Ghost of Tsushima Review: A Cinematic Epic For The Ages

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ghost of tsushima review

Ghost of Tsushima is a stunning game that represents the pinnacle of the modern console generation. In an era where original properties are becoming rarer, it tells a breathtaking story worthy of of being called one of PlayStation’s best.

Accompanied by fantastic combat, a gorgeous open world and great gameplay mechanics, Ghost of Tsushima is an extraordinary adventure that everyone should experience for themselves.

ghost of tsushima review

Ghost of Tsushima: Story

Ghost of Tsushima follows the tale of Lord Jin Sakai, a samurai of high status forced from his home by the Mongol invasion of Tsushima, Japan in the 13th century. When invader Khotun Khan takes over Castle Kaneda and throws Jin to his apparent death, the Mongols claim victory across the land.

In secret, Jin is nursed back to health by Yuna, a warrior woman whose family has been captured by Mongol forces.

As Jin comes to terms with his new status as a ‘ghost’ of the remains of Tsushima, he learns more about the ways of war and his place as one of the last remaining samurai.

In his quest for vengeance and to save his uncle, Lord Shimura, Jin goes on a Tsushima-spanning journey to rid the land of the Mongol invaders, reclaim his family lands and discover what it means to be a ghost.

Jin’s personal growth mirrors this adventure, as he comes to accept that the ways of the samurai aren’t fit for his new role as the titular Ghost of Tsushima, the warrior of the people. The conflict between the honourable nature of the samurai and the art of stealth and deception weighs heavily on Jin’s mind, making the story as much a character study as it is a sweeping war epic.

Ghost of Tsushima: Characters

Ghost of Tsushima is primarily a character-driven game. While Jin adopts his ghostly persona in an effort to strike fear into the hearts of the invading Mongols, he’s never alone in his journey. Warrior Yuna and her blacksmith brother Taka are key players helping him on his quest to overthrow Khotun Khan and take back the lands of Tsushima.

The bond between Jin and Yuna is particularly striking. It’s a bond between warriors defined by mutual respect and admiration ⁠— one rarely found in games.

Jin forms a similar relationship with Lady Masako, an older warrior who’s grown to be well respected by her peers. She features in smaller tales within Jin’s journey and helps him gather the tools he needs to become the feared leader he evolves into.

While Ghost of Tsushima is defined by its wide open world, sweeping combat and gorgeous cinematic story, this action is regularly broken up by intimate character interactions where we learn more about Jin and his companions. These moments illuminate Jin’s heartfelt but conflicted feelings about the ongoing conflict in Tsushima and his role in it  — but these more sombre moments are often broken up by subtle and charming humour.

Jin is a fascinating character with a transformative and well-told arc. We first meet him at his lowest point as the Mongol invasion forces him, bloodied and beaten, into hiding. Through flashbacks and inner monologues, we learn more about Jin’s history and position as an upper-class samurai warrior. By stripping Jin of all his possessions and his position in society, the game tells an intriguing story of reinvention and transformation in the face of death. Jin’s inner conflict between his past and future makes for a gripping tale.

ghost of tsushima

It should go without saying, but it’s also fantastic to see a story featuring prominent Asian characters who are voiced by Asian voice actors. It’s surprising how often video games get this wrong, but Ghost of Tsushima avoids this pitfall with an impressive and talented Asian voice cast.

Ghost of Tsushima: Combat

Ghost of Tsushima‘s combat is sleek, stylish and varied. It’s just one of the features that makes the game unique.

While Jin’s fighting style early on is rooted in the honour-bound style of the samurai, his journey across Tsushima changes him and how he fights. His battles against the Mongols reveal more techniques and fighting styles, leading to more varied combat options throughout. Jin gains the use of quick-fire kunai and smoke bombs early on. He adopts new stances to break enemy defences as he faces larger hoards. He also learns more about the art of stealth and adopts a slick hybrid fighting style.

ghost of tsushima combat

What results is a fluid combination of ‘ghost’ and samurai combat that players can slide between. Stealthy tactics may go against Jin’s samurai code initially, but the more he uses them in battle, the more his resolve to beat the Mongols in any way possible solidifies. These ‘underhanded’ tactics become a core part of Jin’s fighting style and change how the Mongols view him.

Dedicating more technique points to stealth tactics also opens up a range of possibilities for defeating the Mongol forces. When approaching a stronghold or cluster of enemies, improving stealth tactics allows players to pick enemies off one-by-one rather than risk being overwhelmed. This also improves Jin’s legendary ‘ghost’ status in Tsushima and adds to his overall technique points.

Samurai combat is more heavy-hitting and requires a combination of dodging, parrying and shield-shattering blows.

