Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Daniel Siuba has been playing Ghost of Tsushima: The Director’s Cut and Don Shanahan checks out the physical media release of The Suicide Squad.
Ghost of Tsushima: The Director’s Cut
Daniel: For the past several weeks I’ve been playing Ghost of Tsushima: The Director’s Cut on PS4. The game, which is an open world action-adventure RPG, follows the life of Jin Sakai, a samurai from the 13th century. The story takes place during the first Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274, which occurs on the island of Tsushima. The game opens with a brutal massacre on Komoda Beach. The Mongol army decimates the samurai, leaving only Jin and his uncle, Lord Shimura, alive. Shimura is taken captive by the game’s primary villain, Khotun Khan. Khan is a ferocious leader, but for all his ruthlessness, he is patient, persuasive, and thoughtful, making him quite a compelling character. Jin is wounded and left for dead on the beach, but a woman named Yuna saves his life and helps him recover. Yuna is a thief who we later learn had a severely traumatic upbringing. She recruits Jin to help her rescue her brother, Taka, who was also taken captive by the Mongol army.
And this is just where the story begins. There are several intriguing and endearing characters who gradually populate your list of allies, and the voice acting, as well as the writing, is utterly captivating from start to finish. Much of this game, in terms of the human stories and interactions, is violent and bleak; it demonstrates the true brutality of war. Many quests and side quests that set you up to rescue someone, more often than not, end in death. But amid all of this human suffering, there are glimmers of selflessness and compassion. I deeply cared for all of the characters, not only those in the main cast, but even side characters who appear only once or twice. And for that matter, whenever anyone perishes in this game, you feel it. It doesn’t feel like a computer-generated character died—it feels real, the weight of each loss is palpable. Most of the time, it felt more like I was watching a film or a miniseries than playing a video game.
The mechanics and activities in this game are also quite unique. Instead of a typical map system, you are guided to quest points and other locations by following the wind: blowing leaves and white gusts of air lead you to your destination; golden birds sing and chirp, leading you to hot springs where you sit, soak, and contemplate your family, friends, and the harsh reality of war (sitting in these springs also increases your maximum health). Additionally, you seek out shrines, which are often atop treacherous mountains. Scaling these shrines highlights the effortless fun of Ghost of Tsushima’s leaping and climbing system. Then, there are the adorable foxes. These gentle beings usually sit beneath red-leafed trees whose branches glow and pulse with swarms of fireflies; as you follow the foxes to their small shrines, you are gradually gifted with special charms which you can equip for strength buffs, stealth advantages, and added health. You can also pet some of these foxes, who dance and yelp with delight as you touch them. There are also haiku spots all over the island, generally surrounded by a beautiful sky, waterfalls, forests, mountains, or the sea. You sit quietly and observe nature, composing a simple poem which Jin recites aloud. These moments of poetry, play, and contemplation serve to break up the narrative of brutality and violence and remind you that there is still beauty in the world, both inner and outer.
In terms of combat, Ghost of Tsushima stays consistently challenging, (depending on the difficulty level you choose, of course); there are stealth assassinations, standoffs, cinematic one-on-one duels, and battles between small armies. Your primary weapon is your katana, and you also (eventually) pick up two bows, kunai, smoke bombs, firecrackers, and many other tools you can use to strategically navigate your battles. There are many options for playthrough as well. For example, sometimes I would take down an entire Mongol camp using only stealth take downs and assassinations, but if I wanted an all-out brawl, I could just storm into a camp and provoke everyone there until dozens of fighters chased me into a field. It’s a lot of fun and there is a great deal of variety in terms of how you can approach most of the missions.
The other major conflict in this game, which I found so compelling and relatable, was the battle between the honor code of the samurai and doing what needs to be done to save the people of Tsushima. This ideological war is largely played out in the relationship between Jin Sakai and his uncle, Lord Shimura. But really, this dilemma could be boiled down to a single question: How will you live your life? In Ghost of Tsushima, as in real life, perspectives differ, and in the game, there are a few pivotal moments in where you get to decide where you really stand. But it never feels completely resolved, which is perhaps the most realistic thing about this game. You have to keep making choices, and you never really know what the true outcomes of your choices will be. It is a stark reminder that we don’t all see life the same way, and that at the end of the day, we must all make our own choices and live with them, for better or worse.
I highly recommend this game. It took me over a year to buy it simply because early reviewers made it sound so bland. But I’m thrilled I finally picked it up, because of all the games I’ve played on PS4 thus far, Ghost of Tsushima: The Director’s Cut consistently had the best voice acting (I chose Japanese dialogue with English subtitles), side stories, character arcs, and overall narrative progression. The music is beautiful, the world is vast, and there always seems to be something to do.
If you choose to play Ghost of Tsushima, you will encounter a profound story about the ruthlessness of war and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Tsushima is a place I’m still spending time, as I just started the DLC (included in the Director’s Cut edition), which takes place on Iki Island (there is also a multiplayer mode, Legends, which I haven’t played yet). The DLC begins with a violent shock; you find yourself wandering alone on a beach, stepping through a graveyard of decimated wooden ships and pacing through whale skeletons into an expansive isle of mystery.
Do yourself a favor and pick up this game. You won’t be disappointed.