Although “Ghost of Tsushima’s” charismatic characters and intricate combat are a significant draw, what first kindled my admiration for this new open-world RPG set in 13th-century Japan is its respect for poetry.
Early in the game, Jin Sakai, the samurai hero of the story, encounters an old man sitting on a rock who advises him to take up the art of haiku. The anonymous poet makes a practical case for its utility, telling Jin that haiku can help a warrior clear his mind of internal strife and find equanimity.
Curious to take him up on this advice, I led Jin to a nearby overlook with a view of the forest, sat him down. Using the controller, I was able to focus Jin’s attention on specific parts of the landscape and compose a haiku: “Whispers through the trees/ Protected from the harsh sun/ A sturdy defense.” In all my years of gaming, this was the first time I helped the protagonist in an action game reflect on the theme of serenity.
“Ghost of Tsushima” is a game that abounds with such nifty elements. Rather than depending on an unsightly compass, or a mini-map, on the screen for navigation (as is typical for most large-scale open world games), you can swipe your finger across the touch pad to rustle up a breeze — the Guiding Wind — to point you in the right direction. In fact, you can discover points of interest in the world without consulting a map at all. From time to time a golden-colored bird or a fox will cross your path. Following them will lead you to convenient locations such as shrines or hot springs where Jin can pray or bathe to increase his stats.
Set during the time of the Mongol invasion of Japan, this visually stunning epic tells the story of Jin’s quest to repel the invaders who wiped out most of his fellow samurai and captured his uncle, Lord Shimira, leader of the region. Taking on all manner of foes, from dual-wielding swordsmen to wrathful spirits, he encounters a woman along the way — Yuna, a no-nonsense thief — who counsels him to put aside some of his samurai ideals.
“Ghost of Tsushima” is a vast game. I have poured at least a couple dozen hours into it but have much left to see. I suspect it will keep me enjoyably busy until the leaves fall from their trees and the next console cycle begins.