One of the most impressive trailers from E3 was undoubtedly Ghost of Tsushima. It painted a beautiful, open and brutal world that you can traverse on foot or on horseback. It showed quick and deadly combat and it hints at a captivating story.
Taking place during the Mongol invasion of Japan, it taps into a very interesting period that led to a lot of changes in how Japan and the samurai would function in later centuries. Since the first invasion by the Mongols resulted in a swift and crushing defeat of the outnumbered Japanese on Tsushima, the game will probably take place during the second attempt in 1281. This period and series of events is very interesting so here are some things I hope to see when the game finally comes out.
So, here are some of the things I would like to see in the final game based on the E3 gameplay that they showed. It is a fascinating time and from what they have shown so far, Sucker Punch Productions strikes a good tone and seem to understand what makes the period and place significant.
By this time in history, the Mongols had conquered China and were the de facto ruling dynasty. After he had conquered Korea, emperor Kublai Khan sent envoys to Japan demanding surrender and tribute to be paid under the Mandate of Heaven. Basically, he said that Japan had no chance and that the Mongols had divine right of conquest and rule. Japan promptly refused and later started to execute the emissaries that came. When the Mongols finally did invade, it was with completely new tactics and technology. They introduced bombs and gunpowder weapons to the Japanese and forced them to alter the way they fought. In Ghost of Tsushima, I would really like to see this being represented in some way. The trailer set a good tone, so I am hopeful that this will be explored and expanded upon in the final game as well.
This is a period in Japanese history when the samurai as we know them in the west didn’t really exist yet. They just started being a class on their own a few centuries earlier and before that they were just a lord’s retainer who sometimes fought, but it wasn’t their only or sometimes main duty. By the time of the Mongol invasion, the samurai were first and foremost horse archers who (like many ancient warriors) relied a lot on single combat in their battles. The Mongols were used to fielding and commanding thousands of troops and did not share the Japanese notion of settling battles with man-to-man duels.
While the samurai had warnings and knew they were coming, they were wholly unprepared for what was coming their way and it forced them to change in significant ways. This is the time when they started learning how to field big armies and become more of an infantry focused military. Ghost of Tsushima could perhaps show this by way of unlocking new weapons and skills: start out with weapons and skills suited for combat on horseback and then graduate to skills focusing on ground combat. It was also the Mongol invasions that popularized Zen-Buddhism among the samurai, which would eventually lead to the formation of bushido (the Way of the Warrior) many centuries later.
The samurai are perhaps best known for their two swords, the katana and the wakizashi. These weapons, however, were not really used during the Mongol invasions. It was rather the experience of fighting the Mongols that prompted Japanese sword makers to start developing the two iconic swords. Before the katana, the samurai used a sword called tachi, which could vary in length but was usually a great deal longer than a katana. It is a weapon designed for the horseback as it is hard to draw and use effectively on the ground.
In the trailer, we clearly see the use of katana and wakizashi together with a tanto dagger and while I don’t expect the game to be a documentary, I would at least like to see the shift in weapon type and style being explored in the game. There are so many other types of weapons that were used both by the samurai and the ashigaru (I’ll come to them). There is the yari-spear, hammers and naginata sword-spears to name a few. The Japanese sword, while an important symbol and fearsome weapon in most fiction, is probably better to think about as an officer’s sidearm instead of the main weapon of choice. For battle, they preferred the bow, the spear, or sometimes just a big iron studded club.
Female samurai, or onna-bugeisha, were a pretty common occurrence in Japan up until the late 16th century when Confucian ideals and thinking had taken root completely. It makes a lot of sense since the Japanese society used to be staunchly matrilineal, meaning ruled by women instead of men, so them having more power and influence in warfare as well is natural. They trained with pretty much the same weapons as the men but preferred the use of naginata and swords as well as knife fighting. The trailer does show an onna-bugeisha and I hope it is not just a token female warrior and that we see plenty of men and women fighting together as this was the norm at the time.
Bushido- Blade fighting
The trailer shows off some intense and deadly fighting, which for me and many others felt reminiscent of bushido blade. In the final game I would like to see that style retained, make as a risk/reward system where a well-timed hit can lead to instant death, for both you and your opponent. Make different weapons mean something and make it visceral, in the real sense of blood and guts spewing every which way. What I really do not want to see is the introduction of the “heavy” unit that just because he is taller than the rest, will do more damage and laugh at your puny slashes. It is a tired trope and mechanic at this point that doesn’t really add anything substantial to the combat in third-person action games.
The samurai were only a small portion of the fighting men in Japan. Much like European knights, each samurai was expected to bring an entourage of fighters. These were the ashigaru, usually farmers in the service of their samurai lord. They seldom fought on horseback but were mostly used as foot soldiers, wielding whatever weapons and armor they could acquire, usually swords and spears at that time. Prominent fighters could rise to become samurai themselves and perhaps our protagonist is one such individual. Narratively, it would make some sense with an upstart ashigaru trying to change the thinking and tactics of the older samurai that commands him.