Ghost of Tsushima may seem like a light samurai-adventure with beautiful visual design, but it is a relatively thought-provoking experience holding complicated themes. The game takes place in Tsushima island in 13th century Japan during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. The plot follows Jin Sakai’s story, head of the mighty Sakai family of samurais, as he pursues to free Tsushima from Mongol invaders. Jin, also a nephew and ward of Tsushima’s Jitō (the leader), ultra-honorable Lord Shimura, has to make painful personal sacrifices when battling against invaders. More often than not, fighting with dirty tactics is necessary rather than following a strict Samurai code.
Swift, deadly, surgical – three words that perfectly defines the melee in the game. Otherwise, being a pretty basic 3rd person action-adventure game, Tsushima has exceptionally smooth combat. The animation and transitions of sword fighting look fluid, controls feel responsive and crisp, and enemies react accordingly to players’ actions. Annihilating your foes with one precise slice induces a special kind of primal satisfaction. Moreover, combat mechanics support attacking, blocking, evading, parrying, and utilizing tools; hence varying frequent battling sequences just enough that I didn’t grow tired of them even after 50 hours in the game.
Another big standout of Tsushima is the exceptional visual design. Tsushima island is filled with varying nature and biomes, leaving players’ jaws open time after time. Just to name a few, players can find colorful grass fields, vibrant woods, thick swamps, rocky hills and snowy mountains. I don’t personally enjoy taking photographs in games, but in Tsushima, I often felt the urge to whip out the virtual camera and start snapping photos. Furthermore, developers have meticulously crafted great details to buildings, locations, and character models. Clothes determine Jin’s stats, yet some apparel looked so fly that I preferred wearing them even when they had worse stats than the others.
The story of Tsushima replicates a rather basic narrative structure and holds little surprises. Still, the strong themes and skillful storytelling induces some exceedingly powerful moments. From the very beginning of the game, Jin ends up being in between two worlds. One side is his family, bloodline, and uncle Shimura who embrace honor and samurai code above all else; the other is his friends who encourage Jin to utilize questionable guerilla tactics to gain an essential advantage over the Mongol invaders. Jin’s personal battle combined with good characters and side stories elicit complicated themes such as the purpose of honor, betrayal, the sacrifice of self for the bigger cause, and searching one’s meaning.
The only major complaint of the game is the unpolished feeling at times. From lopsided door-opening and dialogue animations to some relatively unimaginative side jobs, I got a feeling that there could have been space for crafting a more complete experience. Tsushima’s masterful aspects currently manifest the unpolished parts as there’s an apparent discrepancy in the quality.
All in all, Ghost of Tsushima is a masterful game with fun gameplay, memorable narrative and extraordinary graphics. Being easily one of the best games of 2020, I wholeheartedly recommend it for fans of action-adventures, light RPGs and single-player games.
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (backwards compatibility)
Release date: July 17, 2020
Genres: Action-adventure, Stealth
PEGI: 18. This rating has been given due to depictions of extreme violence towards human-like characters.
Pictures: screenshots from the game. Taken by the author.