Ghost of Tsushima Iki Island review: two kinds of Ghost

There are 2 Ghost of Tsushimas. One is a remarkably crafted open-world video game that, while extremely acquired, provides among the best action-blockbuster experiences in current memory — a stunning, carefully tuned experience that uses limitless benefits with very little friction to those that keep playing. The other is the computer game variation of a man who just interacts in motion picture referrals, so in love with his concept of the movies he constantly remembers that it ends up being difficult to link with anybody below. The previous Ghost is lovely to think about. The latter is awkward.

The uncomfortable title of the most recent edition of the video game, Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, increases that stress in between these 2 approaches of thinking about the video game. It shows that it is the very best variation of the samurai impressive that made the 2020 PlayStation 4 unique a hit with gamers, however it does so with a term awkwardly raised from movie, one that breaks down totally when considered for more than a 2nd. (In what method is this a various “cut” of the computer game? What was eliminated, or brought back? Why doesn’t the initial release deserve this difference?)

Ghost of Tsushima is far from the only video game to be re-released under this classification, and it’s possible the designers at Sucker Punch feel the very same method about it as Hideo Kojima — who kept in mind that while a “director’s cut” of Death Stranding is being launched, it’s not his favored term. However Ghost of Tsushima, more than other video games, welcomes that contrast, since it is freely an homage to an extremely narrow piece of samurai movie theater: the kind that is idealized in the West, where it’s adoringly imported and remodelled into Westerns or Star Wars.

Jin Sakai blocks a strike from a strange clublike weapon, using his white-handled katana

Image: Sucker Punch Productions/Sony Interactive Home Entertainment

Welcoming gamers to consider the world beyond its beautiful little sandbox has actually shown to be frustrating for Ghost of Tsushima. The Kurosawa homage it professes to be breaks down when the well-known filmmaker’s brochure is seriously thought about. Its status as a work of historic fiction is on likewise unstable ground, as its variation of 13th-century Japan is one that seems soaked in propaganda more than real history. Ghost of Tsushima’s very well individual story saw lead character Jin Sakai reevaluating the samurai method, however in practice, his evaluation was among approach, not one of politics or culture. Jin, the samurai of Tsushima, called out his opponents to face them one on one on the battleground in “honorable” battles. Nevertheless, a Mongol intrusion required Jin to end up being a ghost, and offer “dishonorable” death from the shadows in order to conserve his house.

But the samurai way meant something different in history than it did in the main campaign of Ghost of Tsushima. The Iki Island expansion begins to interrogate that — if only briefly. It begins when Jin discovers a village suffering from a mysterious mental affliction. Upon arrival, Jin learns that another Mongol clan led by a shaman named Anshar Khatoun, known by her followers as The Eagle, is amassing power in the nearby Iki Island. This island holds great significance for Jin Sakai: It’s where he watched his father die.

That childhood trauma forms the spine of the expansion, and is the source of its most interesting ideas. The main Iki Island story finds Jin hiding his identity as the new Lord Sakai in order to defeat The Eagle with the help of the so-called raiders that killed his father. In his conversations with them, Jin is required to consider another time, when the invaders were not Mongols, but samurai, and his father was the one committing the same sort of violence against the raiders that Jin detests the Mongols for.

This is all, according to the developers, in service of “a story about healing.” Across the new campaign’s roughly six-hour run time, Ghost of Tsushima’s Iki Island expansion introduces these ideas but never finds the room to dig into them, nor does it give much credence to the pain endured by the raiders. Jin’s alliance of convenience is amends enough, in the end. Ghost of Tsushima’s vision of healing does not involve justice, but the saccharine image of two people shaking hands across the aisle, reducing decades of violence to a mere disagreement that can be hashed out with some sick team-ups. (To be fair: The team-ups are sick.)

Jin Sakai talks to a raider in Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut

Image: Sucker Punch Productions/Sony Interactive Entertainment

One of the reasons Ghost of Tsushima is so compelling to play comes down to the developers’ commitment. While many reviews, including our own, belabored the fact that you’ve seen virtually everything Ghost of Tsushima has to offer done elsewhere, it is also a game so wholly committed to its samurai theming that all of its mass-marketed systems and mechanics feel bespoke. As the game asks you to do worn-out video game things —engaging in stealthy combat, or mixing up light and heavy attacks, to name a couple — it also lets you challenge foes to showdowns; it throws in duels that strip away everything but your sword in order to briefly transform into a deadly fighting game; it lets you play the flute to lure animals closer for petting. It does all this with a careful eye for presentation that steadily seeks to reward players while also getting out of their method. If Ghost of Tsushima was your first video game, it would be tempting to think they invented all of this for the first time.

The care present in Ghost of Tsushima’s design makes its undercooked take on its own concepts harder to forgive. Take its themes seriously, and it becomes a story about a feudal landlord learning that maybe life isn’t about him, however centering on him anyway. The Jin Sakai that players engage with through play — the Jin Sakai that composes haikus, loves animals enough to play them little tunes on his flute, who never ever met a row of bamboo he did not want to cut for fun — seems to have the interiority that the Jin Sakai of Ghost of Tsushima’s narrative does not. One is a thoughtful guy you might want to hang around. The other is not. He’s kind of embarrassing.

Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut was released on Aug. 20 on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Sony Interactive Home Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate collaborations. These do not affect editorial material, though Vox Media might make commissions for items bought through affiliate links. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s principles policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.