Being a samurai game, you’re going to be slicing and dicing your way through enemy crowds using the Sakai family’s heirloom katana but your wakizashi won’t spend much time in its sheath either. It’s your primary tool for stealthily assassinating unwary Mongols. This duality plays into one of the game’s larger themes. At the outset, Sakai strictly adheres to the samurai code of honor that demands a standup fight. But as the story progresses and Sakai’s situation grows increasingly desperate, he finds his morals and methods becoming ever more flexible. It’s fascinating to watch as he struggles, both internally and against the characters around him, over the consequences of his actions.
Beyond his swords, Sakai goes into battle armed with both a fast-firing half-bow and a stronger full bow (though you will have to complete a set of missions to unlock it), as well as a wide array of ninja-esque gear like kunai, smoke bombs, black powder grenades — all of which can be upgraded as you gain more experience. You’ll also have access to a jaw dropping variety of armor, each set of which is upgradeable, grants a specific set of stat bonuses, and can be endlessly customized with various dye sets and discoverable skins. You won’t find any health packs out in the wilds of Tsushima, however, your expandable Resolve bar replenishes your health as well as drives your special moves.
Mechanics-wise, you’re not going to see anything particularly revolutionary. In fact, throughout this game, I noticed numerous similarities to other popular adventure titles. For example, the combat system with its light and heavy blows, parriable and unblockable attacks, felt really reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, except of course with swords. The flora and environment of Tsushima had me convinced more than once that I was playing Horizon: Zero Dawn. The platforming aspects are very similar to the Uncharted series (but far more automated), and you’ve even got a Seikiro-like grappling hook to use.
But while these individual aspects on their own aren’t anything groundbreaking, Sucker Punch has managed to seamlessly meld them together, hone and polish the overarching gameplay experience into something truly phenomenal. The side missions can get mildly repetitive — there’s never not a peasant in danger — and while you won’t find the same degree of over-the-top grandiose, deity-killing action of God of War or the massive explorable map of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (though you do have a horse), Ghost delivers a richly detailed world and an immensely compelling story that will leave you cheering. Like your customizable armor, how you take in the story is entirely up to you. Ghost offers both three difficulty settings, subbed and dubbed dialog options as well as a wild black-and-white Kurosawa Mode that mimics old 35mm filmstock.
Although Ghost shares similar aspects to other AAA titles, it boasts myriad unique details and small touches that really bring the story to life. During his travels, Sakai will come across onsen (Japanese hot springs) that replenish and expand his health bar, slice through bamboo training poles to upgrade his Resolve, visit Shinto and Inari shrines to gather stat-boosting charms and talismans, and even compose haiku at scenic overlooks. You can challenge groups of enemies in standoffs to inflict one-hit kills or engage in pulse-pounding samurai duels against fellow swordmasters. Finish off fallen but not-quite-dead-yet enemies with the End Suffering move (aka stabbing them when they’re down). If your katana is still bloody after the battle, you’ll automatically wipe it off before resheathing it. There’s even a bow command so that you can properly pay your respects at shrines. My favorite detail however is the waypoint arrow. There isn’t one, you’re guided to your next destination by following the direction of the wind as it blows across the landscape.