Thus far, 2020 has been one hell of a year. There’s a certain feeling of finality to it, if you ask me. It feels like everything is coming to an end. We have social media collapsing as it shows its true colors of being pro-rich and anti-public. We have the Trump administration falling apart. At this juncture, it’s going to take Trump absolutely demolishing Biden for him to even have a chance in November. His cult can’t salvage him from the trash fire that is how he handled COVID-19. Speaking of, that’s another thing. It feels like the end of the world as we knew it, thanks in large part to this plague.
For gaming, this has been an interesting year. For me, it started off great, with an expanded version of my favorite game of 2017. Then a game I was hoping would be great turned out to be a narrative disaster, shitting on characters I loved from one of my favorite games. Now we get to a summer release that really is outshining its contemporaries right now. After the bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths that was The Last of Us: Part II, in comes a game that is a love letter to samurai films from back in the day, and in my opinion does it so much justice. I love this game so much, and now we’re going to talk about it.
The story of Ghost of Tsushima goes that the Mongol horde invades the Japanese island of Tsushima. Jin Sakai is one of 88 samurai who ride out to meet them, in a battle that is a massacre. Jin survives, thanks to the help of a thief named Yuna. When he tries to maintain his Samurai honor, going to face the Khan again, he is brutally defeated, thrown off a bridge, and left for dead. Realizing that the way of the samurai isn’t going to give him victory in this conflict, Jin decides to take another route. He becomes the infamous Ghost, a warrior of shadows, a knife in the dark. With this new way of battling, he begins his mission to get revenge on the Mongols, and save his people from them. Along the way, he learns that to become the hero he needs to be, he may end up becoming an even more dangerous monster.
The first thing to talk about with this game is the visuals. This game is gorgeous! I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful the visuals are. Sucker Punch really went all out on the visuals, and it pays off dividends. I can’t think of a single area of this game that isn’t gorgeous. The thing that really strikes me is the usage of color, and the way they are able to make it pop. The first time I went to the Golden Temple, I was in awe of the dappled yellow from the trees there. Or the foggy moonlight in the swamps. Even the bitter cold northern regions are still beautiful, in their way. Each section of this game has its own unique look, and the way they bring that to life is fantastic. You even have haiku minigames that you participate in that seem to be done just to make the world come to life, with the soothing score of this game in the background.
Another thing I wanna mention is the narrative. One of the things I like about this game is how mature it feels. There are some serious subjects at play. One of the biggest is the contrast between the man that Jin was raised to be, and the man he is becoming as the Ghost, along with what that is doing to him as a person. You also have some dark and gripping story-lines that you partake in. Then there was one that I won’t spoil, but it involved a caretaker of his, and how that concluded actually had me crying. Not joking, I teared up. The way they ended that, with no resolution, it felt so heartfelt. There is a certain amount of restraint with the characters and the narrative. One that feels fitting for the tone. Samurai in this game are about restraint and keeping one’s emotions in check. So Jin exercises that, wherever possible. It makes the scenes where his composure breaks that much more intense, because you get used to how reserved he is.
The thing that makes this game, though, is the combat. A lot of the reviews I am seeing point out that there are two major ways to play. The first is as a Samurai, which involves good sword-play, parrying, dodging, and as you level up, you gain new Stances. Each one helps you fight a different kind of enemy. Each of these stances can be changed in real time, so you don’t have to interrupt the flow of battle when you are taking on a lot of enemies, or participating in a big set-piece battle. You can also play as the Ghost, which involves stealth and using the tools of your ninja trade. One thing people have commented on is that the AI in this game is dumb as dirt, so cheesing enemies with stealth isn’t exactly hard, and I would be lying if I didn’t agree. Still, that being said, I love it. Stealth is my major way to play, and it never stops being fun.
However, one thing I don’t see is that the game gives you the freedom to mix and match skills to craft a battle style you want. You can have a little bit of everything, and it feels good. To be in the middle of a big set-piece battle, throwing kunai and using black powder bombs. Just like the stances, these weapons can be changed in real time, so you have access to all the tools you unlock. That really lets me craft the Ghost that I want to be.
I want to take a little moment to comment on some of the controversy that seems to be surrounding this game. Seems that the western games media has decided to white knight for a community of which they are not a part, and lament that a game about samurai was made by western developers. At first, the coverage was how offensive it is to Japanese people. However, this game is selling so hot in Japan that they have run out of copies for sale there. All their press are in love with it. Then the commentary turned to how this game supports “Japanese imperialism,” which sounds a touch bit racist. Not to mention how Asian Americans are offended by this. Do these people not know that the world is not America? Not to mention, not all Asian Americans have Japanese heritage, and I have seen that the various Asian groups here tend to take their heritage seriously and don’t like to be lumped in with others. Overall, this controversy is stupid. This game is a love letter to a style of film, and it is absolutely clear that there was nothing but respect for the culture they were looking at and a desire to make the best game they could. I commend Sucker Punch for how hard they worked to make this game.
There is a part of me that thinks that some of the controversy with this game is due to salt about how The Last of Us: Part II was received. I keep seeing that game mentioned in articles condemning Ghost of Tsushima, to the point that it is now very noticeable. A game that is pro-progressive in all the ways big games media likes is divisive in all the wrong ways by the fans of the original, while a game that doesn’t play politics and just strives to show affection for a culture and a style of filmmaking that it emulates perfectly is a smash hit in all ways. I can see why some outlets would be salty.
Overall, while this game isn’t perfect, and the early sections of the game before you gain new skills and level up can be tedious, the narrative is gripping, the characters are interesting, the setting is glorious, the combat is slick, and I cannot recommend this game enough. If you love samurai films of yore the way that I do, then you owe it to yourself to pick up this game.
8 out of 10