‘Ghost of Tsushima’ Is a Pretty Game Built on an Old and Creaky Foundation

Does Austin just want Penny Dreadful?

The modern day stuff definitely got better after Desmond Miles, The Most Boring Man On Earth, finally buggered off, but it’s still clear that they don’t know what to do with the modern stuff overall. The switch to Layla and the sort of psudo Lara Croft bits is a solid direction but boy have there been some baffling moments there. I’m still reeling from the series of events in the Odyssey Atlantis DLC where first Layla is told off for killing a bunch of armed stormtroopers, because apparantly the Assassins are against killing, then she gets pulled out of the animus for having too much fun, and responds to that by killing the person who did it in cold blood and claiming that she was “posessed” to an ancient hologram life form, who rightfully turns around and says “naw that’s bullshit”, but ends up just ignoring it anyway? I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m an Assassin’s Creed Liker again now that they’re RPGs but boy is the modern stuff a wild ride.


If I can bring some of the mediocre game thread energy into here I’m super down for a checklist open world game right now. This style of game is deeply relaxing to wind down a day with, interacting well with and calming down my anxiety. if the story and characters are good (which most reviews I’ve read say are in this case) I really don’t mind if the mechanics feel dated.

The thing my mind keeps coming back to is Shonen anime where there is absolutely an old established formula, but it’s the individual characters, setting, and twists of a particular show that will draw us in. So like, looking at the horizon at what going to be available in this style of game over the next few months the colonialist themes, character design, and setting of Vahalla aren’t working for me, Cyberpunk looks like hateful garbage, and so this beautiful game kinda stands out as the most appealing way to get my checklisting in, innovative or not.


Yeah I think I’ve mentioned this in another thread, but the Ubisoft open world design is like comfort food for me.


As much as everything about the creative direction of this game makes my eyes roll, I am 100% playing this.

All the gang needed to say was that the combat felt good and the world was pretty. These kinds of games serve a purpose for me and the recent AC games have stretched themselves into such vast and turgid affairs that they no longer meet that want for me. This seems like just the kind of junk food I’m looking for right now.


I think the newer modern day stuff suffers from the developers pretty much making it as near optional to partake in as possible so they have to resolve some significant plot developments in a couple of minutes so the player can get back into the Animus. It seems like the devs were really burned by the vitriol the modern day stuff received early on and now want to simultaneously continue it but also not burden the player with it more than necessary.

I will admit I sorta found it goofy and enjoyable at first and still don’t mind it my main instinctual criticism is that you always seem to be pulled out of the Animus right when something really cool happens or just when you’re finding your groove in the world which means I don’t want to explore around the modern day even though I normally might want to.

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So it seems that game is going over quite well with Japanese critics. While some of the games direction does look confused the complaints of historic inaccuracy have always fallen a little flat to me. Historic fiction made in Japan about Japan is often historically inaccurate. The same is true in the west. In particular the game’s Tsushima actually being a composite of landscapes from around Japan just doesn’t feel like a big deal. Historic epics, particularly heavily fictionalized ones like this game, are almost never place accurate. If you were to go by depictions in popular media 90% of English history took place on a windswept moor.


Two cultures with heavy colonial backgrounds making dreamy renditions of each other’s historical imagery isn’t inherently bad (save for outright orientalist fiction like Shogun). Games like Dragon Quest and Dark Souls are a testament to how another culture’s interpretation of European fantasy imagery can breathe new life into it.

Not having lip-sync for the Japanese dub isn’t great, and there’s something kind of tacky about putting Kurosawa’s name on a basic black-and-white color filter feature.


Well that’s good to hear. Dia went off (https://twitter.com/dialacina/status/1283792297025572864?s=20) and I was worried that Sucker Punch had really stepped in it

It’s a lot less cut and dry than an American company making a game set, for example, in Colombia. Japan is a major world power, it has it’s own legacy of imperialism, it’s own tradition of semi-mythical historical fiction, and has consciously exported a lot of culture to the United States. Also this game is being published by a Japanese company. This isn’t meant to excuse any insensitivity or to stop people from being critical. But more to say that it’s a much less straightforward dynamic than other depictions of non-western cultures by western creators are.


