Back To Tsushima: Ghost of Tsushima

[Spoiler Alert. I did my best to keep major story-spoiling elements out of this. But with that said, this write-up does contain spoilers.]

I originally played Ghost of Tsushima on the PS4, immediately upon release, and it was incredibly easy to fall in love with this game. It was absolutely gorgeous on the PS4, which was a 7 year old console at that point. I mean that is almost geriatric by current technology standards. I loved the game so much that I platinum’ed it, which I normally cannot be bothered to do when playing even my most favorite games. I even completely played it all the way through once-again soon after too.

So it stood to reason that when I finally sourced a PS5, and was trying to figure out which game to play first, that Ghost of Tsushima would be that game. Being a semi-recent game, and the PS5 being a current generation console, I wanted to see what the graphics would look like using the better equipment. Particularly with the Directors Cut and 4K graphics up-scaling.

It would be awesome. It looked absolutely fucking awesome.

The Setting

Though making a list such as that would be quite time consuming, I would say that Ghost of Tsushima is very high up on the list of my favorite games from the past 20 years. If not all time. Which is wild considering that it only released in 2020. When it was teased at the game expos in the years prior to its launch, it immediately piqued my interest. Lets see: A game set in 13th century Japan? Sold! A game centered around the Mongol attempted conquests into the country(something that really happened in history)? Sold! Yeah, this game was indeed right in my wheelhouse. 

Ghost of Tsushima absolutely nails the aesthetic that I would expect from a game set in this era. You are almost immediately thrust into an open world of natures lush colors. From the reds of falling Japanese maple leaves, to the pinks of the petals from cherry blossoms. There’s the pitch black of a cloudy moonless night, to the almost daylight brightness of a cloudless moonlit night. The realism of the use of shadows and darkness is crazy. On the aforementioned pitch black nights, I had to stand up and approach my TV just to see. My wife would ask why I was standing a foot away from my very large 4K TV. To which I would just plainly tell her, “It’s night time”.

I can’t tell you how many times I stood atop a mountain or in the center of a big grass field and just survey the scenery. This happened in the first hours of play, as well as the final hours. It is all simply gorgeous. And that sentiment does not wane with subsequent replays.

Honestly, the screenshots do not do it justice.

Ghost of Tsushima takes place (DLC aside) entirely on Tsushima island. This island is situated between South Korea’s shores near Busan and Japan’s western island of Kyushu, north of Nagasaki. Present day Tsushima is actually considered part of Nagasaki prefecture. However, back in the 13th century, as many regions were, it was its own province. Though Tsushima, despite being a world away, was still under the overarching rule of the Kamakura shogunate.

In looking at the above map, Tsushima’s geographic position, historically, made it the ideal first-stop for the Mongol conquest into Japan, with them having already taken much of China and the Korean Peninsula. This is where the story of Ghost of Tsushima begins.

The Ghost

The game starts on the night that the Mongols reached the Tsushima shores, with their great warships dotting the coastlines as far as the eye can see. The proud samurai clans of Tsushima are already waiting to defend their home, and are discussing strategy quite arrogantly. When an attempt at diplomacy is met with savage aggression, all hell breaks loose.

It is here that you find yourself in control of the leader of Clan Sakai, Jin Sakai. The right hand man, and adopted nephew, to the lord(or Jito) of Tsushima, Lord Shimura. As you charge into battle atop your horse, at Lord Shimura’s side, the world around you is alight with fire and the sounds of hand to hand combat. Then suddenly you are thrown from your horse, now forced to yourself take on the Mongol’s and get back to Lord Shimura’s side. 

This is the introduction tutorial. It is also where your life altering journey begins. In the fray Sakai is wounded, knocked unconscious, his armor in tatters, and left for dead with the many other fallen warriors. The Mongols are just too fierce, and they have superior equipment. In fact, the samurai of Tsushima are almost completely slaughtered that night alone in an apparently easy conquest.

