevant.
The presentation and implementation of this game are like nothing I have ever seen before.
The attention to detail in the game world and the conscious effort to capture the beauty of Japan along with the people’s attachment to nature is nothing short of amazing.
Many staples of Japanese culture are present in the game, including Zen, Shinto and respect for the Kami among others.
The obvious references to iconic Samurai movies also help the game move along in such a way as to not let the Japanese culture aspect overshadow the action.
Action of course being why most people will play such a game.
It would have been an easy mistake for the developers to forget that they were making an action game while including the cultural aspects which are so astonishingly prominent.
However, Sucker Punch has nailed it completely with a perfectly balanced game world, extremely gratifying gameplay and a truly compelling story.
The way you play the game will evolve as you get more confident with the systems, and any mistakes that you make are down to your own lapses in judgment rather than problems with the game itself.
That is a very rare thing to see indeed, and that is what makes playing this game so compelling as you will want to improve and refine your technique so as to be worthy of Samurai.
I have always said that no game is perfect, but some of them really do come pretty close.
This is a game with an excellent implementation and a great example of how a modern AAA title should be.
Ghost of Tsushima is available now for PlayStation 4 only.
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