Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous video game. Its visual language is striking, often overwhelming. The leaves of a golden forest slowly drift down to the earth, blanketing the ground. Waves crash, and two samurai duel to the death on a rocky beach as lightning flashes in the background. An old woman, stricken by tragedy, sees the face of a man she was sure she’d lost forever. People on the internet have been going haywire taking screenshot after screenshot of this game, flooding Reddit and other gaming websites. Whatever debate players have about the gameplay, the art direction is indisputably beautiful. I’ve been having a great time playing Ghost of Tsushima and taking screenshots, but the most impactful screenshot I’ve taken so far wasn’t what I expected.
This slideshow is short and sweet and does not contain the screenshot that I found most arresting, just some images that I thought were beautiful and/ or cool.
*****Minor Spoilers for Act II of Ghost of Tsushima*****
I’ve never been one to gush over graphics. I still quite literally don’t know what 4K is and at this point I’m too afraid to ask. All I know is that the content has greater impact to me than form. Not that presentation isn’t important; but to me it tends to come second. I’d rather play Control for the New Weird than for how it performs; for evidence, I can offer that I fully platinum-ed that game on my base PS4 and legitimately didn’t have any complaints about framerate drops.
So it was with great surprise that I find myself stopping to take screenshots and short videos all the freaking time in Ghost. Every epic standoff becomes a chance to break out the wonderful photo mode, and every duel is an opportunity to show off that yeah, I play on lethal mode and I can totally hang.
There’s a questline in Act II where player character Jin Sakai goes home to gather his family’s armor as an inspiration to the people he fights for, to show them they are not abandoned. His old housekeeper Yuriko is keeping Jin’s estate safe and clean in the hopes that Jin will return. When he finally does, it’s an emotional scene; the animations and voice acting are strong and, thematically, the idea of returning home a changed person is always meaningful.
But this wasn’t what most affected me. That came a few minutes later when Yuriko gently encourages Jin to visit his father’s grave.
It isn’t a shock that Jin’s father is dead; players know this from the beginning of the game. His presence is felt throughout the game, literally, as the guiding wind at Jin’s back. He is referred to constantly by other characters and in flashbacks. But I’ve never played a video game that so explicitly asks players to mourn.
I lost my father unexpectedly a few years ago. He was young, relatively. I’m young, relatively. It was a freak thing that felt like it came out of nowhere. I’m still dealing with it, and I imagine I’ll be dealing with it for the rest of my life. So I was surprised when an open-world video game where the majority of my time is spent chasing after yellow birds, collecting flowers, and mastering insta-kill parries told me to “write a poem in memory of your father”.
This is a game full of beautiful imagery. It feels designed to give players tools to create the most beautiful screenshots possible. Yet this shot means more than any others I’ve taken throughout my time with the game because it strikes at the heart. I didn’t even use the photo mode for this shot, just hit the “share” button on my PS4 controller.
Video games are many things to different people. Great narratives. Tests of skill. Artistic expression. In this moment, Ghost of Tsushima became a reminder to reflect on what my family and I had lost. I’ll always love this screenshot because of its earnestness and the absurd, specific way it reached out directly to me in this moment. No other game has ever asked me to stop and think about my father before, and I’ll always be grateful that this one did.
I even have a haiku to show for it.