Sakai awakens some time later in a small makeshift camp away from the battlefield. Someone had dragged his lifeless body away from the warzone and nursed him back to health. From there your mission is to find a presumably living Lord Shimura, turn the citizens of Tsushima against the Mongols, and take down Khotun Khan. The leader of Mongol conquest. No big deal, right?

You are not alone in these tasks. Sakai ends up meeting a small group of acquaintances along the journey. Each with their own merits/demerits and troubling stories. To loosely describe a handful:

  • A thief who is trying to protect her brother. Her only blood relative left alive.
  • A master archer in his twilight turned archery teacher that made a regrettable decision. One that he is trying to rectify at all costs.
  • The warrior matron of a samurai clan who had her entire bloodline slaughtered at the hands of the Mongols and other entities following beginning of the war in an elaborate plot of villainy.
  • A warrior monk trying to rescue his kidnapped kin from the Mongols.
Ishikawa-sensei the Archery Master

So that is the gist of Ghost of Tsushima in an extremely small nutshell. And it really is an interesting story bathed in bloody historical significance. Albeit not entirely historically accurate though. The history used in this story can be seen as kind of piecemeal from various centuries. Which may drive hardcore history-buffs crazy, but I think that can be forgiven considering the overall body of fiction that was created. The fact that they took the time to do the research is outstanding. And it shows.

This story is seriously really well done. It is one of figurative death and rebirth. It follows a man that will sacrifice the warrior code imprinted upon him from youth to create one out of his own belief. He does this all for the sake of the island, and Japan. Sakai Jin had everything taken from him, and what little he had left he threw away to be reborn anew. To be reborn as The Ghost. Bane of the Mongols, and liberator of Tsushima. This name starts as a whisper as Sakai makes his way across the island. And then grows into something much larger. Something more infamous.

The progression of the game is almost entirely at your own pace. As you are thrust into an open world scenario almost immediately following the tutorial section and story setting. Various missions will lock you in here and there, though. But the open world play returns almost immediately once complete. There are plenty of side quests available. But you mostly run across people in need of help or rescue. Which, in turn, can open up other tasks.  Even though this is your home, and you(Sakai) know it like the back of your hand, the map of Tsushima is now covered by the fog of war. Which makes sense. As the Mongols have drastically changed the landscapes to fuel their war machine. During all of my play-throughs, I easily found myself just wandering around for hours just clearing the map. Getting into trouble along the way.

This game is quite graphic, and very bloody. You will see unsettling things. But this is not to the games detriment, and I don’t think this is done out of trying to elicit shock like most horror games do. No, Ghost of Tsushima is graphic out of necessity. This was a brutal age in history.

Admiring my work. In this screenshot you can see how it gets dark at night. This was after dusk.

This was an age of bloody sword fights, where you could behead someone or easily disarm them with enough skill and strength. And these acts are something that you will do/see in your play-through. In your explorations you will also come across other unsettling realities. There are dead bodies of Tsushima’s inhabitants strewn everywhere. Men, women, and children. Hanging from trees, covered with bloody tatami, lined up and hunched over after having been run through. You even see where once proud, but recently broken, warriors committed seppuku(suicide). Once you stop and look around, the game starts to carry an even heavier feeling.

The dead strung up to be used as target practice for the Mongol archers. A fresh batch was strung up just before I arrived. Being not-in-time is a theme in this game, and it adds to the aesthetic perfectly.

I remember seeing one such place at the top of a mountain. The body was positioned looking out over the vast scenery below. Very poetic, in that the last thing that warrior saw before he ended his own life was the island that he loved and fought to protect. You come across mass burial grounds and hastily thrown together monuments to the fallen everywhere. These scenes do so much to add to the grim aesthetic of the game. A stark contrast to the beauty of the scenery.

I will not spoil the end game. Because it was really really well done. But I will say that the end game is twofold. And both elements are equally as powerful. This is compounded by an absolutely amazing soundtrack. The work put into scoring this game was incredible. The soundtrack perfectly supports the drama and action you are taking part in. Perfectly reminiscent of an old samurai movie. Like those of Akira Kurosawa(Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, etc). I loved the soundtrack so much that I bought it on cd and vinyl.

