Ghost of Tsushima, developed by Sucker Punch and published by Sony, is the last big game of PS4. It is a pretty magnificent one in terms of technical achievement as it may be the most beautiful video game I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen some beautiful video games but aside from The Last of Us and the Witcher 3, I don’t recall ever seeing something as lovely as this game. It re-creates the Medieval Japan of fantasy where everything is blowing cherry blossoms, haunting pipes, and stoic samurai caught in impossible contradictions of honor. Is it great? Ehhh. Not really.
This is a solid game and I have a lot of praise for it but my feelings about it are decidedly mixed after forty hours of playing it. It’s a stealth open world action RPG and I’ve played a lot of those over the years. Ironically enough, I’d say that this is really the best Assassins Creed game since Assasins Creed: Black Flag and pretty much what a lot of fans wanted from the series. I recall a game set in Medieval Japan was one of the constant requests for Ubisoft before they decided to stop making stealth games about their Medieval ninjas and started making Witcher 3 knock-offs.
It’s not an Assassins Creed game, though it pretty much is without the Animus or Templars vs. Assassins conflict. It plays almost identically to one, though, and you are set in a historical fantasy where you are the plucky underdog forced to go around slaying leaders of an all-powerful occupying force using guerilla tactics. You also use things like smoke bombs, throwing knives, distractions, and poison to eliminate your foes. This isn’t a complaint but I feel a bit like I did when I played my first Arkham Asylum or Dark Souls knock-off.
The protagonist is Jin Sakai, who is a samurai serving his uncle on the island of Tsushima. Lord Shimura has the misfortune of being the Lord of Tsushima during the Mongol Invasion of 1274. Unlike the historical lord of Tsushima, who took advantage of terrain and archery to repel the Mongols, Lord Shimura is an idiot and charges directly into the greatest cavalrymen in history. The defenders of Tsushima are annihilated, Shimura is captured, and Jin is left the only remaining samurai on the island. Rather than call in reinforcements from the mainland, Jin gets it into his head to Batman his way against the Mongol Khan with the help of beautiful thief Yuna.
Every game needs a central premise and Jin’s problem is that his uncle raised him to be an idiot. Specifically, Lord Shimura is a kind of Ned Stark-esque stickler for honor and that apparently means loudly announcing yourself to your enemies before facing them head on. Jin gets increasingly depressed as well as ruthless due to the nature of the conflict he’s in. Jin must learn the principles of asymmetrical warfare from thieves as well as other dishonorable cowards so that he can drive the Mongols out of his home. It tortures him the entire way through the game, though.
I both love and hate Ghost of Tsushima due to the fact that I got my degree in Asian History, specifically Japanese. As mentioned, I don’t think much of Lord Shimura or his tactics given that the actual samurai knew that honorable tactics were only for OTHER SAMURAI. No one would have gainsayed using them against the Mongols and the fact that Shimura does means that the Shogun should ask him to commit seppuku. This is also a thoroughly anachronistic game that treats samurai as the way they were during the Tokugawa Shogunate rather than the Minamoto Shogunate. Which for laymen is, “They treat samurai like when they were bureaucrats and poets versus when they were hardcore killers.”
Still, Ghost of Tsushima is a lot of fun and not at all bad. The central story of Jin slowly accepting that being a ninja isn’t all that bad doesn’t compel me much but I love all the side characters. The Japan in this game is beautiful and the Mongols are suitably hateable villains. Still, I wouldn’t categorize this as a must buy.