By Adele Chapline Smith
NEW YORK (CNS) — Adhering to a code of honor doesn’t necessarily mean doing the right thing, a distinction that’s crucial to “Ghost of Tsushima” (Sony Interactive).
This bloody action-adventure game thrusts players onto the island of the title in 13th-century Japan, where one man leads the fight to repel a Mongol invasion.
Intense violence and excessively gory effects make the resulting experience suitable strictly for adults.
When Jin Sakai (voice of Daisuke Tsuji) and his fellow warriors lose to the forces of the Mongol leader, Khotun Khan (voice of Patrick Gallagher), Jin holds out, becoming a reluctant hero. Raised as a samurai by his uncle, Lord Shimura (voice of Eric Steinberg), Jin’s code of honor demands that he rescue Shimura, who is currently being held captive by the Khan.
Yet the realities of war mean that this same code must sometimes be made to bend or break if Jin truly wants to save the lives of his people and free his uncle. Thus Jin is forced to struggle with the conflict between his upbringing and the facts he confronts.
Jin’s dilemma only deepens after he’s rescued from the battlefield by Yuna (voice of Sumalee Montano), a thief whose lifestyle makes her the antithesis of what Jin stands for as a samurai. There are times, moreover, when Jin needs to be stealthy, or else the Mongols will kill their Japanese hostages. But stealthy killing is contrary to samurai principles.
Gradually and painfully, Jin realizes that the ideals instilled in him by his education are not always practical in wartime. Still, he doesn’t let go of everything he was taught. He continues to show respect for his enemies and resists the urge for blind vengeance.
Other characters he encounters, by contrast, have lost sight of their honor entirely. They seek only to spread the same suffering and destruction they themselves have experienced at the hands of the Mongols.
Jin engages with his opponents using a variety of weapons. Along with a bow, black powder explosives and kunai, or small throwing knives, he’s armed with a katana-style sword as well as a short blade called a tanto.
The combat mechanics are exquisitely smooth, and the visuals are stunning. In part, this is due to the new Unreal Engine 5, which allows for an improved dynamic lighting system and textures. As a result of this new technology, battles look and feel far more fluid than they did in many previous titles.
In keeping with a positive trend for new games generally, “Ghost of Tsushima” includes accessibility options, such as simplified controls and improved readability.
Where the game lags, however, is in its open world missions, which mostly consist of composing haikus or gathering materials. However, the main story campaign, with its enthralling narrative, more than compensates for this defect.
The developers do take some license with history. Khotun Khan, for instance, though supposedly a grandson of Genghis, is, in fact, a fictional creation. And, as is well known from the story of the kamikaze, or so-called divine wind, it was a couple of typhoons, together with samurai resistance, that ultimately repelled the Mongul invasion — though not until after they had temporarily conquered Tsushima Island.
These historical storms are honored, however, in the guiding wind mechanic, which leads Jin to his next location on the map.
Despite its graphic mayhem, “Ghost of Tsushima” represents an exceptional achievement, thanks to its intriguing story and outstanding aesthetics, both visual and audio. It’s a lavish treat for grown gamers.
Playable on PlayStation 4.
The game contains frequent combat violence with bloody effects, glimpses of rear male nudity in a nonsexual context and occasional mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M — mature.
Smith reviews video games for Catholic News Service.