Snapshots of Tsushima

Say チーズ!

Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima is continuing to be heaped with praise for its compelling story of a samurai forging a new path to save his ancestral home; graceful combat; cinematic qualities; and just how damn good it looks. You see, the game is pretty. Very, very pretty. Like many others, I am thoroughly enjoying the game; however, after close to 20-hours of gameplay, I have barely left the first island. While many players may find themselves becoming heroic samurais or fearless ghosts, the game has turned me into something else – an amateur photographer.

Now, while I have never been good at photography (it’s hard to have an eye for photography when your eyes barely work), I have always had an interest in it. Not enough interest to throw hundreds of dollars towards new cameras and equipment, but enough for me to sink hours upon hours into my current video game obsession, photo mode.

Photo modes in video games date all the way back to Halo 3, but I have only really started to focus on them with some of Sony’s latest first-party releases. Guerilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn let me capture all angles of the magnificent robotic dinosaurs, and in Insomniac’s Spider-Man‘s, the narrative lends itself to the photo mode in such a fun and goofball way. With both games, however, I felt like I was doing nothing more than taking a snapshot of a moment.

The difference I feel with Ghost of Tsushima‘s photo mode when compared to those found in other titles is rather than just capturing what is on screen; I now have all the tools I need to create art and tell a story.

A big part of the visual appeal of Ghost of Tsushima is the way Sucker Punch has worn its influences on its sleeve, going as far as naming a unique grainy black and white filter after legendary director, Akira Kurosawa. You may not be aware of Kurosawa’s films, but I will guarantee his works have heavily influenced some of your favourite movies (also you really should go and watch Seven Samurai at the very least).

The way Kurosawa would compose widescreen shots captured so much nuance without any need for dialogue. The balance of black and white, the symbolisation of colour and utilisation of natural elements gave such life and drama to every frame. Sucker Punch has reflected this bold visual style by creating locations that demand to be immortalised, such as The Golden Forest or Omi Monastery. The game feels like a film jumping off the screen so often that you can’t help but be inspired to see where your imagination can take a shot.

Now, I’m not saying I am trying to become the next Kurosawa by utilising the Ghost of Tsushima photo mode… but I’m not ruling it out.

By fiddling with the numerous sliders and settings at my disposal, a photo of a monk praying at a shrine can tell multiple stories. A soft filter with light rain can turn the scene into one of a man mourning the loss of his family, whereas changing the time of day to dusk and having the sunlight blanket over his face gives the scenario an air of acceptance and respect. Perhaps a splash of red over a black and white filter would turn it into the opening scene of a revenge tale? 

The photo mode lets you unleash your inner filmmaker with a heap of settings that feel easy to use and encourage experimentation. I am personally very fond of the particle effects that allows you to add rustling leaves or swarms of fireflies to accentuate your shots. And speaking of ease of use, the full photo mode is all accessible by simply pressing on the D-pad, meaning you no longer lose your amazing action angles by having to go into a pause menu.

My favourite photo I have taken so far can be seen in the header of this page (No, I didn’t write this entire piece to show it off! You take that back!). On my way to a sidequest, I found myself at the edge of a cliff and tried making my way down. Walking along the ridge, I came across a figure of a defeated man, on his knees looking over the forests of Tsushima with two swords buried into his back. I didn’t know who this character was or what had happened to him. Perhaps he is part of a quest I am yet to start, or maybe just a random piece of set dressing. I spent almost an hour trying to get every angle and filter just right, before scaling back and going with simplicity. With some simple framing and balancing, I created a shot I am quite pleased with, one that captures the distinction of the mysterious man.  At times everything comes together so perfectly that you don’t need to change a thing.

I have lost hours scrolling through the hashtag #ghostoftshushima over on Twitter seeing the breathtaking art players have created in-game, and with 15.5 million photos taken in the first ten days after release, there is a lot of scrolling to be done. I may have a long way to go until I am any good at taking these photos, but it is certainly something I endeavour to achieve in this game.  I feel like I owe it to the remarkable work of Sucker Punch’s art team. The photo mode complements the majesty of the world they have created entirely. 

I understand that many players will skip over the photo mode as they are so engrossed with the gameplay itself; however, I do encourage giving it a go. While capturing epic shots of duels and temples may not be everyone’s cup of sake, I bet you will at least appreciate Ghost of Tsushima‘s brilliant photo mode for the main reason it was created: taking photos of cute foxes and Jin’s buns. 

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