From the criticism I’ve read, Tsushima does a bit more than just blur actual history. It also tells a fairly nationalistic story about the Samurai caste where you have to defend an Eden from Mongol hordes. Honor is droned on about endlessly and we all just sort of ignore the immense privilege these lords had, and abused. With that in mind, I think comments about how Jin Sakai is “a real Japanese samurai” are kinda questionable.

To be clear, I’m not saying Japan is a country full of crypto-fascists or something like that, but they’d be far from the first peoples to ever look at their more sordid and violent history with rose-colored glasses. I mean, how many Americans know Jesse James was, in reality, just an angry die-hard Confederate loyalist?


One thing I kept thinking about is the practice of portraying historical settings. In the podcast about this game Austin kept bringing up how haikus didn’t really exist during this period in Japanese history. So instead they act as a cultural signifier so the game is recognizable to a certain kind of audience. And this is something any cultural work with a historical setting that is produced under capitalism has to deal with. If you create a work that is meticulously accurate to its historical setting, but cuts against the current cultural understanding of that period of history, your potential audience will reject the work. And so the larger your budget for a creative work, the more a creator will have to adhere to these types of signifiers regardless of their accuracy. Ideally what a creator can do is strategically challenge the audience in sections to provide a deeper knowledge, but either way you are operating out of this necessarily compromised space.

This is something that board game designers are deeply familiar with. For example, Twilight Struggle is a board game with area control mechanics and a Cold War setting. The creators of the game are very aware that the current academic research on the Cold War rejects the Domino theory that was used to understand the geopolitical conflict between capitalist and communist ideology. But the Domino theory still looms large in the cultural imagination of Americans. So the game mechanically reflects that imagined history instead of more realistic mechanics. Because if the game didn’t do that, the game would not “ring true” for most players.


It’s definitely worth noting that, on top of historically showing a lot of denialism toward the crimes they committed during their militarist period, modern Japan has been seeing a resurgence in nationalism, including a not-as-far-on-the-fringes-as-it-should-be movement to convert the SDF into a “real” military capable of offensive operations. Their right-wing government, led by a four-term Prime Minister who openly holds nationalistic views, was also fairly popular up until coronavirus hit.

None of which is unique to Japan, of course, but it’s a cultural context that I think a lot of Americans who consume Japanese media are oblivious to, deliberately or otherwise.

So I definitely think it’s wise to be wary of uncritically consuming media that presents nationalistic ideas about Japanese history, whoever is creating it. It’s also why I’m not swayed by the pieces about how Japanese critics are praising Tsushima’s authenticity. If the revisionism is flattering, why would they be bothered by it? Maybe games critics in Japan have a long history of questioning nationalist and imperialist sentiment in games, but I doubt that’s any more the case than it is in English-language games criticism, where you have a handful of outlets that care about that stuff and the rest just don’t spare it a second thought.


I’d imagine that, just like over here, a lot of Japanese games critics have very “default” politics and have never really had those views interrogated


An additional complication is that the game also has to be fun for a wide audience. A studio with Sucker Punch’s resources could undoubtedly create a 1:1 recreation of the island of Tsushima with period accurate weapons and combat. But would enough people play that game to make it profitable. I play a lot of Mount and Blade and I’m not even sure I would enjoy that game. Similarly a game that accurately modeled the dynamics of every country in the Cold War would be unplayably complicated.

I do feel that you could make a version of both games that is more nuanced and historically accurate. But compromise is necessary. To take the example of ghost’s island of Tsushima. The real island, while beautiful, is almost entirely steep forested hill and ocean coves. If that was faithfully recreated the game would be criticized for all of it’s environments looking the same. And that’s not unfair, part of the fun of an open world game is exploring a variety of distinct environments.

While it could do better at a certain point I feel that if someone is learning history exclusively from AAA video games they’re not much that can be done to help them.

