Beautiful Ghost of Tsushima makes it fun to be a samurai
This role-playing adventure game, a PS4 exclusive from Sony’s Sucker Punch Productions, turns players into a samurai on Tsushima Island, an archipelago between what is today Korea and Japan.
Ghost of Tsushima, releasing today, is an open-world game, and plays much like the Assassin’s Creed series. You’ll roam the countryside, often on horseback, encountering enemies, helping the locals, and collecting resources that can be used to upgrade your weapons and gear.
In becoming samurai Jin Sakai, players find themselves in 1274, when the Mongol Empire’s Kublai Khan invaded Tsushima as a way to conquer Japan.
The combat is delicious. You switch between different stances depending on what enemy type you’re battling. Using the katana, timing cuts and parries, is particularly delightful. You’ll also use stealth and ranged weapons.
And I’m not mincing words by calling this game beautiful. The art style is like an oil painting come to life. It’s exquisite, and the animations are colourful and fluid.
While you’d be forgiven thinking this game is an Assassin’s Creed title, Sucker Punch does have some lovely touches. Rather than following a mini-map on the screen, you follow the wind, which blows in the direction you need to travel.
A romanticized depiction
There’s also a nod to Japanese culture in how you can seek out shinto shrines and meditation spots where you’ll compose haiku.
But that’s where Ghost of Tsushima is problematic. The developers have admitted they were careful in how they created the game, knowing that appropriation was something to be mindful about. While that explains the tone of the game, it doesn’t excuse it.
Ghost romanticizes the notion of the Japanese samurai in a way that only a group of white, western Kurosawa fans could. The way the characters talk about codes of honour becomes quite tiresome after a while.
At least the actors playing the major characters are Japanese. Daisuke Tsuji, as the protagonist Jin Sakai, is excellent, taking an understated approach to the role.
That said, I’m going to continue playing Ghost of Tsushima. I love the world that’s been created, and becoming a powerful samurai is something I enjoy doing. But I’m aware at all times that this isn’t history, it’s only a game.