Speaking of Kurosawa. The creators of this game went so far as to pay homage to the legendary director by adding a special gameplay mode. Titled: Kurosawa Mode. This is a graphics effect that you can select in the settings at any time. It basically turns the entire game into a grainy black and white movie, while also adding various effects here and there. It is really cool, but I couldn’t play like this for long. I enjoyed the lush and vibrant colors of this game entirely too much to sacrifice that experience.

A great example of Kurosawa Mode. Showcasing cutscenes and gameplay.

The game doesn’t stop with Kurosawa, in terms of homages. You see elements of various cinematic themes in this game and its stories. One of them is the Clan Adachi arc. Masako Adachi is the matron of the clan, and after the clan, led by her husband and sons, falls on the night of the Mongol invasion, Masako’s remaining bloodline is further wiped out. From there she goes on a revenge seeking journey. Though not exactly the same, I likened many of her story’s elements to that of Lady Snowblood. A movie that starred Meiko Kaji, an actress/singer who became famous in recent decades because of her songs that were used in Kill Bill 1 & 2. The Kill Bill series was heavily influenced by Lady Snowblood, mind you.

Fans of Kill Bill will recognize various elements. And one song in particular.

The action of the Ghost of Tsushima was fun, and just dynamic enough to not be monotonous. Which tends to happen with these types of games. You are not a one trick pony with a sword, as you pick up various skills along the way to accomplish your mission. While the sword arts are really well thought out, I particularly enjoyed the archery system. It was fun to see exactly how far away you could take out a foe. I could barely make out an encampment below, but I took one mongol out from atop a mountain. Lining up these hail-Mary shots is super rewarding when you take the shot and see a red X pop up with an audible cue as the result of a fatal headshot. Okay, completely unrealistic, but fun nevertheless. 

I enjoyed the archery system almost too much at times, that I would do entire missions by picking off targets from afar in stealth. All before moving in to finish off the last couple with the blade. While your sword doesn’t change much in the game, aside from upgrade-able stats, you get two different types of bows over time. A short bow and longbow. Along with those you have various arrows at your disposal. Like exploding arrows, good for heavily armored foes, or fire arrows for lightly armored ones. There are also various thrown projectiles. Such as kunai and smoke bombs. With the former being indispensable in this game.


A multiplayer DLC was added early on, but I didn’t really partake. I am not a fan of multiplayer games anymore. I did test it out once or twice with some coworkers though, but it wasn’t for me. I will say that it is a faithful extension of the single players gameplay.

The Iki Island DLC is the primary expansion for this game’s story. And I will say this now, it is probably the most complete expansion DLC for a game, ever. And that is my humble opinion. It is so enjoyable. Many DLC campaigns are just kind of afterthoughts, in which they spew out some last minute idea to give you a couple hours of extra linear play. Iki Island is just as open world as Ghost of Tsushima’s main campaign is, and you are looking at 20-40 hours of extra gameplay. Depending on your pace and your thoughts on completion-ism.

You recognize immediately that this will not be the same as the Tsushima campaign

Once installed, the Iki Island campaign is available from the point after the second act starts. But I highly suggest waiting. As there is a significant jump in difficulty. I was a bit surprised, and I even waited until after I completed the game, when my character was maxed out in stats and abilities. After you complete the main story of the Ghost of Tsushima, you can continue roaming the island freely. The reason for this, as the narrative explains, is that there is still work to be done. You can finish side quests or pick off the remaining Mongol elements left. So I think that this is the perfect place to tackle the DLC. 

Google Maps image. The Iki Island campaign takes you far from the shores of Tsushima to a much smaller island. In terms of Iki’s geographical position. It is actually closer to one Japan’s larger islands of Kyushu, than it is to Tsushima.

