Nobody Expects the Mongol Invasion!
Several red banners belonging to an unknown samurai clan dance in the sky as the wind beats them like sails on a ship. A samurai Lord rides through them accompanied by Jin Sakai, the last of his clan. A sea of Pampas stretch out as if bowing before a shrine. The scene is idyllic and restful, however, the moment is quickly soured as Jin discloses that the Mongol Empire is about to invade. “We are eighty Samurai against an army” says Jin, the distress clear in his voice. The scene changes once again, a gathering of Samurai line the peak of a small hill. The grass is swaying in the breeze, but this time it doesn’t feel idyllic and is far from restful.
This is the calm before the storm and the catalyst for the Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima Review
Khan You Just Leave?
There have been many Samurai themed games since the PlayStation was first released in 1994, however, they all seemed to be planted deep in Japanese folklore and mythology—Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Nioh come to mind. Very few, if any, are rooted in Japan’s long and fascinating history. Thankfully, Sucker Punch have remedied that with Ghost of Tsushima. A story based on the Mongol invasions of Tsushima, a small island off the coast of mainland Japan, in 1274.
You play as Jin Sakai, a Samurai, who lives on Tsushima island with his uncle, Lord Shimura, who leads the Samurai in battle against the first Mongol invasion. However, since this is a game, the battle doesn’t exactly go to plan. Lord Shimura sends out his “best” Samurai to duel against the Mongol’s best warrior, but they don’t exactly share the same honour code that the Samurai have and Lord Shimura’s warrior is set on fire and beheaded before he can even draw his sword. The Samurai lose this battle and all but Jin is slaughtered.
After Jin wakes up and you are introduced to Yuna, a thief girl who dragged Jin to safety, the game takes the opportunity to give you a little stealth tutorial. For now, it’s real simple. Press to crouch and don’t let the enemies spot you. If they do, a small arrow, pointing in the direction of the Mongol who’s peeping on you, will begin to fill up white and then yellow before turning red—this is standard fare in video games these days. You don’t get to stealth kill any fools yet though, you’re not the Ghost yet. Besides, you don’t even have your sword because Yuna decided to pawn it off for medicine to save Jin’s life, so you win some, you lose some. This tutorial section is brief, but it gives you all the basic tools you’ll need to liberate the first region of Tsushima.
Following Foxes, Slicing Bamboo and Hanging Dong in Hot Springs
After Yuna parts ways with Jin, you’re free to explore the map—at least the first region. You can’t just open the map and pick out a location and head there though due to the map being shrouded in fog. Every step you take, the fog is lifted and reveals what’s hidden beneath—again, standard fare. It’s okay though, your first armour piece has an ability that reveals 10% more fog from the map as you explore and it will also let you know when you’re close to an artefact via the controller’s rumble motors. That’s pretty cool! To top it off, if you swipe up on the , a gust of wind will blow in the direction of your tracked objective/waypoint. You really can’t get lost in Tsushima.
You can lift all the fog in one go by liberating the entirety of Izuhara (the first region). Liberating is simple, find a Mongol encampment and clear it out. Once the fog is lifted, every point of interest on the map is marked by a question mark leaving you to mop up with relative ease. However, you can’t actually liberate Izuhara fully until you start Act 2, but you can definitely still go around and do all the side activities which will reward you with vanity items, charms and plenty of XP.
There are plenty of them to find and complete too.
- Inari Shrines – Inari is Japanese for “fox” and littered throughout the island is 49 fox shrines for you to pray at. Each shrine allows you to unlock more charm slots and give you a charm that will buff Jin’s abilities.
- Hot Springs – Jin can find and bathe in hot springs to reflect on a topic and also give a small health increase.
- Bamboo Strikes – A sort of minigame where you must slice through 3, 5 and then 7 bamboo chutes in one swing of your sword. Each bamboo will have a button assigned and you must press the whole sequence as fast as you can. Completing a Bamboo Strike will help towards unlocking more Resolve.
- Shinto Shrines – You can visit shrines to pray and receive Charms and rare materials for upgrading Jin’s gear. However, you must complete a climbing puzzle at every shrine first because the Mongols have destroyed all the stairs!
- Lighthouses – Across Tsushima are are 8 lighthouses that you can reignite to gain a little bit of XP
- Pillars of Honour – Every now and then you can spot a pillar that will always have a vanity item for Jin to collect. Is that stealing? Someone probably left that there to honour a deity or a deceased loved one, right?
- Haiku – All Samurai practised writing haikus and a Mongol invasion isn’t going to stop Jin from finding a nice spot to sit and write a pretty poem or two. You will be shown three scenes and you can choose one of 3 lines in each scene to make up a full haiku.
