Playing a samurai never felt this good
Rs. 3,999; PS4
All is fair in love and war says the adage but in Tsushima, it’s all about the latter than the former. Set in the year 1274 and inspired by a real-world event of the Mongol empire invading the Tsushima island, Ghost of Tsushima brings a fictional story of a samurai who goes all the way to save his homeland. However, there’s a problem. Not only the Mongols are brutal as revealed by the first few minutes into the game but are cunning too, who know the samurai ways and led by their capable commander, Khotun Khan.
Enter Jin Sakai. The protagonist and the samurai who almost gets killed in the battle and realises the only way Mongols can be defeated is by fighting less honourably or in other words, killing them silently like a “ghost”. This constant inner struggle of fighting honourably is evident in the first few hours of the game but as the story progresses, Jin gets comfortable in ghost’s skin as he is as a samurai. That said, the game never forces you to adopt one playstyle and players are free to adopt either or both ways while dealing with the enemies.
Combat has to be the highlight of the game considering at the heart of it, Ghost of Tsushima is still a samurai game, which brings us to the next question – how is the sword fighting? Oh, it’s good. It’s bloody good! Sucker Punch has nailed the sword fighting experience in the Ghost of Tsushima. The sword fighting sequences are well orchestrated with great audio effects to complement it. It’s easy to pick the controls that include a light attack, heavy attack, parry and dodge but button mashing doesn’t work here. Pressing the right button at the right time is equally rewarding. For instance, dodging away from an unblockable attack will retain your health or parrying at the right moment makes the enemy vulnerable for extra damage. Sword fighting also has some depth with the adoption of stances that get unlocked as you kill enemy leaders or observe them and learn their technique. A stance like Stone is effective against swordsmen whereas Water, Wind and Moon stances are effective against enemies with shields, spearmen and brutes. There’s a fifth stance too, that is revealed later in the game. Changing to different stances is fluid and can be quickly changed to better suit the enemy, even in mid-fight. However, the two best things about sword fighting in Ghost of Tsushima are Standoffs and duels.
Standoffs can be triggered when you or the enemy spots you, basically announcing yourself for the fight. A successful standoff results in one slash kill or if you fail, resulting in Jin’s health hanging by the thread. This is the honourable way to kill enemies but also results in other enemies baying for your blood after the standoff ends.
Duels are 1v1 fights with important NPCs in the game that help advance the story or achieve a particular objective. The fight is more or less similar to other fights, only tougher. But it’s the cinematic prologue with rustling leaves, panned shot of the opponents and that unsheathing of the sword makes the fight all the more exciting.
Fighting as ghost lets the player kill enemies stealthily but it is not as exciting and satisfying as defeating enemies after a sword fight.
In terms of weapons, Jin’s katana accompany him throughout the journey, there are other weapons he gains over time that enables a balanced approach of samurai and ghost combat during fights. The weapons are upgradable with various materials that can be collected in the game.
Similarly, there are armours to earn and upgrade as well. Complete certain missions or objectives to get the armour with each one giving a different set of advantages over others.
Ghost of Tsushima allows visual customisation too. In exchange of flowers, players can buy dyes to change the armour colour, buy headbands, katana sheath cover and masks.
Then there are skill upgrades that improve Jin’s ability. The skill tree is detailed and can be maxed out with the Technique Points one earns throughout the game.
Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world game and although there’s a story to follow through, the game gives the freedom to approach the main story (known as Jin’s Journey) at your own pace. There’s Tales of Tsushima, which is nothing but side quests. Some of these NPC quests feel run-of-the-mill but some add value who also appear in the main story. Finally, there’s Mythic Tales or special quests spread around the island of Tsushima that talks about the famous legends. Mythic Tales are useful as completing them gets you a better and improved armour or makes Jin learn new moves and abilities. In short, the game has a lot of quests, collectibles and locations to discover, in addition to the 25-30 hours of the main campaign.
Ghost of Tsushima is visually impressive. The world is gorgeous, serene and picturesque that offers breathtaking views. Luckily, the game comes with an equally potent photo mode with lots of customisation options. Complementing the visuals is the music, sound effects and voice acting. I played the game with English audio but for samurai fans out there, the game also allows to choose a samurai cinema experience that includes Japanese audio with English subtitles or the Kurosawa mode that adds a black and white filter, little grain with Japanese audio, taking inspiration by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa movies.
There are a lot of things to love in Ghost of Tsushima but the game comes with its share of drawbacks too. During my playthrough, I experienced minor graphics flaws like armour cutting in Jin’s body during a cutscene or some characters getting stuck to a position a couple of times. As I said, these are minor issues and doesn’t hamper with the playing experience. The frustrating thing, however, is the inability to skip cutscenes. For example, seeing Jin unsheathing his katana with his thumb before the start of the duel is exciting the first few times but gets repetitive. There’s no New Game+ that would entice for a second playthrough, possibly with Kurosawa mode on. Finally, a wishlist item but I feel it’s a missed opportunity for limited multiplayer. Imagine sword duels with your friend to settle an argument!
Nevertheless, Ghost of Tsushima is a strong new game from Sucker Punch and delivers on the promise of a good open-world samurai game. Sure, the stealth combat can be improved but the Ghost of Tsushima offers a good experience with cinematic visuals, music, story and hours of content.
WE’RE IMPRESSED Gameplay, Melee combat
WE’D IMPROVE Skippable cutscenes
THE LAST WORD Sony has built this console generation on single-player experiences and Ghost of Tsushima is yet another game that delivers on that front with a good story, visuals and enthralling gameplay.