My Love Letter to Ghost of Tsushima

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Less a review and more of a love letter, I talk about some of the things that make Ghost of Tsushima such a special game. Sucker Punch really made something fantastic here. In a year where games like the Final Fantasy 7 Remake and The Last of Us Part 2 had so much hype and excitement around them, its all the more incredible that Ghost of Tsushima is such a standout game.

INTRO

Video games have been my hobby for as long as I can remember. My first gaming console of any kind was the original Gameboy that I won in a schoolwide contest in the second grade. And as I grew up, so to did the medium of video games.

I came to love the relaxing meditation of the grind, the sometimes-frustrating challenge of new combat systems, and the emotional draw of some of the best storytelling any medium has to offer. All of it is just so appealing to me.

So, while 2020 was a terrible year for me and many of you, it was not a terrible year for video games. So, with the world upside-down I decided to focus on something that genuinely brings a smile to my face. Some of my favorite games this generation have come out in just the last few months. Some nostalgic, some controversial, but the quality of these games is undeniable. However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake and The Last of Us 2 were known quantities, at least to me. Not to diminish what these developers have done but I expected these games to be great. They have established worlds and stories, built in audiences, guaranteeing success to at least a certain degree. And when I played these games, I thoroughly, wholeheartedly enjoyed them.

But it was the unknown quantity that would have the most impact on me this year. The game I wasn’t expecting to be great, because I didn’t know what to expect, was on its way. And little did I know what was waiting for me just over the horizon.  

Image credit: Sucker Punch

THE WORLD

Ok. Where to start? The world of Ghost of Tsushima is striking.

Image credit: Sucker punch

There isn’t much I can say about this game that you can’t already see. Every rich detail is alive with motion, color, and light. From its opening moments, this world grabs you and demands your attention.

This is one of my favorite shots from Ghost of Tsushima.

Image credit: Sucker Punch

I’m about halfway through my playthrough and I had just traversed up a shrine and climbed to its highest peak. In front of me is where the game is leading me and behind me is where I had already been. And it was at this moment that I started to reminisce about what lead me to this point. And the memories were plentiful. Already this game had left its mark and I still had so much left to do. It was then that I realized what made all of this so remarkable. The world of Ghost of Tsushima is about the journey and the small, quiet moments as much as its about the destination.

Some of my favorite memories are the rides with trusted allies, the feeling of the world alive all around me, and the breathtaking vistas that you can’t help but to stop and soak in. So many times I would just be following the wind as I was slowly reclaiming the island of Tsushima and then suddenly I would just stop and look around me. Standing in awe of the beauty. And wondering what was yet to come.

COMBAT

Combat in this game is a perfect balance of accessibility and challenge. A rhythmic dance of life and death that is an absolute pleasure to control. I never once got bored of happening upon a prisoner that needed freeing or a village that needed liberating.

Over the course of the game you’re taught to switch between stances depending on the enemy in front of you, to time your dodges and parries, and to know when it’s the perfect moment to land the killing strike. All the while never feeling overwhelmed as the game slowly adds more depth to your growing arsenal. In a medium flooded by third-person open-world games, this is now the new gold standard for how combat should feel in a game of this genre.

DUELS

But these encounters are when all the pieces of Ghost of Tsushima are working in perfect harmony, creating some truly memorable bouts.

Whenever I was running around and I would see a dueling ring over the horizon I would immediately sit up and get excited. There are about two dozen or so of these encounters spread out all over the island and they are absolutely my favorite part of combat. Always set in a unique, incredible setting. Here you fight only the deadliest of foes, and each time the stakes feel high as you try to dodge and parry your way out of certain death. Landing counters and strikes at the perfect moment. All the while the epic score swells as you fight for your life and the fate of the island of Tsushima. Every final blow feels like a victory hard fought.

JIN SAKAI

Jin Sakai prepared his whole life prepared his entire life to become the man he thought he should be. Only to find it wasn’t enough. He struggles with the cost of honor and the realities of war. His whole life his very identity had been intertwined with his sense of honor. But to free his home it will cost him everything he’d worked so hard to become. All the moments that made him the man he so desperately yearned to be.

And so, he’s forced to choose. And at that crossroads he doesn’t hesitate.

He will do anything to save his home. Fighting through the hordes to free his people, and by any means necessary. The story of Jin Sakai is the story of a man that sacrifices everything. Not to become who he wants to be, but to become he has to be.

OUTRO

This is hands-down one of the best games I’ve ever played. A standout experience in a year of unforgettable games. It’s an inspiration.

And while so many people consider this game to be a final bow or a swan song for the PlayStation 4, to me it will always be something more. For me, Ghost of Tsushima will always be a new beginning.

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