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My take is that it’s a lot like the situation with statues of slaveholders. It’s not about whether or not history is represented accurately, rather it’s about which stories about the past we tell and how we tell them.


Just to add to what other people have said here; it’s fairly common for a culture that isn’t normally represented in blockbuster media to be treated favourably by its members. We often respond with “damn that’s our shit but it’s expensive!!” to this kind of misrepresentation.

To use a wildly reductive but personal example: In Australia, people like Rebel Wilson even though she has made her name hawking an unflattering caricature of our working class to the rest of the world. She’s the most visible Australian in popular culture, so we lap that shit up even though her shtick betrays no underlying affection for the “bogans” she’s caricaturing.


Hey, have you ever wanted to play a game so infuriatingly hard and imbalanced that you can’t stop screaming and getting your neighbors mad at you? Have you even wanted to rip your hair out at how poorly a game can match button prompts to actions you take?

BOY, THEN YOU SHOULD START THIS GAME ON LETHAL MODE. The most bullshit evil difficulty made by the Devil, Shiva, Hades, and Mitch McConnell himself.

Like… I cannot fathom how fucking HARD this is. You think Dark Souls is tough? You think Misery on STALKER is evil? You think Ghosts n’ Goblins is impossible? Play this ruinous game on this maleficent difficulty. You will weep for an eternity and perish in agony.

First off, lets just get out of the way. Armor is completely useless. It’s basically just a way to dress up. Wanna upgrade? Yeah, ok, but it ain’t gonna matter, because you’re going to die in 1-2 hits no matter what. Hey, so I guess that means playing as a ghost right? Sure, if you like having your uncle YELL at you in visions for wanting to put the survival of your country over superficial ‘honor.’ Samurai are the worst. Not to mention your quiver can maybe hold like what? 6 arrows at the start? HA. And you wanna clear a camp with that??? With THEIR IMPENETRABLE helmets??? HAVE FUN!

So what should you do then? Well my friend, you should probably make a mad dash for whatever onsens you can find to look at samurai butt as much as possible, so you can upgrade your health bar to taking 2-3 hits instead of just one. Oh, but FUCK YOU for considering that means the bulky shield guys and generals follow that rule as well. Because they don’t. They still one hit kill you.

This mode has also illustrated how B A D, and I mean capital B BAAAAAD their balancing in this game is. First off, lethal mode doesn’t mean your enemies die in 1-2 hits. OH NO. WHY WOULD YOU EVEN THINK THAT??? Stronger enemies can take about 5-7 hits of damage. YEAH, THAT’S FAIR. VERY FAIR. GOD, I FEEL LIKE SUCH A POWERFUL SAMURAI WITH THE BEST SWORD AND NOT A TOTAL PIECE OF SHIT GARBAGE SWORD THAT BREAKS AGAINST ANY OTHER SWORD MADE BY MEDIEVAL PEOPLES.

Also, I guess I’m used to button presses telegraphing WHAT I WANT TO DO, but I guess ‘Ghost of Ass Butt the Video Game’ had other things in mind. In a mode where, you know, you want mashing the block button to actually block, or the dodge button to actually dodge, this game elequently tells you to go fuck yourself and deal with framerate drops in the 15s.

This is me the past few days:

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every time a game introduces a bullshit gimmick difficulty mode i just get upset that nobody copies Devil May Cry’s Heaven and Hell mode; where you die in 1 hit from anything, BUT ALSO all enemies die from 1 hit from you. So it’s both extremely difficult, and yet also dramatically easier.

i mean it also has HELL AND HELL mode which just makes them super hard and you ALSO die in 1 hit but it being included along the funnier EVERYBODY DIES IN ONE HIT mode makes it alot easier to swallow.

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That is basically what Lethal mode in this is, except it’s two hits (besides some bosses that can one hit you). The post above is… quite wrong.

You shouldn’t start on it but I tranisitioned to it halfway through act II and it’s been the perfect challenge.