Striking a healthy balance between these styles is essential as the game often changes up the combat formula. While stealth tactics allow quick takeovers of enemy territory, some battles take place in a locked combat arena.

ghost of tsushima

These battles are more cinematic and personal, making every move count. While some battles can be completed entirely by stealth, one-on-one fights require a mastery of heavy-hitting and parry skills. These fights are far more frantic and effectively break up the larger team battles. The roving, cinema-style camera also lends a sense of importance and brevity to these fights.

You’ll need to master every aspect of the game’s combat system to progress and conquer Tsushima. Not only does its evolution reflect Jin’s changing worldview, it also makes combat incredibly deep and exciting to experiment with.

To perfect these combat styles and defeat your enemies, you’ll need to explore various locations and complete activities found in the wide open world.

Ghost of Tsushima: Exploration

ghost of tsushima exploration
This is an in-game screenshot taken via the game’s photo mode.

Ghost of Tsushima is gorgeous. Every location feels like a work of art. While much of the game is spent wandering the forest wilds of Tsushima and surrounds, no two locations look or feel the same.

Whether you’re wandering through snowy mountain ranges, misty springs or bamboo forests, you’ll always find beautiful corners to explore and new quests to uncover. The game’s map is huge but it never feels empty. In fact, Ghost of Tsushima is brimming with life and there’s always something new to find.

ghost of tsushima locations

The game is host to dozens of character-driven side chapters, special tales, hundreds of collectables and many special landmarks where you can build your skills. Exploration is meaningful in a way games often fail to achieve. It’s integral to your progress, and never feels like a chore. There are constant reasons to dive deeper and travel further ⁠— whether you’re just hunting for the perfect photo or aiming to complete every part of the game.

There are plenty of side quests to tackle, new faces to meet, skills to obtain and legends to uncover. Every corner of the map feels purposefully placed and well-designed to encourage open exploration. You can waste hours just wandering around discovering new terrain and chatting to villagers.

Travelling is incredibly easy thanks to a great wind-based navigation system. Rather than the usual inset map, players navigate Tsushima via the path of strong winds. Whenever you’re lost, simply pay attention to the wind current. Whichever way flowers, pollen and other small objects are heading, follow them to find your destination. It’s a lovely touch and adds so much to Tsushima‘s stunning, minimalist aesthetic.

ghost of tsushima location

The game also has an incredible photo mode you’ll want to take advantage of.

With such striking landscapes, it’s easy to lose yourself in the game.

Ghost of Tsushima: Soundtrack

Ghost of Tsushima‘s soundtrack is just as soulful and stunning as its wide, open world. It takes inspiration from traditional Japanese music, using wind and string instruments to produce an adaptive score that is equal parts powerful and relaxing.

When you’re travelling through fields on horseback, it’s sweeping and epic. When you’re enjoying a quiet moment at a hot spring, it’s mournful and magical.

The soundtrack consistently elevates the action and aids Jin’s character journey.

You can hear some select tracks on YouTube, and they’re well worth checking out — even if you’re just looking for some classic lo-fi beats to study to.

As of writing, I’m a solid 30 hours into the main game. This places me neatly near the end of the second act — but the journey you’ll go on to get there will be entirely different to mine. There’s so much to do in Ghost of Tsushima. It’s the reason I haven’t chewed directly through the main story. Every part of the game feels important.

In addition to Jin’s long conquest of Tsushima, the game is peppered with so many awesome, worthwhile side stories and helpful collectables. They never feel like a distraction from the main gameplay because every collectable is tied to a reward. Visiting fox dens opens up charm slots. Cutting bamboo will aid your combat skills. Even visiting the local hot springs adds to your maximum health.

Every corner of Ghost of Tsushima is worth exploring. Combat remains exciting even 30 hours in, with new discoveries keeping the game consistently exciting and fun. My journey with the game isn’t over just yet, but it’s been an amazing experience so far — and one I hope never ends.

Simply put, Ghost of Tsushima is phenomenal.

Comments

  • Aaaaaargh, I was gonna wait til the PS5 came out to play this one. But every review is so damn detailed and effusive in its praise.

    • The best thing about games is everyone gets something different out of it. I enjoyed the game a lot, and I think other people will too. Cheers for reading!

  • It kinda feels a Horizon-meets-Assassins-Creed in feudal Japan. Would that be an unreasonable comparison?
    I’m pretty sold on this, especially after this review. I loved just wandering in HZD, AC:O and Death Stranding, so I’m pretty keen if this has a lot of those kind of elements.

  • Why did pressing “post comment” open a new tab on my phone taking me to JBHIFI F12020 page? Shady stuff Kotaku.

    • Seems that sometimes there’s an issue with how the objects are loaded on the page and the full page ‘background/border ad’ slips in front of the comment object.

      It’s usually fixable by refreshing the page, but if you let Alex know on Twitter or by email, he can probably pass along the feedback.

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