"There is a lot of pain in Ghost of Tsushima, but there is just as much healing."
Massively interactive open world
Well done fight
Unique tasks and side tasks
Cumbersome movement mechanics
Spirit of Tsushima combines effortlessly solid swordplay with a captivating story.
This new open-world role-playing game, exclusive to PlayStation 4, takes samurai Jin Sakai on a daunting search as he recaptures his home island of Tsushima from the Mongols. Its story is interesting, and it would be easy for developer Sucker Punch to use the ghost style as an excuse to call the mechanics. Instead, the game features one of the best sword fighting systems in recent times.
Ghost isn't perfect, but my grips are pale compared to the joy I had while playing. It, along with The last of us part II, enables the PlayStation 4 to go out with a bang. Both games illustrate the best titles of the late generation, albeit in very different ways.
Photo courtesy of Sony
A world full of wonders
Tsushima Island is a wonder of the open world.
The world feels really open because you can enter every building, climb roofs and explore without tiredness.
The world shows different landscapes, from gentle fields to snow-capped mountains. The varied surroundings are very reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but ghost goes a little further. The world feels really open as you can enter every building, climb the roofs and explore without tiredness. Every mountain is scalable and often worth climbing. The game features supplies and collectibles across the landscape, as well as small groups of enemies that you can take out to improve your standing.
Spirit of Tsushima includes small tasks to improve individual stats that felt well integrated into the game. For example, you can compose haikus or meditate on certain topics.
All of this made exploration, which some open world games make compulsory, an important pillar of the game. You can fully experience the game without feeling rushed to continue with the main story.
Photo courtesy of Sony
A truly cinematic game
While crossing the world is magical, the game sometimes lacks environmental details. I was surprised to be able to walk straight through full-grown bamboo, which gave the “spirit” of Tsushima a new meaning. I understand that this will make traveling less cumbersome, but additional details, like bending the leaves away, would have felt more haunting.
Still, Ghost from Tsushima Otherwise takes the idea of a “film game” to a new level and is inspired by the film author Akira Kurosawa. You have the option of increasing the contrast or activating Kurosawa mode, which is supposed to emulate the look of black and white samurai classics.
This visual setting is special because the image is not only converted to grayscale. The contrast is further increased. Projectiles and leaves floating in the wind multiply. The sound mimics that of an action film. It is clear that a lot of care has been put into this attitude.
Unfortunately, it's not the most useful look for combat and a lot of fun, and I doubt that you want to play the entire game with Kurosawa mode enabled (although this is possible). Fortunately, you can switch back and forth at will as the mode can be turned on or off via a simple menu and no game restart is required.
All of these functions, combined with an already impressive world, can easily be captured in photo mode. This feature is now common in console games with premium graphics, however Spirit of Tsushima offers more options than I've seen before.
In addition, Ghost offers serious (but not class-leading) input help. The last of us part II had many options to make the game playable for players with different skills. However, it is nice to see this kind of consideration again Spirit of Tsushima Options aren't that wideng. These controls make it easier to press keys in sequence or type once instead of holding down a key. For example, they also make it easier to recognize projectiles. However, The Last of Us Part II has specific controls for various actions and more customizable visual cues.
Photo courtesy of Sony
I couldn't spend all my time traveling or taking photos, and the gameplay and the fight didn't disappoint.
Parrying parades, figuring out how to defeat an opponent in a duel, and pulling combos all feel immensely rewarding. Most of the fight, especially at the beginning, takes place from sword to sword. If you set a block correctly, you can ward off an attack. As you progress through the game and defeat Mongolian leaders, you will unlock new positions that will help you fight different types of enemies. However, you will see all kinds of enemies from the start, so the start of the game is a bit more challenging than you might expect.
There are two main indicators you can track: your health indicator and your determination. You get determination through parades and by defeating enemies, and special attacks and weapons are unlocked. Parrying is important and you will likely rely on it more than in other games. However, you can also roll or run away from an enemy or come closer to take the final blow.
Photo courtesy of Sony
It is possible to adapt your equipment and accessories to your preferred fighting style, be it melee, ranged or stealth. I've spent a lot of time looking at upgrade charts to see what my weapons or armor do, or what new skills I can learn. I have carefully planned my upgrade order according to my wishes (close combat until the end).
You can unlock spells by honoring shrines in the game. Hot springs increase your maximum health, and a series of quick keystrokes on a bamboo stand increases your determination. You'll unlock new weapons and armor by completing stories that include the main story and side quests. To upgrade your equipment, you need to stock up on the resources available worldwide.
Differences in armor and equipment are clearly visible, and you can easily switch weapons in combat. I was able to combine my experiences and often found myself changing charms or outfits depending on the task at hand.
