Remember that famous showdown scene in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, where ronin Sanjuro, portrayed by immortal Toshiro Mifune, faces ten armed opponents? As he glides between them with confidence and intense purpose, they inevitably fall one by one under the blade of his katana, which he wields with a deadly precision. The wind howls, and you can almost see the speed lines as he swings, he’s that quick. No more than twenty seconds, and it’s all over. This scene perfectly captures everything that a samurai ideally should be, by the popular conception: efficient, disciplined, honor-bound and lethal.
From Yojimbo, through Onimusha and For Honor, to Samurai Jack, these elite Japanese warriors had captivated the imagination of audiences, and became an integral part of modern popular culture. That’s why it’s all the more surprising that we still haven’t seen a samurai-themed game worthy of the epic awesomeness of Kurosawa and other masters of Japanese cinema. However, things are about to change, thanks to the visionary developer Sucker Punch and their latest creation called Ghost of Tsushima. This PS4 exclusive had kept us at the edge of our seat ever since the day that the game was first announced at Paris Games Week in 2017. The guys from Sucker Punch had used several smart ways to promote their game, fuelling our excited imagination and insatiable curiosity with just the right amount of information, while keeping the best things for the official release.
Nevertheless, this we know: the game rests on an extremely intriguing premise – to say the least. As you certainly know, Japanese samurai were one of the most honorable and accomplished warriors of all time, rigidly adhering to their way of life until the very end. In essence, they were the Far Eastern equivalent of European knights. Now, have you’ve ever wondered what should happen for samurai to cast away hundreds of years of social conditioning, careful upbringing, superior morality, and strictest possible way of life – in short, his warrior’s code and everything that makes him what he is – to achieve victory over a much superior enemy? The answer is simple: a full-sized invasion of the Mongol horde.
The Ghost of Tsushima will be set in one of the most interesting and eventful periods of Japanese history, in the time of the first Mongol invasion in 1274. Wishing to fulfill the Mandate of Heaven, the mighty Kublai Khan casts his eye on Japan. Because of its favorable position, the first step in the conquest of the Japanese archipelago is an ill-fated island of Tsushima. After several unsuccessful diplomatic attempts (which were, of course, merely an excuse for subtle threats and annexation of Japan), the invasion was launched. The first casualty of war is the island of Tsushima itself. Its samurai caste is mostly decimated, villages are raised, while others are subjugated until there was no one who could retaliate. The horde reigns supreme. At least, it seems that way. But there are some stirrings on the island, in the deep bamboo forests, in mountain shrines and luscious grasslands, someone or something is putting up the fight against the horde.
As you can see, the crew from Sucker Punch couldn’t have chosen a better time or location for their samurai epics, especially since that was an age of innovation, when the traditional methods of medieval warfare were slowly being supplemented by things such as gunpowder and various primitive explosive devices. This clash between modernity and tradition is echoed in the internal conflict of the protagonist, as is amply shown by the short trailer which had attracted the attention of gamers because of its obvious symbolism. This collage of scenes culminates in the shot of the protagonist, the ex-samurai Jin Sakai, with his traditional samurai armor burning away, peeling off in slow, seeping cinders like an old, useless skin, revealing beneath something much more lethal and unprincipled, almost ninja-like in its appearance – a ghost warrior of Tsushima.
Jin is the last remaining samurai on the island, a man that still desperately clings to the chivalrous traditions of samurai warfare. But, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, and he’ll be forced to cast away this samurai legacy as something that holds him back on his path of vengeance and liberation from Mongol invaders. During the game, Jin will master forbidden fighting techniques and become the titular ghost, silent and deadly protector of Tsushima, adept in using stealth and grappling hooks to his advantage.
All these narrative and dramatic elements (if implemented correctly, which there is no shadow of doubt that they will be, considering the reputation of developer) promise a great game, especially since developers had hinted the presence of a devious and imposing antagonist, who will prove to be more than a worthy opponent to Jin. In fact, they describe him as “uncomfortably reasonable killer“, which sounds extremely promising in my book. Of course, it’s important to emphasize that artisans from Sucker Punch hadn’t fallen into the trap of completely demonizing the Mongol invaders, which would make them stereotypical bad guys – that is to say flat and totally unconvincing. It seems that there will be those among the Mongols that you’ll be able to reason with, communicate, trade and, perhaps even collaborate in some way.
Another aspect of Ghost of Tsushima is its impressive historical authenticity – it will most likely prove to be the most detailed and true to life recreation of medieval Japan ever seen in a video game. That can be seen not only in the fateful representation of the material culture of that time (such as architecture, armors or weaponry) and the retelling of historical events, but also in the wildlife and topography of the actual Tsushima island. Developers state that they’ve visited the island on several occasions and had maintained constant connections with their Japanese colleges, so that they could contact them about any little detail they might need. There had even been some rumors that the whole game will be voiced in Japanese, and not in English as the current trailers show. However, as you well know, historical accuracy can also be a two-edged sword, since that realism could compromise other vital segments of the game. That’s why instead of complete (and, quite frankly, a bit dull and suffocating historicity) they’ve decided to allow themselves a considerable artistic liberty in some instances. That will ensure not only great and action-packed gameplay, but also the representation of Japanese and samurai culture which is closer to our modern concept derived from classic works of Japanese cinema, than to their historical version.