Ghost of Tsushima review: Ghostface killer

Sucker Punch's latest game is hoping to be a tour de force of cinematic-inspired samurai action. Does Ghost of Tsushima live up to its expectations? Our review.

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What is the value of honor? Is living one’s life by a rigid and unbending set of rules, even when that means great sacrifice, truly worth it? What happens when one chooses to abandon tradition and set forth on a new, never before treaded path even if that means losing the honor they once coveted? These are just a few of the questions that Jin Sakai, the protagonist in Sucker Punch’s latest masterpiece, Ghost of Tsushima, must learn for himself as he embarks on an incredible and unexpected journey.

Way of the warrior

Players will take on the role of samurai Jin Sakai in Ghost of Tsushima.
Players will take on the role of samurai Jin Sakai in Ghost of Tsushima.

Ghost of Tsushima opens with Jin and his fellow samurai defending the shores of their homeland against an invading Mongul horde. Things do not go as planned though and the brave warriors who guard Tsushima are all but destroyed. Jin himself only survives thanks to the efforts of a woman named Yuna who appears to be a thief of some sorts. The two form an unlikely alliance and set off to recruit allies in their quest to liberate Tsushima from the clutches of the malevolent Khotun Khan and his army. In order to liberate his people, Jin will have to make a lot of sacrifices and possibly bring his honor into question.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story because it’s such a delectable, savory meal. Every quest has a story behind it that adds to the game’s mythos. Every decision has a consequence and it all weaves into a wonderful tapestry that makes Tsushima feel like a living, breathing world. The friends and allies you make along the way have their own stories to tell and they’re just as compelling as the main plot. I have to admit, a few quests hit close to home with their themes and really worked to connect me emotionally to the game, which is an extremely rare occurrence for me personally.

Player will wander the island of Tsushima as they seek to liberate its inhabitants.
Player will traverse the island of Tsushima as they seek to liberate its inhabitants.

Wandering through the massive world of Ghost of Tsushima is a cavalcade of diversions. Much like Breath of the Wild it’s easy to get distracted from the task at hand by something that catches the corner of your eye and suddenly half an hour has gone by and you don’t remember what you were doing in the first place. Beyond the stories told in the main and side-quests there are an incredible amount of things to keep you from whatever you were doing in the first place.

The island of Tsushima is littered head to toe with exploratory distractions. Maybe a fox will pop up and lead you to a shrine, or maybe you’ll have to do some platform puzzling to pray to another shrine, and there’s always a chance you’ll find a bamboo strike to help increase your resolve. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon an area perfect for a moment of meditative haiku writing. No matter what you end up doing, your character will benefit by gaining things like charms that buff your sword, cosmetic skins, or permanent stat increases of some sort. 

Wandering Ronin

It's extremely easy to get lost in the beauty of Ghost of Tsushima.
It's extremely easy to get lost in the beauty of Ghost of Tsushima.

It’s pretty easy to lose track of time while wandering in Ghost of Tsushima because the island is ridiculously gorgeous. Fields full of vibrantly-colored cherry blossoms litter the island and its shores are breathtaking. Even though most of the island is covered in wilderness there’s a ton of variety to every area you end up visiting along your journey. Beyond nature’s beauty, every village, temple, and castle you visit along the way has its own wonders to behold as well.

It would be hard to look at a game like this and not make comparisons to the work of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa and several of his films like The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo as well as his period pieces like Rashomon. Sucker Punch must’ve seen this coming a mile away and decided to include a “Kurosawa Mode” as a visual option. They even went as far as to consult with the director’s estate on it. The results are incredibly accurate to the sharp depth and tone that are prevalent in Kurosawa’s black and white films. It’s a fun addition and can be enjoyable if you’re looking to take cinematic in-game pics or pretend you’re a wandering samurai in one of his films, especially if you put on Japanese audio and English subtitles. However, it can be a hindrance as far as doing things like picking up wildflowers or other items from the environment. There are also a few missions where color is an extremely helpful tool. Still, it’s a nice bonus.

Character designs are also totally on point and both the English and Japanese voice actors behind the various roles do a fantastic job with their performances. Like I said earlier, this game has some great emotional gravitas to it, and that wouldn’t come across even half as much without such great deliveries and wonderfully animated characters.

Shogun Assassin

Samurai duels make up some of the more intense moments in Ghost of Tsushima.
Samurai duels make up some of the more intense moments in Ghost of Tsushima.

While samurai are bound to a rigid code of honor that does not allow them to do things like stab an enemy in the back, desperate times call for desperate measures. Jin will find himself in several situations where something more akin to an Assassin’s Creed approach is more appropriate. Throughout the game, players will have to use stealth to infiltrate enemy strongholds or kill without being seen. The game gives players an ability similar to AC's eagle vision that lets them track enemies while trying to remain undetected. Players will also get an arsenal of tools to help them such as kunai daggers, smoke bombs, and bells that you can use to distract enemies.

Most of the time though, players will also have the option to meet the enemy head-on in combat. There’s usually even an option to challenge your opponents to a face-off duel before diving into a full-on brawl with their allies. Along the way players will be able to unlock new dodging techniques and various sword-fighting stances. The stances end up being a big part of sword-fighting since each of the four main enemy classes (swordsman, spearmen, shieldmen, and brutes) are weak to a certain one. There are also some fantastic one-on-one samurai duels that will put your skills to the test, they’re a real treat and probably one of the most immersive samurai experiences in the game.

