My childhood and teenage movie watching was marked by my dad’s collection of Spaghetti Westerns, “Star Wars” and Akira Kurosawa’s fantastic samurai films like “Seven Samurai,” “The Hidden Fortress” and “Yojimbo,” which were fittingly the direct inspiration for the others.
Kurosawa’s stark, black-and-white films were filled with iconic imagery and against-all-odds adventure that have flowed through and inspired almost all forms of media into the modern day, including the latest PlayStation 4 exclusive “Ghost of Tsushima.”
“Ghost of Tsushima” pits you as the lone samurai to survive a bloody Mongolian invasion that seizes control of the island in the 1200s. You’re tasked with saving the island while balancing the honor of the samurai — who you’re told always fight face-to-face — with the guerrilla warfare needed to go up against the overwhelming odds of the occupying force.
You’ll have showdowns and duels (complete with some truly amazing style) while also setting traps and assassinating invaders from the shadows.
Along the way, you’ll recruit many allies — straw-hat ronin, thieves, archers and others — to help you retake the island, each with Kurosawa-esque stories of people seeking vengeance for their loss. And if the inspiration of Kurosawa wasn’t clear enough, there’s literally a “Kurosawa mode” that flips the game into a gritty, contrast-y black-and-white with the same kind of audio treatment.
While that mode is fun for a bit, playing the game in full glorious color can’t be beat. The art design here is masterful with sweeping vistas, ombre skies and the vivid, fall colors of Japan’s trees. “Ghost of Tsushima” takes games beyond just a recreation of reality to something more than that, something more artistic and cinematic.
The world is a pure joy to explore, marked with sparse orchestral music, with a touch of lived-in reality that reminds me of masterful western “Read Dead Redemption II.” The world is filled with environmental storytelling where everything suggests something bigger. Some will lead to missions while others will leave you wondering for hours.
It’s little touches like that — or like how you’ll be talking with your horse, promising a peaceful ride once all of this is finally over — that really make the world and characters feel believable. While the game is punctuated with epic action scenes, I frequently found the little moments in the game to be the most memorable: You’ll also have opportunities to compose haikus or reflect on the story while visiting hot springs.
Kurosawa and “Red Dead Redemption” aren’t the only sources of inspiration for “Ghost of Tsushima,” which seems to draw on just about every major video game from this console generation. And it seems fitting, given that “Ghost of Tsushima” is the last major console release before the launch of the next generation.
What developers Sucker Punch have done here, in many ways, is pick and choose from the best of other games: The combat is smooth and combo-driven like “Batman: Arkham Knight,” the stealth is a streamlined improvement on the “Assassin’s Creed” series, the characters and story are memorable and engaging like the “Uncharted” series and it has an open world that rivals “Grand Theft Auto.”
The graphics, the open world, the combat, the sound design and the story alone would make “Ghost of Tsushima” a remarkable accomplishment alone, but one of my absolute favorite parts of the game are its blisteringly fast load times. In a world where many games will serve you loading times of several minutes, “Ghost of Tsushima” will get you back into the fight just moments after the death screen. The next generation of consoles promises fast load times and, honestly, if they’re anywhere near this I’d be incredibly happy.
There might not be any one part of “Ghost of Tsushima” that is truly revelatory, but it’s the entire package when taken together — a smart curation of ideas from the last six years of video games in one of the best-executed games I’ve seen in a long time — that make it an absolute joy to play. Sucker Punch brought an immense amount of love for video games and samurai films together in “Ghost of Tsushima” and in every way, they’ve nailed it.
There’s no game more fitting to cap off a generation.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If You Play
Game: Ghost of Tsushima
Rating: 5 stars
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Internet usage: 35GB
Release Date: July 17, 2020
ESRB Rating: Mature