Ghost of Tsushima is finally among us and arrives on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro (the console on which we tried it) at the end of the life cycle of the current generation platforms, representing in a certain sense the closing title. We know that PS4 still has long support ahead, but it is with The Last of Us Part II (which we have already reviewed) and with Ghost of Tsushima that the season of exclusives that has accompanied us for these long 7 years ends .
In addition, GoT also represents the great return of Sucker Punch to the videogame scene, after a silence that lasted 6 years; it is in fact since the days of Infamous: Second Son and First Light (both of 2014) that the team no longer offered anything and it is curious to note how his only works came at the beginning and end of this generation respectively. Will the wait be worth it? Let's find out in our review.
During this generation there was no lack of titles set in ancient Japan, but Ghost of Tsushima stands out from all its predecessors for the choice of going to place itself in a very particular historical period and in a realistic context, albeit all the characters chosen are imaginary.
The year is 1274 and we are at the beginning of the first of the two failed attempts to invade Japan by the Mongols. The place is Tsushima, a small island in the region of Kyushu which is located exactly halfway between the country of the Rising Sun and South Korea, therefore one of the fastest access points to reach Japan from the mainland. This strategic position makes it the ideal point for the first landing of the Mongols on one of the beaches of the island, more precisely on that of Komoda, where our story begins.
Here we find ourselves in the role of Jin Sakai, the last heir of the Sakai clan and grandson of Lord Shimura (the name is not revealed to us), the jito of Tsushima (we could call him the lord of the island). Jin is therefore a samurai who belongs to the high aristocracy and together with his uncle takes part in the first attempt to resist the Mongolian advance, which will end dramatically with the extermination of almost all the Japanese army that took part in it .
Jin himself will be seriously injured during the battle, but the intervention of the mysterious thief Yuna will save him from certain death. His new condition of survivor and meeting Yuna and her unorthodox fighting techniques will forever change the way Jin approaches the confrontation with the invaders; the code and the honor of the warrior have not allowed to fight effectively the enemy who threatens the future of the island, therefore tradition must be put aside to embark on a new path. In his path of growth, Jin will have to reckon and question everything he has always believed in, coming to act silently, treacherously and without honor: he will have to become the vindictive ghost of Tsushima, the Ghost of Tsushima.
This is the premise at the base of the plot, during which we will experience firsthand the changing of the fate of the island through the many main and secondary missions that will be proposed to us. The game offers us the possibility to carry out one mission at a time and to change it at any time – without losing progress – through the voice diary present in the menu.
The main campaign allows us to embark on Jin's revenge course against Khotun Khan, the extremely dangerous and ruthless head of the Mongolian delegation who initiated the invasion, and liberated the island. The many secondary missions, however, allow us to deepen the stories and the lives of the supporting actors that Jin will meet on his way, giving us moments of pause from the main campaign and excellent rewards that often and willingly will expand our equipment and available techniques.
There is in fact a whole category of missions dedicated to the mythology of Tsushima that will make us retrace the traces of historical characters (fictitious) in search of their combat schools or their best armor. These are optional missions that often require a longer completion time than traditional ones, but whose reward is always very valid.
The player has no constraints in choosing how and when to face a specific assignment and the structure of the island of Tsushima favors the exploration and search for new areas, giving us a sense of adventure and freedom that few other titles are able to offer. The game in fact wants to avoid giving us a linear path to follow and this can be understood from two elements. The first concerns the absence of a mini map that can simplify orientation. The only help we are given is wind guidance.
The wind always blows in the direction of our goal, but this must be selected manually by consulting the map in the main menu. In fact, the second element I was talking about is precisely this: at the end of a mission – even the main one – we will not automatically be assigned another objective: the game wants us to understand that the time has come to freely explore and take a break from a series of clashes.
Once we have selected our next destination, we just need to swipe upwards on the touch surface of the Dual Shock 4, in order to draw the wind to be able to gallop towards a new adventure. The horse, in fact, is Jin's main companion to move quickly from one point to another in Tsushima and he can also be called up at any time by pressing the left arrow.
The secondary missions at our disposal do not shine in variety and are reduced more or less all to a handful of patterns that are repeated and slightly modified (intercepts the bandits who block the road, free the besieged city, turn on the lighthouse, and so on) . These are often variations of what we carry out even during the tasks assigned by the main plot, even if in this case we find further elements that enrich the development, such as the initial planning phase before each confrontation.
