Have you ever wanted to play a samurai movie? Did you ever watch a Kurosawa movie and ask yourself “Why can’t I play it?” Well, congratulations! I’ve got the game for you!
I’ve been meaning to get around to this game for a while. But… well, then 2020 happened. So, much to my dismay, this game was lost among the cavalcade of bullshit that became our collective lives. It was a hype train that I very much missed out on.
But now I’m gonna make up for that! So, how is Ghost of Tsushima? Is it a new legend in the collection of PS4 exclusives? Or would we be better off without it?
Well… it’s complicated.
Story: A Samurai’s Fall From Honor
This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best part of the game. Seriously, the writing on display here is top notch stuff! In terms of narrative, this may be my favorite game of the year!
The game opens with the Mongol invasion of Tsushima, a small island of Japan. Our protagonist, Jin Sakai, narrowly manages to survive, while all the other samurai are slaughtered and his uncle, Lord Shimura, is taken captive. Now, Jin, with the help of a few new shady friends, must push back the Mongol hordes, rescue Lord Shimura, and save not only Tsushima, but all of Japan. In the end, will Jin still be able to call himself samurai?
Jin is easily the best part of this game. His arc is absolutely incredible! Watching an honor-bound samurai transform into a merciless, relentless killer, losing who he was to protect his people, is incredibly engaging! Over the course of the game, you can see the war slowly change him, bit by bit, transforming him into an entirely different person.
Most of the supporting cast of this story are just as great! Yuna, Taka, Ishikawa, Masako, and Shimura are all fantastic additions, pushing Jin’s arc while having their own interesting stories to share along with his! Kotal Kahn is a fantastic villain, a cunning, ruthless, and manipulative maniac that pushes and transforms Jin in incredibly interesting ways!
Not all of the stories are fantastic, though. Some of the side stories are pretty boring or just flat out stupid. Norio’s questline was my least favorite. He never felt like a consistent character to me. In one mission, he’s be talking about how items had no value, and the very next, he’d be all like ‘no, we have to protect all these precious items!’ Like, didn’t you just learn not to put those over people’s lives? What the fuck?
Still, you can skip those side missions if you want, so it isn’t much of a problem. The main story itself is fantastic, ending off on one of the most emotionally engaging and enjoyable final bosses I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing!
This truly is a playable samurai movie! But is it a fun playable samurai movie?
Presentation: oh look, another photorealistic game, holy shit, who could’ve seen that one coming?
Okay. I know I’m hard on games that try to look like movies. Am I just in that? I think so. But I’ll do my absolute best to be fair in regards to this game. Because it is a very good one of those.
This game’s environments do a ton to help it stand out. Not only are they extremely colorful (unless you’re playing on Kurosawa mode, in which case you kind of lose that), but each one is filled to the brim with foliage that flaps in the wind. Whether it be a dense forest or a vast field of flowers, all of the environments in this game look great! Combine that with the excellent cinematography we see in the cutscenes, and you’ve got a game that really does look like a really good samurai movie!
But there is a bit of a problem with that. See, the environments tend to blend together. Granted, each of the three sections of the map have distinct appearances; the first is mostly forest, the second is very swampy, and the third is mostly snow and mountains. But if you wanted me to point at a specific point of those maps and ask me to tell you something about it, I’d fail you. You can only see so many autumn forests or snowy mountains before they start to blend together.
The character models are all pretty solid. Sure, they, like all realistic game characters, are walking a fine line above the uncanny valley. In motion, they look fine. The only thing that really stands out is the sweat effects, which pop much more than other games of this style.
As for the music… meh? It certainly has that samurai movie flare, which is cool. But it isn’t all that memorable. It feels like generic movie music. Sure, you’ll enjoy it while you’re playing. But the moment you turn the game off, you’ll forget it had music in the first place.
Gameplay: The Hottest PS1 Game Ever
Alright, before you get mad or confused or mad that you are confused, let me explain.
The gameplay of Ghost of Tsushima can be divided cleanly in half. One half is exploration, the other half combat. Pretty typical for an open-world game.