Sometimes stealth is the only option to complete a mission, but for the most part players can handle missions how they please.
Sometimes stealth is the only option to complete a task, but for the most part players can handle missions how they please.

As you progress you’ll also earn charms to augment your katana with things like buffs to damage or defense, stealth skills, and bow and arrow skills to name a few. Armor and weapons are also upgradable through various merchants, but players will have to collect a lot of supplies such as bamboo, iron, leather, fabrics, flowers, and more in order to afford them. One of the more important tools in combat is the Resolve meter that takes the form of a group circles above the health gauge. Resolve can be used to heal Jin during a fight or pull off some extra-special attacks that are learned as the game progresses. Knowing when to be conservative and when to cut loose with resolve can be key to winning a battle. Players will really have to make use of every resource at their disposal to truly master Ghost of Tsushima’s combat mechanics and be victorious.

Overall, the way that the stealth and combat mix together reminded me a lot of the Batman Arkham series in the way that it flows, which isn’t a bad thing at all. However, the combat is far from perfect because of two major flaws. First and foremost, the game suffers from a lack of a true lock-on system. There were far too many times I would be fighting one enemy and another would come up and my focus would shift, or maybe I would be trying to hone in on a particular enemy and suddenly I’m lunging into someone else. And then there’s the camera, which far too often felt like it was another enemy on the field. I found myself constantly spinning the cam not only to focus on the action, but also to keep an eye out for enemies looking to get a cheap hit in.

Fortunately though, it’s not tough to overcome these obstacles and really master the combat mechanics. It also helps that Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t really punish you for dying so you never really lose progress. Overall, it does a great job at balancing the challenge and accessible fun factors of what makes a game like this so enjoyable. The traversal mechanics are also extremely polished and actions like leaping from branches, jumping on rooftops, and climbing mountains are very intuitive with the exception of a few hiccups here and there.

One thing I just adore about Ghost of Tsushima is the fact that I don’t have to get off my horse when I’m riding to pick up items. Sure, it’s a pet peeve of mine, but after having to hop on and off my horse so damn much in Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m more than happy to be able to grab supplies and plants without breaking my stride as I ride to my next destination. It’s a small thing, but it’s indicative of the attention to detail that Sucker Punch poured into this game.

They were all perfect

Overall Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous and brilliant game.
Overall Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous and brilliant game.

While Ghost of Tsushima has a few of the standard pop-ins and visual glitches that are common to most open-world games this is still one of the most beautiful and fluid titles I’ve ever played. While I did have a few moments of frustration, usually brought on by camera angle issues, they are almost completely forgivable when I look at the overall package. There’s just too much here to like and none of it feels tacked on or a time-filler. It’s wonderfully balanced and doesn’t punish you for needing to attempt something more than once. And, even with the camera working against me, I was able to become a masterful samurai. Perhaps Ghost of Tsushima isn’t a perfect cherry blossom, but it is pretty damn close as far as I’m concerned.


This review is based on a PS4 download code provided by the publisher. Ghost of Tsushima will be available for PlayStation 4 exclusively when it launches on July 17, 2020.

Reviews Editor

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, www.cartoonviolencemusic.com. If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

Review for
Ghost of Tsushima
9
Pros
  • Gorgeous landscapes
  • Bleeds cinematic flare
  • Samurai duels
  • Emotionally gripping story
  • Kurosawa mode
  • Doesn't punish you horrendously for dying
  • Solid voice acting
Cons
  • Camera angles during combat
  • A few generic open-world pop-ins
From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 14, 2020 7:00 AM

    Blake Morse posted a new article, Ghost of Tsushima review: Ghostface killer

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 7:02 AM

      Seems to be getting really good reviews. I hope Sony does some kind of backwards compatibility. I'd love to play this on a PS5.

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 7:05 AM

      Sounds great. I'll buy it

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 8:18 AM

      It's nice to see them including a full Japanese language option with subtitles.

      Most western produced games set in a different location where another spoken language is standard are often English only, same goes for movies and television shows.

      • reply
        July 14, 2020 8:32 AM

        Although I've read that the Japanese dialogue isn't synced properly to the animations, that could be distracting but it's not uncommon. Plenty of Japanese developed games which offer both Japanese & English voice acting don't usually sync up the English properly.

        Still kinda weird here considering the setting and vibe of this one, one would think the Japanese language should be the default for the lip syncing.

        • reply
          July 14, 2020 11:12 AM

          Admittedly, it's not perfectly synced, but it wouldn't be in a movie either and it's not really distracting in any way. At least for me it wasn't.

        • reply
          July 14, 2020 1:00 PM

          That's something they could patch later. Hopefully they will.

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 8:41 AM

      Kurosawa mode sounds rad.

      This is a game that is sadly like... 14 years too late. I used to live with roommates/best friends back in like 2004 and we all went through a Kurosawa phase watching his most prominent movies.

      We really badly wanted a game like this (but at the time we were playing games on an OG Xbox or GameCube).

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 11:44 AM

      Can't wait to play!

      on ps5 :(

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 3:29 PM

      PC port?

    • reply
      July 14, 2020 6:39 PM

      Massive Ghost of Tsushima review Bro, I really appreciate the time put in and the quality of the write up it was really good! So glad there are upgrades in the game in terms of stats and play style paths and not just loot upgrades. Man the open world and expanse sounds amazing!

      I have the game pre-ordered and can't freaking wait!!!!!!!!! \m/ :) \m/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck this Friday is going to be insane!!!!! :)

      • reply
        July 15, 2020 4:23 PM

        Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the review! I'm sure you'll dig the game just as much!

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