Iki island is home to pirates and bandits that have no love for the samurai. Particularly the samurai of Tsushima. Specifically clan Sakai. But that is not the main story of this DLC. Things have gotten dire of late on Iki, as the Mongols have reached their shores too. And a Mongol shaman has been kidnapping and poisoning the people of Iki. Driving them mad with their hallucinogens. This is where you come in, and it is an interesting narrative.

Along with the DLC, the game introduces some new mechanics. Such as: new ways to use your grappling hook and the using of your horse to deal heavy damage to larger mobs. It was kind of refreshing getting some new skills. You even get the use of saddle bags for your horse, something that helps to increase your storage capacity. Which was much needed, seeing as Iki does not have much by way of merchants. In fact usable resources such as ammo are quite hard to come by, unless you actively make use of the Mongol stores, and those are finite. This was another example of increasing the DLC’s difficulty. I remember scraping by trying to find arrows and kunai. It forces you to rethink your strategies.

Enjoying an onsen on Iki Island. Onsen(hot springs) are magical places. This is true in real life, as they are said to have healing properties.

Along with the real world elements, such as wind, rain, and storms that the game had done so well, there are also supernatural elements introduced a little more in the Iki campaign. Which was neat. As the Japanese have a rich history of documenting the supernatural. The main story had a few of these here and there. But Iki has a lot more. There were also throwbacks to the main story and side quests of the main campaign in abundance in this DLC. I really enjoyed the archery challenges and the Tadayori quests. Tadayori was a legendary archer introduced in the main campaign, and the quests on Iki further the legend.

Much like the main campaign, the creators did a great job with Iki. They even took some landmarks from real life Iki Island and put them into the game. Such as Saruiwa(literally, monkey rock). The pirate and bandit inclusion was also historically accurate. Though, I believe it may have been in a different era. When you first arrive on Iki, you are washed ashore following a massive typhoon. This is a callback to history as well. The Mongols attempted a couple invasions of Japan. Both times they were repelled, not necessarily the samurai, but by severe typhoons. These storms were so fierce that the Mongols could not fully land their forces, and many were killed at sea.

Locals called these storms, Kami Kaze. Or divine wind. A name that would be used multiple times in history. Perhaps most infamously in World War II.

The Future And Final Thoughts.

Sakai’s interactions with his horse are great. In fact the horse has one of the best scenes in the entire game.

There are talks of a live action series or movie based on this game. While that is exciting, I am cautious. Film adaptations of games do not have a good track record at all. There have also been rumblings of a sequel to the game, which would be both exciting and possibly unneeded. I think Ghost of Tsushima functions so well as a standalone entity. It leaves you craving more, just enough, to warrant subsequent play-throughs. But I don’t think that continuing this story would possibly fit well. The Iki Island campaign was perfect in my opinion, and that may have been enough. Perhaps expanding on another story that is tied to this one. Don’t get me wrong, I would not complain about a new game. But I wonder if the Sakai story actually needs more. They did such a good job creating his legend.

I guess the point I am trying to make is, Ghost of Tsushima is pretty damn perfect as it is. This is one of the only games I have ever cared to Platinum. I also completed the Iki DLC and obtained 100% trophies there as well. I never once felt like I was wasting my time with this game. The replay-ability is high too, which is hard to come by nowadays. I have already played this game all the way through multiple times. Though I have not done a New Game + yet. I have preferred to start from the beginning, rather than carry over everything into a new play through.

The use of lighting and shadows in this game is incredible. Being set in an age where man-made electricity doesn’t exist, and natural lighting, torches, and candles are the only means of bringing light to a dark space, the devs truly nailed it in this game.

All this said, I would highly recommend Ghost of Tsushima to anyone looking for an incredible open world action game with a great story and dynamic gameplay. 

Just do yourself a favor. Turn on the subtitles, change the language to Japanese, and enjoy the amazing voice acting of this great game. The dub, while okay, really does not do it justice.

[All in-game pictures are screenshots from my PS5 playthrough]

[Note on the cover pic: The giant Buddha statue depicted did not exist in that era on Tsushima. It does, however, exist in present day Japan in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture. Another example of piecemeal history used in this game]


All of these are true except for one:

Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

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