Although, I hesitate to call traversal in this game ‘exploration’. Rather, it’s following a series of objective markers until you’ve revealed enough of the map to find them all. The game does very little to encourage you to go off the beaten path and find something for yourself. It’s more like ‘check off all the boxes in each area, then you’re done’. Is that bad? Not necessarily. But it does get old a hell of a lot quicker than exploring.
Especially since the objectives themselves are rather repetitive. They’re either:
- Go to a place and kill some enemies
- Follow a fox
- Do some climbing
- Cut some bamboo
- Sit in the hot springs and think
- Compose a haiku
Over. And over. And over again. And no, there isn’t anything to differentiate the first time from the last. Once you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a thousand times. And you will do it a thousand times.
Which leaves the combat. This is pretty typical action game combat. You’re armed with a sword, a bow, and several other tools that you unlock as you play. With them, you can either sneak around and pick the enemies off one by one or just go in there with your massive cock and slaughter them all the old fashioned, more honorable way.
Now, why do I call it a PS1 game? Well, simple! It lacks a certain important feature to action games that have been around ever since the PS-goddamn-2. That is: a lock-on button. That’s right! It’s an action game in 2020 without a lock-on button!
And it’s just as much fun as it sounds. Which is to say that it isn’t.
In order to actually hit your desired opponent, you need to tilt your control stick their way. Mild problem with that: it isn’t the most responsive thing in the world. I cannot count the number of times that my sword cut the air next to the dude I was going for rather than the dude when I was quickly swapping from enemy to enemy. This frequently resulted in me getting slashed and, in certain boss fights, immediately murdered.
Seriously, is it that much to ask for? We’ve had this shit in games ever since motherfucking Devil May Cry 1! Probably well before that! Were you afraid of being called a Dark Souls rip off Because guess what?! Dark Souls has a lock-on feature for a reason!
Is the combat broken? No, it still works well enough. But it felt incredibly dated and difficult to work with. Like I was constantly wrestling with the controls just to make it work the way I wanted.
This applies to basically every aspect of the game. The climbing (I am so sick of Uncharted/Assassin’s Creed style climbing and I desperately wish games would stop doing it) is unresponsive, often leaving me hanging there waiting for it to work or attempting the same jump multiple times until the game decides to give it to me. Jin can’t walk onto a rope or climb a ladder without pressing the jump button, which would send him flying in the opposite direction. The only thing I can think of that I never felt as though I were fighting was the bow aiming, which felt perfectly responsive and fine.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what the actual missions in this game are like. Well, they aren’t thrilling. In fact, if it weren’t for the excellent narrative being woven by them, I’d have put the game down pretty early on. They boil down to:
- Talk to dude
- Press forward on the stick to follow dude while they talk at you for a long time
- Fight some enemies
- Repeat until mission ends
This happens. Literally. Every. Single. Mission. All of them. And no. There isn’t a skip button.
In terms of gameplay, I am unimpressed. It’s not a bad game by any means. But it feels like it came out twenty years too late. Like someone tried to take the gameplay mechanics of a PS1 game, mash them together with a PS3 game, and put it on the PS4. It’s like a strange chimera that can very quickly turn from fun to a chore.
Ghost of Tsushima is a game with an incredible story. If this were a movie or a TV series, I would be singing its praises from atop my apartment building! In terms of narrative, this game is one of the best on the PS4!
Unfortunately, it’s not a movie. It’s not a TV show. It’s a video game. And honestly? It isn’t an especially fun game.
It feels like a seesaw. It swings up and down, from one side to the next. Sometimes it’s fun, other times it’s not. When it works, it’s an incredibly satisfying game that turns you into a samurai badass. When it doesn’t, you’ll realize that you’ve gotten into a fight with your controller and lost.
If you want a game with a decent story, I can think of few better than Ghost of Tsushima. However, if you want to play open-world action game, I’d advise you look elsewhere. The fun factor of this game is quickly exhausted and inconsistent. If it didn’t feel so dated and clunky, maybe I’d love it more. What a shame.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and finish another very dated action game to review. Although that game is a bit more… immature than this one.