Overall, the content offer is still very good and able to engage the player for a long time even after concluding the main plot, divided into 3 acts and which can be completed in just over twenty hours. The overall duration increases considerably if we carry out the many secondary tasks and if we want to discover all the secret places of Tsushima, such as the thermal springs – necessary to also increase the maximum life, as well as being places where to attend cut scenes on Jin's past – , the sanctuaries of the foxes (useful for obtaining new spaces in which to equip amulets that modify the statistics) and the many collectibles scattered around the island.
Jin's evolution does not occur only in his spirit, but also in the way he faces the Mongols, therefore in the gameplay that is proposed to us. Having set aside his intentions to rely solely on fair and honorable fighting, where the enemy must always be faced with open face and without any deception, Jin develops a series of techniques and tools that will favor his evolution from samurai to assassin.
This step is never forced and the player always has (almost always, in some missions it is necessary not to be discovered, under penalty of failure) the possibility to choose how to approach the Mongolian camps or the caravans that he will meet along his way. The choice we have is to act surreptitiously, hiding in the tall grass, using the listening mode to identify the targets and using tools capable of diverting the enemy's attention or even carrying out silent assassinations behind us, or, otherwise, of openly call the enemy to a direct confrontation.
Unfortunately, unlike his other productions, Sucker Punch did not have a system of Karma that may affect the learning of skills based on our approach, so the choice ultimately simply falls on the most convenient one at any given time. For example, if the enemies have hostages, they will be killed in a short time as soon as our presence is revealed, so a stealth approach is safer and more effective. Otherwise, if the field is made up of categories of enemies against which we are particularly favored, an arrogant and arrogant entrance on the scene could guarantee us a much faster victory.
Speak about "categories of enemies against which we are particularly favored"allows me to introduce one of the mechanics behind the fight in Ghost of Tsushima, the forms. Jin will gradually gain access to 4 different forms throughout the game, each more effective against a certain enemy. For example, one is able to counter better enemies armed with spear, while another is more suitable for fighting swordsmen.
Each shape offers a neutral attack that we can perform with the square button and an attack heavy assigned to the triangle button. The latter has the task of breaking the defense of the category of enemies against which it is effective, while the neutral attack does not have this property, regardless of the equipped form (we can quickly change them by holding down R2 and the corresponding key).
The alternation between one stance and the other allows us to effectively face even very large groups of enemies. Obviously the parade plays a fundamental role, because, if performed with the right timing, it allows to unbalance the opponent and to immediately bring us to the counterattack.
In general, the ideas behind the battle system are certainly not among the most original, but they still manage to give us frantic and fun fights especially when we throw all the special tools available to Jin into the mix, thanks to which it is possible to significantly change the clash flow.
For example, the throwing of shurikens allows us to unbalance a tough enemy and to get the better even when we don't have the right style to deal with it, while a smoke bomb can give us the opportunity to assassinate an opponent instead of fighting it traditionally. Ranged weapons and various types of ammunition (from incendiary to explosive ones) are also very useful, allowing you to silently reduce (obviously not if you use explosives …) the number of enemies before an assault.
Jin's fighting styles and abilities can be improved by using the skill points we will gain as our reputation rises (increases by completing missions, freeing camps and defeating small caravans), allowing us to access more complex and effective mechanics. For example, we may be able to parry the enemy arrows and to counter attacks that previously were impossible to block (they are indicated by a red flash, while those comparable by a white one).
Overall, however, the degree of challenge offered is never too high (at standard difficulty), both because of the many tools available to Jin – which make him a real war machine – and because of the artificial intelligence of the enemies enough limited. Unfortunately we find ourselves in the classic scenario in which a group of enemies will attack us with only one warrior at a time, leaving you plenty of time to parry every single attack and to change stance if necessary; the only difficulty addition is given by the presence of archers, who also attack simultaneously with the colleagues melee; nothing unmanageable, of course.
Further on in the game, Jin also gains access to a mode that can be activated after defeating a certain number of enemies without suffering damage, thanks to which you can eliminate 3-4 opponents with a single shot (each). I do not add anything else to leave you the pleasure of discovery.
Finally, I would like to point out the possibility to upgrade and customize all the equipment (both weapons and armor) present in the game through blacksmiths, gunsmiths and merchants. The customization of the appearance of the objects is limited to different color schemes, while we can decide to have Jin wear any combination of armor, hats and masks (therefore 3 elements).
One of the most convincing aspects of the game is undoubtedly the realization of the island of Tsushima and its many microclimates. During the adventure we would be able to explore it far and wide, thanks to the open world structure, but if we stick to the missions of the main campaign only, we risk losing a large portion.
Although the game interface is kept to a minimum, Sucker Punch has made the best use of Tsushima's natural elements to encourage us to explore and discover new and secret areas; we just have to follow the flight of particular birds or let ourselves be guided by a fox to discover a hidden thermal spring or temple. For those who love to hunt for collectibles, Ghost of Tsushima offers bread for his teeth.
