Video games and their beauty are one of the least talked about visual representations. The amount of work that goes into creating a single one takes years, with people working day and night to visualize the way the sun filters through the leaves of a forest through code. Teams work to tune the wind whistling through the grass, the birdsongs from the canopy, the crunch of the leaves underfoot, into audio to play along seamlessly with the players actions.
Ghost of Tsushima, is one of these games that perfectly delivers an audio-visual experience like none other. Set in 1274, you explore Japan's Tsushima Island as Jin Sakai, a samurai trying to reclaim the land from Mongol invaders. But beyond the narrative and gameplay, are the game's forests spread around the Island. Traversing those on either foot or horseback, it is amazing to see how the light, weather and time of day can change the feeling of a place. I remember fleeting moments in the game, walking through a foggy wooded area just as the sun rose and everything was painted in orange, surrounded by the sun's warm embrace. And then, just like that, it was gone. Each time I returned to those woods, they felt different. The long shadows of the trunks at sunset, the muffled roar of the thunderstorm above the branches. I kind of wish that these moments lasted longer, that the sunrise and sunsets gave me more of those beautiful golden hours. But honestly, I love how easy it is to miss. How it feels like I might have caught the forest in the light, in a way it has never looked before.
Ghost of Tsushima's forests are never still. Inspired by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, the game developers have tirelessly worked to recreate the feeling of movement present in almost every frame of Kurosawa films. There is constant motion in those, whether it be the wind blowing on tall grass in the background, or the characters themselves. There is even a "Kurosawa Mode" in the game, paying tribute to the legend where everything switches to old school black and white. The ever present wind in the game is a crucial gameplay mechanic that guides you to your next objective. But unlike a dotted line on a map telling you where to go, it effortlessly interacts with the weather patterns that can sweep in at any moment, and the grass and flowers that blanket the island. Going anywhere on Tsushima Island, guided by the wind feels like the player, and the many moods of this Island, are in sync.
The game provides us with a beautifully crafted cinematic experience, one that is seamless and interactive, always in motion like the films it takes inspiration from.