Yes, I’m late to the party. I’m in my 30’s, it happens. Trust me, I’ve been later.
Ghost of Tsushima is easily my Game of the Year for 2020, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing Final Fantasy games since the original GameBoy (sorry FF7R, you were great too). Simply put, for me at least, Ghost is a masterpiece in the dictionary definition of the word. A “master piece” used to be a form of graduation project for a guilded trade, like a PhD thesis is for a university student. It was a contribution to a craft so well made it would confer to the maker the rank of “master”.
But you can’t just jump to creating a masterpiece. Nobody can. It takes time and effort, which Sucker Punch Productions have contributed in spades. I can’t think offhand of a better example of a game studio showing consistent organic growth project to project. Starting with their initial (not exactly popular) offering on the N64 of Rocket, then finding some mainstream success with the Sly Cooper series and taking the proceeds from that success to bring us the excellent Infamous series only to currently top out with Ghost of Tsushima.
I mean look at this timeline: consistent improvement every time, expanding their scope but never biting off more than they could chew (looking at you, No Mans Sky).
Is Ghost a perfect game? No. I don’t think a “perfect” game actually exists or could exist. There are some that come close (Metroid Prime), but if a “perfect” game was made, why keep making games at all? The “video game” medium would be complete. Not to mention that what one person calls perfect might be sub-par to another. But for me, Ghost is up there. WAY up there.
For me video games, movies, comics and the like are about escapism. I want to be someone else for a little while. And being Jin Sakai for a few hours is extremely fun. The world he lives in is beautiful and brutal, filled with stories of people trying to survive in a time of war. The island of Tsushima is full of little hidden places which makes exploring all that much more satisfying, the combat is very fluid and can be as complex or simple as you like (and that’s coming from someone with the worlds’ worst timing) and the story I found very engaging.
What really sets Ghost apart from other open-world adventure games are the little mechanics touches that make it unique. There is no compass, but to help you get around the island is a “guiding wind” which blows in the direction of your next waypoint. It’s a small difference from a normal HUD guidance system, but it fits so well with the rest of the tone of the game it adds that spark of magic that can be hard to find in some of the mass-produced iterative game series of today. A little bit of style, a little bit of uniqueness, a little bit of “fresh” goes a long way.
Ghost still has some rough spots which I think stand out extra because of how good everything else is. Moving from a flat spot of ground or building roof to a “balancing” walkway like a board or rope feels especially janky to me. Even though I unlocked all of the combat skills I still basically stuck with the core set, but that’s on me. In most instances you can approach a combat encounter however you like, either taking the stealthy “Ghost” approach or a more straightforward hack and slash. Along the story you will be forced into both types so you’ll get a taste whether you want it or not, but I found both very well developed. Taking down groups of enemies of multiple types with just my katana and kunai was equally as fun as creeping around rooftops and distracting guards to assassinate their friends. Or take the pacifist approach if you must, personally I’ll stick with just killing everyone.
The graphics are drop-dead gorgeous. If you are lucky enough to own a PS5 you will also get to skip the “graphics or FPS” decision as the game has been patched for both. It ran buttery smooth during my playthrough and it was one of the few games where I felt compelled to take screenshots along the way. All the images at the top of this article are from my own collection and don’t do the game justice. It really is wondrous in motion and again it’s the little details that really take it over the top.
I’m a story man, and I loved it. I play almost exclusively single player games because gaming for me is like reading a book. I want to experience the story the creators have to tell. It’s no surprise Hollywood is already working on a movie version of Ghost, I just hope they don’t miss the point like so many other adaptations do. Through playing the game we get to see Jin grow as a character through struggle and triumph. Through him we are forced to question how far a samurai would go to save his island, by making choices that under normal circumstances would be unthinkable. By questioning things he has been taught since childhood about honor and sacrifice.
My own personal way of building things has always been “function before form”. Make it work, then make it pretty. And that is what I think Sucker Punch achieved with Ghost of Tsushima. The bones of the game are completely solid in my opinion, from the music and sound design, level design down to the weapons and armor. The combat is fun, the story is evocative and the world is believable (not counting the out-of-time hwacha). The function is there. And then they went that little bit further on the details to make it truly special. If you want my proof, play the game. Find a field of long grass, get off your horse and walk (don’t run) through the swaying vegetation and watch Jin put out his hand to feel the reeds go by. Those little touches of humanity are what make is a masterpiece. And I can’t wait to see what they bring to us next.