It’s a difficult thing, trying to capture another culture’s intricacies, especially in a period piece. Most times, developers often rely on stereotypes or end up making flagrant inaccuracies. Sucker Punch Productions, the creators of the Sly Cooper and inFamous series, have done what is exceedingly rare: Ghost of Tsushima is being lauded by Japanese critics for its depiction of the Kamakura Era (1185-1333 CE) and as a love letter to samurai cinema.
Respect for Japanese Historical Period
In Ghost of Tsushima, players take control of Jin Sakai, the sole samurai survivor of the initial Mongol invasion of the Japanese island of Tsushima in 1274 CE. One of the main concerns about Ghost of Tsushima was the fact that it was being made by western developers, with the worry that it would end up relying on using tropes common in American depictions of Japanese people and worldview.
However, critics note that the game’s tone is heavily influenced by Japanese historical drama. The scenes and stories that would normally make Japanese audiences uncomfortable with most American-made portrayals of Japan were not present. The game shows respect for the historical period, never misunderstanding the culture it is trying to represent. On the contrary, reviewers are saying that the game faithfully recreates the image of ancient Japan that many have in their minds.
Yeah… like I'm sure Sucker Punch has done their research and consulted whoever they need to consult, but everything I've seen of it has this Last Samurai western filter over everything that I find pretty distracting myself. I may be wrong but… I'll just stick to Sekiro thanks
— Jon Riesenbach 🎮 CrossCode (@moriyoshijon) July 1, 2020
Game Receives Praises for Recreating Actual Dialect
Additionally, the use of the Japanese language in the game is not considered out of place, and some reviewers even praise its attempts to recreate kogo, ancient Japanese. Prior to kanji being imported from China in the 5th century, Japan had a spoken-only language with native pronunciations for words. The game uses kunyomi, reading kanji based on the indigenous pronunciations, recreating the actual dialect of the historical population. Although issues have been raised with some of the menus using literal translations of Japanese, Sucker Punch put in the time to make sure they properly reproduced and depicted the classical Japanese language used in that time.
One inclusion Sucker Punch brings to the game is Kurosawa Mode, a way of playing the game which, like the name suggests, pays homage to the acclaimed director of Yōjinbō (Yojimbo) and Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai). When playing in Kurosawa Mode, the game plays entirely in black-and-white, with a heavy film grain, increased background wind, and a sound filter meant to recreate 1950s speakers. The developers worked closely with the Kurosawa Estate to ensure that they properly emulated the director’s distinctive style.
Beautiful CG, but…
Some inaccuracies have been pointed out, such as spring flowers blooming when they would normally not, as the game takes place in autumn, or that the sake brewery players visit uses techniques not developed until centuries later. Famitsu, perhaps the most well-known and harshest Japanese game critic publication, even pointed out that the dialogue is spoken much faster than it would be spoken at the time. Overall, though, these are minor details that don’t affect the game’s overall presentation. Ghost of Tsushima tries to evoke the feeling of ancient Japan. It’s a recreation of reality, a simulacrum, not reality itself.
Ultimately, Famitsu Weekly gave Ghost of Tsushima a perfect score, making it only the third Western-developed game to earn such a score, the other two being The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto V. If that doesn’t speak to the level of care that Sucker Punch has put into this game, I don’t know what will.
Ghost of Tsushima released worldwide on July 17, exclusively for PlayStation 4.
Fanatic to the extreme. When I'm not busy writing about or playing games, I can be found nerding out over mixed martial arts, heavy metal, and molecular gastronomy.