EGM’s Best of 2020: #2 Ghost of Tsushima
Much like with movies, there are times when patterns start to emerge in the release of video games. Those trends can emerge as companies chase what’s popular at the moment, such as when companies flooded the market with fighting games after the release of Street Fighter II. Or, they can come more organically, as similar themes show up in a handful of games either by mere chance, or because a variety of developers are tapping into themes that had gone untouched for some length of time.
In the span of just over a year, three major video game projects took players back to the time of the samurai: FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Team Ninja’s Nioh 2, and Sucker Punch Productions’ Ghost of Tsushima.
There’s a bit of irony in the fact that, of those three, what could arguably be the best depiction of historical Japan is the one developed by a Western team. Sucker Punch put an incredible amount of time and effort into its depiction of Kamakura Era Japan, even down to smaller details like the language used on signs, or having characters use the older reading of kanji that have long been supplanted by newer readings. Tsushima Island as it exists here is not only the perfect setting for a video game, but also a vessel through which to virtually explore a version of the country that’s long since gone.
Of course, Ghost of Tsushima is a video game first and foremost, and it’s a fantastic one. It can be easy these days to feel exhausted by “visit all the points on a cluttered map” open world adventures, but Sucker Punch has crafted an experience that always pushed us to witness just one more storyline beat, visit one more village, or take on one more dynamic sidequest. There’s a richness to everything here that just sucks you in and won’t let go, from the combat system that blends skill, stealth, and savagery, to the way the story offers twists that feel both grounded and earned, to a genuine sense of progression that can be hard to capture in such open-ended games. Not only can you feel the impact the invading Mongol horde is having on the island, but you can also feel the impact your actions are having on thwarting their advancement.
Above all else, though, Ghost of Tsushima is the tale of a man torn between the traditions of his family and homeland, and embracing combat techniques that can actually give him a chance to protect his people. Protagonist Jin Sakai’s descent from samurai to “ghost” is an emotional and engaging one—so much so that even we EGM staff were split on what the “correct” choice was for one of the game’s major decision points.
In a year when Sony Interactive Entertainment and its studios have been firing on all cylinders, Ghost of Tsushima had that extra something that made it stand out from the crowd—and which helped push it into the #2 slot on our list of the best games of 2020.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.