- Duels – During Act 2, you can start a Mythic Tale where a powerful Ronin will challenge you to a duel, however, you must first duel his 5 friends. These are basically boss fights and heaps of fun.
Completing each of these collectibles will net you some XP, which is shown as Jin’s “Legend”. You have to work your way up to the title of Ghost of Tsushima, but every new title you earn will come with a bunch of Technique Points for you to use to unlock new abilities so it’s definitely worth hunting down and completing all of the above collectibles.
Taking the Fight to the Mongols!
You can’t have a samurai game without excellent combat and Ghost of Tsushima definitely has some stellar combat. It’s fast, fluid and makes you feel like a true samurai.
There are a few ways you can start a battle, but hands down the best way is to press to initiate a Standoff. Jin will slowly approach the enemy and until he’s within striking distance at which point you will be prompted to hold . Now you must carefully watch the enemy as he tries to psych you out. As soon as he lunges forward, release and Jin will cut him down in one, surgical slice of his katana. You can upgrade the number of swings to a maximum of 5 which is enough, in some cases, to start and end an entire battle.
You can also decide to take out a few enemies from a distance with the bow which is quite powerful at first, but has a limited number of arrows. It’s best to identify the Mongol archers first and use the bow to take them out from a distance as they can be a nuisance during battle. You can upgrade the bow to have more damage, be faster to knock and draw and carry more arrows. You can even unlock an ability to slow down time so you can make sure each shot is a headshot.
Of course, you can just rush in and mash to start slicing up your opponents which is somewhat viable in the first encounters, but you’ll notice quickly that these Mongols know how to fight and will block and parry your attacks. Luckily, you can press to deal a heavy attack and break their guard letting you get a few good hits in. Alternatively, you can block and parry attacks yourself with which, if you’re timing is good, can trigger a perfect parry where time slows down for a second and you can perform a powerful slice that will finish most enemies in one. If timing isn’t your strong suit, then you can press to dodge. Of course you’ll have to do all of these in most fights so it’s worth mastering them.
That’s not all there is to combat, however. The Mongols will have soldiers with spears, shields, and brutes with giant maces. This is where Stances come into play. You must be in the correct stance to break the guard of each enemy type.
Stone Stance – This stance is perfect for enemies with just a sword. A few taps of will stagger them and then you’re free to slice them up with or, my favourite attack, hold to pierce your katana right through their chest.
Water Stance – Shieldmen can be annoying. They block most of your attacks and can use their shield to bash Jin’s face in. The attacks in this stance are quite fast and deliberate.
Wind Stance – Arguably more annoying than Shieldmen is Spearmen. They have long reach and often have attacks that you can only dodge. Good job you can spin around like a ballerina and stagger then with this stance.
Moon Stance – Brutes are big and have hard hitting attacks, but they’re actually not that challenging to fight. The Moon stance makes it even easier to deal with them because it can interrupt most of their attacks before it staggers them. It also has some fancy spin attack combos.
After you unlock each stance, you can switch to it mid-battle by holding down and then pressing either , , , or . However, this menu takes just a little too long to appear which often results in Jin randomly jumping during a battle because I was a millisecond too soon trying to switch to the Stone stance. Sometimes, it doesn’t even switch at all which can be annoying when you’re trying to fight a Brute, but you’re still in Water stance and the game stops completely to tell you about switches stances all over again. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen enough to impact the combat and you quickly adapt to it.
There’s Something Strange In the Neighbourhood!
Combat is all well and good, but sometimes it’s just better to go in under the cover of night and sneak around like some sort of ectoplasmic burglar.
The whole point of the game is that the samurai code of honour isn’t truly effective against the Mongols and so Jin must adapt and go against his code to become the Ghost. As the Ghost, Jin can assassinate unsuspecting Mongols with a quick stab of his tanto. Of course, you must first get behind him without being spotted; luckily there’s all these patches of Pampas inside the Mongol encampments for Jin to hide in and when there isn’t, Mongols never look up so Jin can just hide on rooftops and assassinate them from above.
Being the Ghost isn’t just about sneaking around and Sucker Punching enemies, Jin has to find an edge in every situation.
Ghost Weapons and Techniques will open up more options in stealth and combat than you know what to do with. Jin can throw kunai to instantly stagger enemies during a fight, or he can throw a smoke bomb to disorent them while he slips away or gets some easy kills. He can also lure enemies to him or away from him with throwable wind chimes, which can later be upgraded to emit a poisonous cloud upon impact. There’s plenty of stuff for you to experiment with and find your favourite playstyle.
