Its been a long while since Sucker Punch released a game for the PlayStation 4. In fact, its been 6 years since Infamous: First Light came out to some lukewarm reception. During that time, Sucker Punch was working on a grand new title that would become the ultimate graphical showcase for the PS4. This game would be Ghost of Tsushima, a new samurai game that is unlike anything Sucker Punch has worked on. Ghost of Tsushima brings players to feudal Japan during the invasion of the Mongol Empire, a time period that hasn’t been explored in gaming. Jin Sakai is a survivor of the battle at Komoda Beach on Tsushima Island where the Mongols first invaded. From here, players begin a journey of honor, war, and soul searching.
From Samurai to Survivor
As previously mentioned, Jin Sakai survives the battle of Komoda Beach. Unfortunately the rest of his samurai kin and companions are slaughtered by Mongols. He’s saved by Yuna, a thief from the Yarikawa region, on Komoda Beach and nursed back to health. Khotun Khan, the cousin of Kublai Khan, is setting the stage to annex Japan into the Mongol Empire by capturing Lord Shimura. Shimura is Jin’s uncle and the head of his own samurai clan under the shogun rule. He’s a father figure for Jin ever since Kazumasa Sakai, Jin’s real father, was killed by bandits many years ago. Shocked by the loss of all samurai in Tsushima, Jin is set on rebuilding the samurai and destroying every last Mongol in the territory.
Jin re-evaluates his honor code as the sheer amount of Mongol forces in the area have decimated the people. With Yuna’s influence, Jin begins to find his own path as a warrior and adopts the skills of the thief while honing that of a samurai. In the meantime, Khotun Khan continues to intimidate the captured Lord Shimura as Jin’s reputation across the Izuhara region of Tsushima grows. Jin continues to save people and rebuild fighting forces by his own means, even if it goes against the code of the samurai. As players progress, Jin continues to gain more allies, abilities and develop into the Ghost of Legend.
Jin’s Hybrid Samurai Prowess
Jin Sakai is a unique type of warrior, wielding strengths of the samurai and thief as a hybrid. Jin does not need items to heal but uses Resolve after landing strikes and killing enemies. Resolve grows as the Legend of the Ghost grows. In addition, he’s capable of fighting in 4 fighting stances along with using Ghost weapons. The fighting styles below have their own strengths and weaknesses:
- Stone Stance – Strong against Swordsmen
- Water Stance – Strong against Shields
- Wind Stance – Strong against Spears/Axes
- Moon Stance – Strong against Brutes
Players can improve techniques with completion of missions and ranking up Jin’s legend status. Along with techniques are Mythic combat arts which unleash devastating attacks. Jin also gains the special Ghost Stance later into the game, adding to his collection of skills. Ghost Stance is a rage mode that strikes fear into enemies and allows Jin to one strike kill his enemies for a short time. Players must kill a certain amount of enemies in a row while remaining undamaged to activate Ghost Stance. To help him unleash the stance, Jin may perform assassinations, kills with kunai and other Ghost Weapons that allow him to kill swiftly. The perfect parry system allows some risk and reward for timing counter-strikes perfectly. Jin also honors the samurai code by entering standoffs, calling out enemies and striking them down in a short duel.
The Journey Across Tsushima’s Beautiful Landscape
The full island of Tsushima, Japan is fully explorable and Sucker Punch over-delivered in the best way possible. Tsushima is full of rich environments, lush foliage and secrets waiting to be discovered. Ghost of Tsushima has an extremely vibrant range of colors that make scenes and areas pop with features like HDR enabled. For instance, the Golden Forest of Ariake is home to many golden tree leaves, each properly rendered across the land and flowing with the wind as you command with the touchpad. The game’s impressive visual fidelity incentivizes players to take screenshots in Photo Mode, offering an insane amount of customization to each scene.
Tsushima features three major regions:
- Izuhara – traditional Japanese plains with large varieties of flowers and trees
- Toyotama – a swamp-like region filled with bamboo forests. Ronin warriors and bandits roam the land
- Kamiagata – a snowy, harsh region with mountains and forts overlooking the rest of Tsushima
Each region has features that make itself unique to each act along with many activities to stumble across. Jin can take over Mongol strongholds and camps, climb up hills and mountains to honor shrines, and take a relaxing bath in hot springs scattered across the land. Following a fox or golden bird leads the way to even more waiting to be discovered. As Jin journeys across the land, the fog of war clears up on the map to reveal locations and side-quests become available with progression.
Customizing the Ghost
Through progression of side quests and the main story, Jin obtains more armor and accessories to equip. These accessories include charms which amplify Jin’s abilities. Jin’s outfits are customizable with cosmetic dyes that are purchased with flowers found throughout the land. Upgrading armor with materials change the appearance of that armor from the base level to refined. Katana and tanto appearances may be changed with different designs found by visiting pillars of honor. Jin’s horse saddle may be changed as well by collecting sashimono banners across Mongol strongholds and the land in general.
The customization extends into Photo mode and the game’s options as well. For example, Ghost of Tsushima features full English and Japanese support with subtitles for each. A special Kurosawa mode puts the game in black and white, fashioned after famous film maker Akira Kurosawa. Photo mode allows players to capture the beautiful scenery while customizing it with filters and options to their liking.
A Few Combat Woes
Ghost of Tsushima has a really fun and satisfying combat system but its not perfect. One factor against the combat system is the lack of a lock-on feature toward enemies. The camera allows Jin to fight in the direction of his enemies and for the most part, combat is great and as responsive as it should be. However, it may not be as fun with a large wave of enemies and affects dodging since Jin dodges in a general direction if not parrying. Climbing and jumping may also feel slightly sluggish as well when trying to attempt airborne assassinations so its recommended to pick some clear spots on roofs instead of hills/mountains.
At Journey’s End (light spoilers)
The Khan is finally defeated and with the shogun’s order, Jin accepts his fate as the Ghost of Tsushima. No longer a samurai of clan Sakai, Jin carries the burden for the sake of Japan, hunting down any remaining Mongols and restoring peace. From here, the player is free to explore Tsushima once more and clean up any loose ends left if any. The most recent patch introduced a new Lethal difficulty so players may explore that if they wish to introduce terror to the Mongols again.
From start to finish, Ghost of Tsushima honors the samurai and Japanese culture to the utmost degree. Sucker Punch delivers a faithful and moving experience by diving into one of Japan’s most trying times in the midst of war. Coupled with a great combat system of risks/rewards, a wonderfully crafted world gives players more reasons to explore every nook and cranny of Tsushima. For any fan of action games and RPGs, this is a must play on the PS4 before the next-gen arrives. Ghost of Tsushima is the PS4’s swan song, taking full advantage of the hardware while delivering an experience to remember. This game is an example of what next-gen titles on PS5 should strive to be.
Disclaimer: This game was not provided by Sony or Sucker Punch and was purchased by the reviewer.