Combat sequences are mostly a highlight, but there's nothing more frustrating than dodging an enemy blow just to roll into nowhere because you're on a slightly elevated platform. Many games are more forgiving and allow you to change heights, but there is no such luck here.
I found the game pretty easy. How easy it is depends on the player, of course, but I personally spent 75% of the game on the tough attitude. The game has only three options: easy, medium and hard. I started on Medium to hold out as much as possible, but I quickly became unchallenged. There is also no new Game + mode to unlock, although this could come later, much like Fallout 4's survival.
Open world, closed book
The story is less open than the world it is in, but I would argue that this is a good thing. In many open world games, players can take the liberty of how they want to go about it, but cannot back up their free-form efforts with reasonable consequences. Spirit of Tsushima gives players smaller choices so that their relatively low impact feels appropriate.
Still, I tried to maximize my selection. When I found out that it was against the samurai code to kill an enemy instead of giving them an opportunity to fight back, I tried to avoid stealth. However, the game still punished me for breaking code. I took every opportunity to do what I thought was good or right, and I felt that I should be rewarded for it.
But Spirit of Tsushima had a different story to tell. I was initially frustrated, but when I realized I was out of control, I relaxed. I played based on what was working right now, not what I thought the game wanted me to do.
This linearity is also not a mistake. I thought it made history more effective. Spirit of Tsushima is focused. It tells a story and tells it well.
However, there are many side quests, many of which are character-based. I often find side quests boring. Games like Fallout 4 and Death stranding, With its infinite amount of tasks, I was particularly exhausted from straying too long from the main story.
However, Spirit of Tsushima has finite side quests and each is its own self-contained story. The missions feel more unique than repetitive and have shaped the world around me. Non-player characters didn't feel like peasants on the hero's journey, no matter how heavily represented in the main story. It was easy to invest in their stories.
The biggest disappointment in Spirit of Tsushima is his facial animation. In a game that relies so much on emotional scenes and a character-based storyline, they should have been polished. Instead, the facial animation work is only functional.
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A philosophy lesson disguised as a game
During these stories Spirit of Tsushima asks the player a question. "What is the right way to win a war?" It's not about using your katana or bow. How do you kill and get the honor?
Jin grew up and learned the samurai's ways of killing with honor by looking your enemy's eyes instead of literally and figuratively stabbing him in the back. But the old methods don't work, and Jin begins to wonder whether it is more honorable to maintain traditions or to abandon them when fewer people die.
There is a crucial moment when Jin asks one of his allies if he has crossed a line. The answer is ambiguous but hopeful: "If so, we are on the right side."
Spirit of Tsushima does little to glorify the war. Memories of death and loss appear in every corner, and corpses shape the country. Nobody comes out unscathed. The invasion brings out the best in some, the worst in others.
It makes sense that you are forced to observe yourself when you draw haikus and meditate in hot springs. You cannot decide how Jin's story develops, but you can decide how you view loss, destruction, and rebirth. You can also determine how the haikus end at least.
Jin asks one of his allies if he has crossed a line. "If so, we are on the right side," replies his ally.
The problems you encounter are not always solved in a single side quest, and sometimes they are not solved at all. It’s very painful Spirit of Tsushima, but there is just as much healing. For example, after an area is liberated, people return to rebuild it. It feels great to see people returning to everyday life after so many tragedies.
I saw characters who felt in their hearts that they could be good but didn't yet know how. I saw others overwhelmed with vengeance, but pulled away from the edge. Ultimately, I saw the Tsushima congregation coming together. Simple peasants took up arms or used their unique skills to help in every possible way.
These things point to the double nature of the game. On the one hand, it is extremely violent. On the other hand, it is mediative and thoughtful. This combination is not easy to implement and therefore makes Ghost of Tsushima worth playing.
Ghost of Tsushima is one of the beingsThe first games I played this year – it might have been my favorite if not The Last Of Us Part II. The story of Jin Sakai is violent but thoughtful and offers an experience that feels unique on the PlayStation 4, although 2020 is the last year of the console before the PlayStation 5 overtakes it.
Is there a better alternative?
There's nothing like Ghost of Tsushima. There are a few new elements, but the game is more than the sum of its parts. If you're looking for other open world games, the Fallout series or Breath of the Wild are good bets. But you can only get this story here.
How long it will take?
I finished Ghost of Tsushima in just under 60 hours. During this time I finished the entire main story, every side quest and got most of the collectibles. I'm assuming it will take about 10 hours to find the rest of the game's collectibles.
Should you buy it
Yes. There are several big new titles to round off this generation, like Cyberpunk 2077, but this is one that PlayStation fans will surely keep in their back pockets as proof of Sony's dominance.