But it is not only nature that spurs us on exploration; our curiosity will also be tickled by the inhabitants of the small villages that we will meet along our way (or after having freed one from the Mongol domain), who will provide us with information about what happens in the surroundings and any points of interest. It will then be up to us to go deeper, letting ourselves be carried by the wind to the next destination.
In all this, the technical sector of Ghost of Tsushima gives us the opportunity to appreciate all these places and landscapes in the best possible way, thanks to environments full of details and truly convincing effects (the grass bent by the wind is very credible and well done). The island of Tsushima appears more alive than ever, also thanks to the climate that changes in real time (although we can force its change playing certain melodies) and allows us to appreciate spectacular sunsets, mountains beaten by the wind and snow storms or immense plains under gray skies furrowed by lightning.
The exceptional level of the entire artistic sector can be further exploited by the player thanks to a very complete photographic mode, which allows us to act on every single factor of the scene, from filters to climatic effects, depth of field and much even more. We just need to find a noteworthy glimpse to make it even more poetic with a pinch of editing.
Speaking of filters, I remember that it is also possible to play Ghost of Tsushima in mode Akira Kurosawaor black and white (but it's really a shame to miss the vivid and bright colors that characterize the whole island). The name is obviously that of one of the most famous Japanese directors, to whom the Sucker Punch team has lent more than one tribute. Everything in GoT recalls the Kurosawa productions and the style of the chambara (the cinematographic strand that contains the films on the samurai), from the settings to the topics covered, without forgetting the one-on-one shots and duels.
The latter, in particular, are the most spectacular and usually accompany the fight against any boss. In this case it is Jin's honor and samurai spirit to prevail: all the tools of the ghost become inaccessible (so no shuriken to break the guard and so on) and the combat with the white weapon takes place exclusively between us and the enemy on duty, without any thugs can intervene.
The choice to make each boss fight highly cinematic also allows you to balance the level of difficulty a bit, as the removal of all Jin's special abilities makes us more dependent on our melee ability and forces us to use wisely all the stances that we have learned so far, in order to take full advantage of them.
There are no uncertainties regarding the frame rate, which remains stable at 30 fps even in the most excited scenes. Interaction with the environmental elements present is limited, but not entirely absent. For example, it will be possible to burn tall grass using incendiary arrows or other objects such as explosive barrels and more, but overall we are faced with very static scenarios.
The music sector is particularly inspired, with a series of songs that recall the oldest Japanese tradition to the sound of koto, percussion and flutes, which help to recreate the right tension during duels or the feeling of peace when diving in the most unspoiled areas of Tsushima. Although there is the Italian dubbing, added with the 1.03 patch, the advice I can give you is to enjoy this experience using the Japanese one, in order to guarantee the maximum sense of immersion.
With Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch returns to PlayStation 4 after 6 years of silence, proposing a title that, net of ups and downs, can tell us a good story and offers us the opportunity to explore the island of Tsushima, experiencing one of the darkest and most uncertain historical periods.
In doing this, Sucker Punch does not reinvent practically anything and the only original aspect of the gameplay lies in the mechanics that allows us to use the wind as our only guide, without therefore having to resort to a mini map. There is nothing wrong with this being clear; Sucker Punch has in fact fished among the classic elements of the genre to sew a formula that – although not reinventing the wheel – works and gives us dozens of hours of fun divided between main and secondary quests.
Jin's story, his gradual transformation from samurai to ghost and the events of the many personalities who will accompany him in his path of reconquest allow us to immerse ourselves in a credible way in the context, spirit and mentality of Japan at the end of the thirteenth century; from the point of view of characterization, Sucker Punch has done an excellent job, there is little to add.
Ghost of Tsushima is therefore a title suitable for everyone, which offers a degree of challenge that tends to be low and which allows itself to be played very willingly, even if it could displease those who expected a more demanding challenge (especially those who thought they would find a new Sekiro).
Personally, I particularly appreciated Sucker Punch's desire to maintain a realistic tone throughout the game, without going to bother supernatural elements, but rather correctly contextualizing the role of Japanese folklore. The team's great love for Akira Kurosawa's filmography and the use of resources dedicated to the study of Japanese culture, the fighting styles, the structure of villages and camps and even the clothing and armor extremely coherent is evident of the historical period of reference.
In short, if you are looking for the best way to make a nice trip to an uncontaminated Japan (especially in a time when traveling is more problematic!), Ghost of Tsushima is the title for you. We are not in front of a masterpiece, it is clear, but in front of a small pearl that undoubtedly deserves to be played and discovered.