Set in feudal Japan (during the Kamakura period) in the late 13th century, the Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world, third-person, action-adventure samurai game, released exclusive to PlayStation 4 (PS4) on 17th July, 2020. Having claimed the top spot in the UK sales chart for three weeks straight, and staying within the top 10 till the current day, we thought we couldn’t let it slip without doing our very own Ghost of Tsushima review, taking a deep dive into the gameplay and background of feudal Japan which so define the Ghost of Tsushima.
Ghost of Tsushima Gameplay
The game follows the story of Jin Sakai, whose uncle Lord Shimura is the jitou (land steward appointed by the shogunate) of Tsushima Island. When the Mongols under the antagonist, Khotun Khan, invade Tsushima Island in 1274, Lord Shimura is captured, and the island is taken over by the Mongols.
Jin goes on a quest to regain Castle Taneda and free his uncle. As he fights challenging obstacles and new enemies along the way, he struggles between adhering to the samurai code of honour and using less “honourable” tactics to defeat his enemies. He gains the persona of the “Ghost of Tsushima”, where he must learn to become a new kind of warrior in order to save his country.
As a single-player game, players are left to explore Tsushima Island on their own, interacting with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) to advance the quest. Oftentimes, though, it becomes very easy to forget what you are doing, and just stand and marvel at the absolute beauty of the game. The visuals have been designed to be absolutely stunning, and the game is filled with intricate details that exemplify the amount of thought into the game.
One such example is that as Jin traverses across various landscapes, elements of the scenery are picked up by the wind to fill the screen: golden yellow leaves in a Ginkgo biome, striking red leaves in a maple forest, pollen in long grass, swarms of fireflies at night… Even falling rain flies off in a way that can only be described as mesmerizing as it follows the direction of the wind, or gathers into a trickle down the edges of roof tiles.
The creative director of the game, Jason Connell of Sucker Punch Productions, takes you through a gameplay demo himself here:
The Intricate Details in the Game
In many Ghost of Tsushima reviews, the game has been widely acclaimed for its visuals and combat. The game director, Nate Fox, has described it as a “love letter to the samurai genre”. True to his word, there are some details that we just love about the Ghost of Tsushima which paint a true picture of Japanese culture. Some of our favourites are:
- Jin is given the ability to bow. This allows him to honour the dead or bow back to NPCs, which gives an element of realism to Jin’s upbringing in a strict, disciplined samurai environment.
- If Jin’s sword becomes covered with blood, he automatically wipes the blade before sheathing the sword. This is known as chiburui (血振るい), an act often practised in the Japanese martial art of iaido as well.
- This is perhaps a bit gory, but the blood splatters in a direction accurate to the swing of the sword. It just shows how much thought has been put into creating and perfecting the samurai way where each strike matters.
Finally, and perhaps best of all: as a homage to the most celebrated Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, the game can be played in “Kurosawa mode”, where the game is played in black and white grainy visuals, with a Japanese voice track with subtitles (the Japanese dialogue can also be interchanged with English throughout the game). Nate Fox has said in an interview that Yojimbo was one of the main inspirations for the game.
As an archipelago located halfway between Honshu and the Korean Peninsula, Tsushima Island may be unfamiliar to a lot of people, so we thought we’d look into this special place in this game review. In fact, it is considered part of Nagasaki Prefecture, and has played an important role in certain periods of history. While the Ghost of Tsushima is only loosely based on history, the Mongol invasion of Tsushima was indeed a defining moment in Japanese history as its ultimate failure led to the Mongols being unable to expand their territory further.
During the late Sengoku period, Tsushima served as the main naval base during the Japanese invasions of Korea, under the command of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In Japanese mythology, Tsushima was created by Shinto deities. This is demonstrated by the strong Shinto links in the game, where foxes (messengers of the Inari kami) lead Jin to Shinto shrines on his quests to recover Tsushima. Currently, Tsushima’s economy thrives on fishing and tourism, and is accessible from Fukuoaka and Nagasaki Airport, or by ferry from Fukuoka.
Our Final Thoughts
We have found the Ghost of Tsushima extremely fun to play — the five years dedicated to the extensive research and development of the game are evident in the details, and a short Ghost of Tsushima review simply cannot do it justice. While there is a Collector’s Edition available for die-hard fans, a standard edition will set you back around £50 and require only 45 GB of space. An online multiplayer mode, Legends, is also set to come out in the autumn of 2020. For such a high quality of gameplay and visuals, we think the Ghost of Tsushima is definitely a steal.
We’ve included the Legends trailer here: