cinema

Ghost of Tsushima’s Kurosawa Mode doesn't live up to the hype

It's brilliant, but it could have been even better.

Ghost of Tsushima has quickly become one of Sony’s most best-selling franchises on the PlayStation 4 by adapting samurai historical fantasy into a video game. Sucker Punch Productions has dedicated a whole black-and-white camera mode to Akira Kurosawa, the enormously influential Japanese filmmaker. While its inclusion does add something special to the experience, Kurosawa Mode never achieves its full potential due to some glaring flaws.

Right from the start, Ghost of Tsushima gives you the option to play the game in Standard, Samurai or Kurosawa Mode. Samurai Mode gives you Japanese dubs with English subtitles, and Kurosawa Mode takes things one step further with several visual and audio modifications that emulate the look and feel of classic films like Seven Samurai.

Ghost of Tsushima's Kurosawa Mode is more than a black and white filter.Sony Interactive Entertainment

Ghost of Tsushima Creative Director Jason Connell explained some of these enhancements to Entertainment Weekly shortly before the game's release. The unique game mode emulates the "curves that may have existed on that kind of film that [Kurosawa] might've used," increases the intensity of the Guiding Wind mechanic, and introduces audio tweaks that "mimicked sounds of old TV and, specifically, megaphones, radios, TVs back to the '50s."

Kurosawa Mode makes a fantastic first impression: Ghost of Tsushima’s opening sequence is somehow even more stunning in monochrome. But as soon as Yuna saves Jin Sakai and you start playing the game in earnest, the cracks begin to show very quickly.

Combat and searching for objectives don’t work well in Kurosawa Mode, mainly due to the coloration. These shortcomings become even more clear by the time you’re unleashed upon the open world and its many side-quests. Kurosawa Mode achieves all of the aesthetics it's meant to — and it's particularly valuable when dabbling in Ghost of Tsushima's photo mode — but it's a visual style that's better suited to films than video games.

In Kurosawa Mode, many of the game's cutscenes transform into simple shot-reverse-shot affairs while side-quests pull the camera back in an awkward way that eventually feels repetitive. It doesn’t elicit any specific classic films and barely takes advantage of Kurosawa Mode’s cinematic potential.

Once you get into combat, Kurosawa Mode becomes an outright hindrance to your performance. Ghost of Tsushima’s combat is rather easy on lower difficulties, but Kurosawa Mode makes dodging and parrying more difficult to time. Even aiming the bow becomes more challenging when everything is some shade of grey. Some side quests also rely on being able to recognize color in the environment, so you’ll have to toggle the mode off just to complete an objective, which breaks most of Kurosawa Mode’s magic.

I often turned Kurosawa Mode off during combat and exploring the open world ... which winds up being most of the game and the sequences when I want it to work the most. While it's a bit more than a filter, Kurosawa Mode often feels like a stylistic visual handicap instead of a unique way to still play the game in a meaningful way.

There's no denying how cool it looks.Sucker Punch Productions / Sony Online Entertainment

For anyone who wants to use Kurosawa Mode solely in photo mode to take stunning photos, it’s sublime. And the fact that you can switch it on and off at any time without loading is impressive, especially when compared to The Last of Us Part II, where toggling any of the game’s accessibility features forces you to restart from the most recent checkpoint.

It’s worth switching to Kurosawa Mode for climactic story cutscenes, which almost always have compelling cinematography. But otherwise, Kurosawa Mode feels like more trouble than it’s worth. For avid fans of Kurosawa's films, this may feel like a disappointment, but we appreciate the inclusion of the mode nevertheless.

If Sucker Punch ever returns to the world of Ghost of Tsushima, Kurosawa Mode should still come back with it, despite its few faults. Better visual indicators in combat or entirely reframing certain sequences for a more Kurosawa-like experience could truly make it shine.

All of the aesthetics and beautiful visuals are there, but the gameplay and in-game cinematography could benefit from a more hands-on approach to individual pieces of the game. It's still a mode that's worth trying for even a little bit if you play Ghost of Tsushima, though it may wind up being far too challenging to stick it out for the entire duration of your playthrough.

Ghost of Tsushima is now available on PlayStation 4.

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