'Ghost of Tsushima': A Striking Samurai Fantasy

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 18, 2020 | Go to article overview

'Ghost of Tsushima': A Striking Samurai Fantasy


Byline: Christopher Byrd The Washington Post

"Ghost of Tsushima"

Developed by: Sucker Punch

Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Available on: PlayStation 4

* * *

Though "Ghost of Tsushima's" charismatic characters and intricate combat are a significant draw, what first kindled my admiration for the new open-world RPG set in 13th-century Japan is its respect for poetry. Early in the game, Jin Sakai, the samurai hero of the story, encounters an old man sitting on a rock who advises him to take up the art of haiku. The anonymous poet makes a practical case for its utility, telling Jin that haiku can help a warrior clear his mind of internal strife and find equanimity.

Curious to take him up on this advice, I led Jin to a nearby overlook - with a view of the forest in the distance - where he sat down. Using the right thumbstick of the controller to pan the camera back and forth, I was able to focus Jin's attention on specific parts of the landscape by pressing the X button, and compose a haiku: "Whispers through the trees/Protected from the harsh sun/A sturdy defense." In all my years of gaming, this was the first time I helped the protagonist in an action game reflect on the theme of serenity.

"Ghost of Tsushima" is a game that abounds with such nifty elements. Rather than depend on an unsightly compass, or a mini-map, on the screen for navigation (as is typical for most large-scale open world games), you can swipe your finger across the touch pad to rustle up a breeze - the Guiding Wind - to point you in the right direction. In fact, you can discover points of interest in the world without consulting a map at all. From time to time a golden-colored bird or a fox will cross your path. Following them will lead you to convenient locations such as shrines or hot springs where Jin can pray or bathe to increase his stats. Details like these help connect the player to the world in a way that feels more or less organic, and I expect other developers will crib some of these innovative features.

Though it is often said of the best open-world games that the environment is like a character itself, the cliche is born out in "Ghost of Tsushima." Set during the time of the Mongul invasion of Japan, this visually-stunning samurai epic tells the story of Jin's quest to repel the invaders who, at the start of his journey, wipe out most of his fellow samurai and capture his uncle, Lord Shimira, the leader of the region. For much of the first act of the campaign Jin focuses on raising an army to help him free his uncle. Along the way he encounters Yuna, a no-nonsense thief. Over time, she comes to exert great influence on his life. She counsels him that to defeat the Mongols he will have to put aside some of his samurai ideals, such as always confronting enemies head-on rather than taking "the coward's way'' and sneaking up on them from behind. …

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