Sony has been killing it this generation with their exclusive titles for the PS4, so much so that it brought me back into gaming as a whole after a hiatus that lasted a couple years. Between “Horizon: Zero Dawn”, “God of War”, “Marvel’s Spider-Man”, “The Last of Us: Remastered”, and “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” to name a few, my interest in gaming has been restored thanks to Sony and their PS4 library. And while Sucker Punch’s newest IP “Ghost of Tsushima” may not be in the same camp as the titles I listed above, it’s a highly polished open-world samurai adventure with a dynamic, intense combat system and a strong emphasis on natural exploration rather than going from one destination to another for the sake of faster progression.
The game centers on its main playable protagonist Jin Sakai, a samurai who is also the nephew of Lord Shimura. Shimura is the leader of the Japanese island of Tsushima in the late 13th century. Sakai is tasked with defending the island from the ruthless Mongolian invaders, even if it means going against his samurai traditions by adopting stealthy ninja tactics to stay one step ahead of the enemy. As you navigate the island of Tsushima, you fulfill many side quests and activities for the folks that inhabit the island. You also, of course, reduce the presence of Mongol enemies and outposts through either samurai methods (where you approach the enemy head on) or as the alter ego Ghost (whose effective ninja stealth goes against the traditions that Shimura instilled in him).
The good news is that no matter what method you choose, you will still be rewarded for either actions in the form of being able to regenerate your health faster or acquire more valuable loot towards improving your combat and skills. On normal difficulty, you’ll definitely need to master dodging and knowing when to block or deflect your enemy’s attacks, as doing so down the line will result in more effective defense attacks. You can’t just keep hacking and slashing. You’ll need to improvise on the fly in case you’re dealing with a bigger wave of enemies than you thought. The combat is satisfying, reminding me a little bit of “Spider-Man” in that you’ll have to figure out when to dodge or heal yourself at a moment’s notice. And when you fend a tough batch of foes off, it becomes all the more rewarding.
Right alongside “The Last of Us: Part II” which is another Sony swan song for the PS4 before the release of the PS5 later this year, “Ghost of Tsushima” masters its visual presentation and aesthetic. The colors are vibrant and striking, the granular detail on the environments (water, grass, ground, fall leaves, etc.) is amazing, and the animations are highly fluid. You can even play the game in black and white to better simulate the legendary works of Kurosawa flicks like “Seven Samurai”, “Rashomon”, “Yojimbo”, and “Ran”. I know that you can switch between English and Japanese voiceover work in this game as well. My experience is limited to the English version, and although I hear that the Japanese work is nothing to write home about, the English work here is still exceptionally well done.
Fluid sword slashing and armor sound effects can be found here as well. Nice soothing nature sounds are also present when you’re navigating the world and following foxes, deer, or yellow birds to secret places you wouldn’t think of specifically looking for. You’re given plenty of different activities to do on this island. Whether it be infiltrating Mongolian outposts or finding secret locations led by said foxes and birds, side quests (finding missing people, defending people from attacking Mongols). You can also visit populated temples with access to places to upgrade your weapons and armor and a hub to give you gifts and resources to better assist you in your journey. That being said, I have to admit that after a couple hours of being invested in the game, I took notice of a few important things during my experience.
I noticed many similarities in terms of the core gameplay mechanics between this title and other Sony first-party exclusives for the PS4, namely “Spider-Man” and “Horizon: Zero Dawn”. I already addressed the similarity between “Ghost of Tsushima” and “Spider-Man” as far as the dodging and health regenerating is concerned. Both games have an indicator on an enemy when they’re about to perform an unblockable attack. Both titles have you earning the ability to regenerate health by successfully defeating or landing hits on enemies. “Ghost of Tsushima” shares similar skill tree progression system and currency options like what we saw in “Spider-Man”, “God of War” and “Horizon: Zero Dawn”, where you collect certain currencies to unlock abilities to enhance your stealth, combat, mobility or loot drops.
As far as the similarities between this and “Horizon: Zero Dawn” are concerned, you have even more on that front as well. You can shoot enemies with a bow-and-arrow. At a certain point, you can even slow down time to better improve your aim at the targets as well. You’re navigating an open-world terrain with plenty of resources (flowers, bamboo, etc.) to collect for customizable usage and groups of enemies to defeat on the fly or sneak around. You can hike up cliffs to higher elevations within the world. You don’t have a map on the interface, unless you pull up the main menu, or a lock-on system. The wildlife can serve as further assistance in your goals in some way, shape or form. The point I’m getting across is that a few strengths of “Ghost of Tsushima” are also ironically the game’s weaknesses.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that “Ghost of Tsushima” delves into some fairly derivative territory with its core gameplay mechanics. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing so much as it’s illustrative proof that there’s not very many innovative features that this title brings to the table with its gameplay. Sure, the standoffs before each ensuing traditional samurai battle takes place is a nice little pick-me-up or break-me-down type of mini-game that can reward or punish you depending on your timely response. Yes, it’s nice that the foxes, birds and even the wind serve as guiding forces as you navigate Tsushima. But for the most part, while the mechanics are expertly polished and tuned, I’ve seen most of what “Ghost of Tsushima” has on offer here before in other titles on the PS4.
I also couldn’t help but feel some repetition with a handful of the missions I was playing. There must have been at least five missions where I was tracking footprints on the ground closed bunched in with each other. Some of them have different outcomes, others feel relatively the same. The structure to a couple missions feel monotonous to one another. On one hand, it comes with the territory in the gaming world, which is all well and fine. At the same token though, some titles can feel repetitive more quickly than others, and the mission variety in “Ghost of Tsushima” sometimes got repetitive when it arguably shouldn’t have. This game is nearly there on varied and creative mission design. It just arguably needs a little less redundancy and monotony in certain areas.
“Ghost of Tsushima” will make you feel like a samurai and a ninja while playing it. You’ll also appropriately need ninja-like reflexes at certain points, which you kind of need in a samurai open-world adventure to better test Sakai’s expertise. And in spite of a falsely spelled out sense of urgency to Sakai’s plight, you can ironically go at your own pace with what objectives and side quests to tackle in your experience with “Ghost of Tsushima”. While it doesn’t reach the same caliber of quality as celebrated PS4 exclusives “God of War” and “Horizon: Zero Dawn” did, “Ghost of Tsushima” is at least a more than worthy send-off for the PS4 and the hot streak it went on during the eighth generation of gaming. Here’s hoping the exclusives for PS5 continue to follow suit.