|Many different kinds of armor and cosmetics.|
The premise is based around the First Mongol Invasion of Japan in 1274, specifically the titular isle of Tsushima. Historically, the samurai took advantage of the terrain and used their mastery of the bow to rain down arrows on the invading horde enough to severely deplete their ranks. This is because samurai were originally archers rather than swordsman (that came later). In this version of history, Lord Shimura is an idiot charges the Mongols head on rather than use the terrain and gets the entirety of the island's defenses wiped out in a single battle. Lord Shimura's nephew, Jin Sakai, is seemingly the only survivor and barely manages to escape with his life.
The premise of the game is that Jin needs to become the first ninja. While the word shinobi is never used, Jin has to learn a variety of stealth tactics and sabotage skills in order to wage asymmetrical warfare on the Mongols. Jin cannot defeat the Mongols by himself but he can certainly make their invasion far more difficult. He also attempts to recruit as many allies as he can to continue resisting the invasion after the majority of their defenders are killed. This is all in hopes of eventually weakening them enough that they can be repulsed by reinforcements from the mainland. Theoretically. In practice, Jin does single-handedly murder the entirety of the Mongol invasion and drive them back by himself.
This is pretty much about as good a set of historical facts as Assassins Creed, which is to say not at all. Tsushima island is less than three hundred miles in size and the Mongols actually managed to subdue it in a few days before getting repulsed at the next island over. The depiction of the samurai here is also extremely stupid because the ones here are obsessed with "honor" and glory as defined by fighting fair. The thing is that samurai have NEVER applied fighting fair to anyone but their fellow samurai and the greatest honor has always been winning. Even Klingons know that. So much of the game's premise is about Jin tormenting himself about teaching himself how to be sneaky.
|The beautiful scenery and stylized violence is A+|
Still, even if you don't buy Jin's source of angst, the storyline is pretty excellent. An incompetent leader who Jin still loves as family has led them to ruin and now it's up to you to extirpate the Mongol horde. Technically, the Mongols should be composed of Han Chinese and Korean levies as well as Mongols but calling them all "Mongols" is forgivable given Jin is probably not going to draw technical distinctions regarding the invaders. It offers an excuse to become Medieval Batman, with more murder, and that's always an excellent gameplay style.
The game is absolutely gorgeous. It's quite possibly the prettiest game that I have ever seen. The whole thing successfully evokes the kind of stylized Japan that shows up in many media. It's the kind of beautiful flying cherry blossom sort of natural beauty that is almost impossible to replicate. The battles are as beautiful as the scenery. I have occasionally stopped to marvel at the backdrops of video games but this was something else entirely. The score combined with the setting makes just about every scene a work of art.
The gameplay pretty much is Assassin's Creed with sword fighting and that isn't a bad thing. I always felt that the Assassins Creed games would be good to crossover into ninja-storylines and the Mongol invasion is pretty much the perfect place to do this. You sneak around, assassinating Mongols whenever you don't just run into their bases to kill them all with your sword. You do sidequests, you collect objects, and you explore the map.
|Great drama as you approach murder zones.|
The sidequests of the game include cutting through bamboo, composing haiku, tracking down foxes, and soaking in hot springs. In other words, Jin is probably the most Japanese man who ever lived. About the only way he could get more Japanese would be to take up a job as a salaryman or rice eating contests. This makes sense with the fact that this is an American game that's an homage to classic samurai cinema but is still very noticeable. Sometimes only foreigners can play all the tropes straight.
If I had any complaints about the game, I'd say that it's a little too self-serious and Kurosawa. The samurai are all concerned about honor, honor, and honor with the time period completely inappropriate to be worrying about bushido (that didn't exist until centuries later). This is the time when the samurai were defined as, "people who kill people really good" versus "obsessive honor fanatics." That's more a Tokugawa Shogunate thing. Despite this, I had a lot of fun and you can even switch this game to "Kurosawa Mode" where it's black and white with Japanese language.