Ghost of Tsushima Is a Stunning Open World Game That Takes Cues from Samurai Cinema’s Greatest Director

The first night I sat down with Ghost of Tsushima I stayed up until 7 a.m. by accident. This wasn’t a “just one more mission” situation; it was 9 p.m. and then it was 7 a.m. For the first time in a long time, a game had come along that completely took away my grip on reality.

In Ghost of Tsushima, the new PS4 game from Sucker Punch Productions releasing July 17, Jin Sakai is a samurai in 13th century feudal Japan on a journey to save his uncle from Khotun Khan, the cutthroat general of the Mongol army. He rounds up warriors to fight, but Khan wipes them out with relative ease, and his own army takes over and torments the island of Tsushima. As Jin you are single-handedly trying to weaken the Mongol forces while building another army and rescuing your uncle, so needless to say, you’ve got a lot on your plate. The game requires that you play patiently, timing your combat perfectly, while allowing you immense customization—of clothing, armor, weapon style, skill tree abilities—and numerous paths of exploration, lending a general “you do you” attitude to your journey.

Ghost of Tsushima: Launch Edition

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$ 59.88

This is not an easy game. The combat itself in Ghost of Tsushima is some of the most satisfying I’ve played in a game since Dark Souls III, a game with combat so good I’ve played through it nearly six times now. Overwhelming enemy hordes are only countered with precision and the tools on hand, and battles are tense. There are several interchangeable fighting stances, all with unique combat styles, as well as their own strengths against enemies. The game all but forces you to switch between these stances mid-battle, which can be jarring, especially for those Souls players coming in. But when you get a handle on it, you become one of the most badass video game characters I’ve ever had the privilege of playing as. Jin performs what can only be compared to cinematic, choreographed fight scenes.

The combat is all about options, too: Do you play as a true samurai, challenging enemies to dramatic showdowns but grabbing all their attention the moment you enter a camp, or do you play like a ghost, sneaking around and taking the silent kills? Both modes are completely and equally rewarding, and for once, this is a game that doesn’t force you into playing one way or another.

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To be frank, I’m tired of open worlds. Everything’s an open world now, and I feel like I spend most of my time with a game riding a horse or steering a car across massive landscapes just trying to get from point A to point B. But Ghost of Tsushima’s open world didn’t bother me. The opposite, actually. The nature alone is stunning—trees and forests are so reactive, they hardly feel like a backdrop. The game even gets traveling the long way right with a map that is the exact right size, full of side missions, secrets, and camps. Some of the side missions I found were the coolest in the game. For example, an optional quest I randomly got pulled into, no spoilers, revealed remarkable detail about characters I cared about, and ended with a boss battle that played out as white leaves fell on a beautifully lit training ground. It also granted me access to a move that I heavily relied upon for the rest of the game. Beyond all else, Ghost lets you easily unlock fast travel points, severely cutting down on time spent on the road.

ghost of tsushima black and white

I highly recommend a second playthrough in Kurosawa mode.

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Still, there’s one thing about Ghost of Tsushima that stuck out even more: the wind. Ghost of Tsushima masters wind as both a set piece and a gameplay function, giving it some of the most thoughtfully designed game mechanics. Everything in the world reacts to the wind, be it leaves, samurai capes, trees, plants, or grass. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to this tier of natural influence in a game is Breath of the Wild, and considering that’s easily the greatest open world game up to this point, Tsushima has quite a bit to be proud of. The wind also functions as the game’s GPS, thoughtfully decluttering on-screen UI, and lessening pauses and breaks in the gameplay. As you ride your horse through the forest, just pay attention to which way the leaves are blowing, and with nothing but your health bar and resilience in the bottom left corner, your whole screen is dedicated to the scenery.

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Now, even if you’re reading this thinking, “This guy’s just obsessed with flashy combat and wind,” I would get it, but note that this game is so good that the estate of the most well-respected name in samurai cinema endorsed it. Director Akira Kurosawa inspired entire cinematic movements, from Westerns to Star Wars, through his storytelling and brilliantly artistic shots. It’s no secret that Ghost of Tsushima took a ton of stylistic and narrative inspiration from Kurosawa, so being granted the namesake says a lot about just how faithful the game is.

At the start of Ghost of Tsushima, players are given several play options—English dialogue, Japanese dialogue, or Japanese with English subs (which I recommend). But further than that, it offers a Kurosawa mode. This homage puts a painstakingly designed, black and white film filter over the game, respectfully transporting you to the controls of a Kurosawa film. It’s one piece of what makes Ghost of Tsushima a title that will leave you questioning what an open world game can be.

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