Sucker Puncher’s upcoming samurai title Ghost of Tsushima is not trying to be historically accurate. Instead, the studio is trying to honor the game’s roots by aiming to be culturally authentic.
In a recent interview, creative director Nate Fox told Kotaku that Ghost of Tsushima is designed around the “value of tension”, citing the playground game red hands as an analogy. It was a simple, clear portrait of the unpredictable action that has defined the many samurai films that Ghost of Tsushima undoubtedly draws its inspiration from.
Players take the role of Jin Sakai, the last samurai left on the island of Tsushima during the Mongol invasion in 1274. In keeping with the theme of tension, the Ghost of Tsushima gameplay trailer revealed at E3 showed a foreboding stand-off between Jin and three Mongol soldiers. Threats are exchanged and Jin adopts a defensive stance as the Mongols spread out to surround him. After an anxious pause, the closest soldier lashes out only to be cut down by Jin’s lightning iaido strike.
It’s an iconic bit of samurai film imagery, which in turn was inspired by the quick-draw duels found in western films. Fox mentioned that Jin’s surname Sakai is an homage to Stan Sakai, the Japanese-American creator behind the brilliant comic book series Usagi Yojimbo, but Usagi Yojimbo itself is a nod to the Akira Kurosawa classics Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Both films follow an enigmatic swordsman who goes by the alias Sanjuro, a lone wanderer who aimlessly travels around Japan and, if the mood strikes him, saves the innocent from the clutches of evildoers.
Sanjuro is a charming character, but for his time, he was definitely not a good guy. He seems to do the right thing more out of whimsy than any real conviction for justice, he cares little for traditional notions of samurai honor, and he regularly uses deception to meet his goals.
He’s also got one hell of a quickdraw.
Ghost of Tsushima isn’t historically accurate, but neither are Japan’s more cherished jidaigeki films. Instead, Ghost of Tsushima intends to channel the romance and drama that has made Kurosawa’s films so beloved and imitated. Sucker Punch even hired Daisuke Tsuji, a voice actor of Japanese heritage, to voice Jin Sakai.
I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Ghost of Tsushima, I was skeptical. I’ve played too many video games from western developers that treat Asia as exotic playgrounds and Asians as flat, one-dimensional plot devices who exist solely to characterize the western hero.
The developers behind Ghost of Tsushima are trying to create something with substance. If they succeed, then that is what will make the game a true homage of samurai films rather than a cheap cash grab.