The enemy AI isn’t very smart though. Oftentimes, after being discovered and breaking line of sight, the enemy will spend about a minute looking for you and then just give up and will return to the exact same patrol route as before. On the other hand, if you manage to quickly dispatch an enemy that spots you, then you can continue sneaking around without anyone noticing. You can’t move bodies though and they will sound an alarm that puts everyone on alert if they find one of your kills. They also seem to have a large detection cone and will spot you if you’re not approaching them from directly behind.
Of course, there is plenty of charms and armour for you to completely negate all these issues, but there’s no loadout system so switching up your gear for each encounter is tedious and absolutely not worth it.
The Mythic and Ordinary Tales of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima has about 24 main story quests, and 61 side quests for you to enjoy. On top of these quests are the Mythic Tales.
Seven legends of warriors who possessed godlike talents and took their techniques, weapons and armour to their grave. Luckily for Jin, there seems to be a musician for each tale that can wind him up and set him off in the rough direction of the final resting place of these legendary warriors. Each mythic tale is slightly different. One tale had me referencing a map as I rode all of Izuhara looking for violet flowers atop a mountain in order to find a legendary archer’s armour. Another had me climb a snowy mountain with nothing but conveniently placed campfires to stop Jin from freezing to death, whereupon reaching the top, I had to duel another samurai to learn the Way of the Flame technique.
These tales were my absolute favourite quest type to complete in Ghost of Tsushima. I just wish there were more of them.
Aside from chasing legends, Jin can talk to peasants who can sometimes give him a quick quest to go and save their family from a bunch of bandits or find something they lost. These quests are decent, but don’t overstay their welcome which is either a pro or a con depending on the player.
The best side quests you can do are for Jin’s companions such as Lady Masako, an “Onna-bugeisha (female samurai)” from the Adachi clan whose entire family was killed shortly after the Mongol invasion and now, with Jin’s help, is looking for those responsible for some sweet revenge. Or Sensei Ishikawa, a master of the bow, whose prodigal student, Tomoe, has gone AWOL and joined up with the Mongols.
You only have to do one or two of each companions’ side quests for the actual story, but their tales are so compelling that I found myself constantly checking the map for the next part of their quests to appear.
My Ghost of Tsushima Platinum Journey
Just Go With the Flow
My approach with Ghost of Tsushima, as well as any open-world single player game, was to just play the story and complete any side activities or quests I happened upon and then spend a little time later mopping up what I missed.
Ghost of Tsushima’s world is so beautiful and fun to explore that I quickly forgot about the story and just ran around from collectible to collectible, completing any quest that I came across in the process. This often led me to new areas where I’d find even more collectibles. It was quite the cycle.
Eventually, I forced myself back on track and carried on with the main story, but not before I finished every side quest that was pinned to my map.
With one main quest left in Act 1, I decided to spend a few more hours looking for Mongol territories to liberate, but aside from one or two I missed, I just couldn’t liberate Izuhara. There were about 5 or 6 territories that I was missing, however, after almost clearing the entire map of fog, I still couldn’t find them.
After storming Castle Kaneda and travelling to Akashima Village in the 2nd region, I opened the map and spotted some brand new red markers in Izuhara. It turned out that at the start of Act 2, several farmsteads across Tsushima will become occupied by Mongols.
With Izuhara fully liberated, I went around the map from one question mark to another and mopped up completely.
Rinse and Repeat
I continued with the story a little bit into Act 2, and then focused on side quests first and then did some exploring to try and find as many Mongol territories as I could.
After a few hours I opened the map and saw I was only 2-3 territories away from liberating the whole 2nd region, so I did a quick shameful google for the last few. I couldn’t actually liberate the entire map, because Castle Shimura was the final Mongol territory so I did what I could and continued where I left the story.
After Castle Shimura, the 2nd region was free to mop up.
The Final Stretch
I carried on my strategy for Act 3, except this time, I took a peek at my trophy list for any misc trophies that I was missing.
I actually was quite lucky in that I managed to naturally pop most of the misc trophies except one for knocking an enemy to their death, one for dressing up like Sly Cooper, purchasing a dye from the black and white dye vendors, and one for playing the flute at a specific location.
Finally, after witnessing the end to Jin’s own tale, I was free to do the final mop up.
Except, I ran into a snag. I had completely cleared the map of all question marks and yet I was still missing a hot spring, a haiku, and a side quest. I must have spent maybe an hour running around the map looking for that last quest and double checking every hot spring and haiku location.
It turned out that in one of the first towns you visit, Hiyoshi Springs, there are two NPCs that will tell you about hot springs and haikus, but I had completely missed them on every occasion I visited the town.
As for the last quest, it turned out to be a “hidden” quest South-East of Jogaku Temple in the 3rd region. I don’t know if these quests are hidden by design or if Sucker Punch messed up somehow, but I managed to complete it anyway and my long and well earned platinum popped!
Story & Side Quests
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