The world seems to stand still during Ghost of Tsushima’s standoffs. As you wait for your twitchy opponent to make their move, the entire game might as well be nothing more than the sensation of your thumb on the controller and that ominously-hovering sabre in the centre of the screen. Despite their inherent violence, these moments of (relative) calm before the storm of free-flowing combat are an early indicator of one of the game’s most important messages: that patience is a virtue.
It’s an idea that first rears its head in combat. Standoffs are Ghost of Tsushima’s most obvious lesson, teaching us not to rush in, but to appeal to the enemy’s impatience. To sit and wait until they make a mistake. But elsewhere, there are plenty of other ways that you’re discouraged from running straight into a fight. A number of missions start out with lengthy stakeouts to help you pick out a weakness or determine a winning strategy; the discouragement of a stealthy approach is a little confusing, but also prevents you from diving into risky odds just so you can quickly pick off an unsuspecting enemy.
Once you’re actually in a straight-up battle, there’s little to do but wait for an opening by dodging a spear-thrust or parrying a poorly-timed attack. Wading in hacking and slashing is likely to do little else than ensure you’re mowed down by the difficult odds you face in every fight, or held up in range of distant archers. Encouraging tentativeness isn’t exactly innovative - plenty of combat-driven games, from the Soulslikes to Assassin’s Creed, are happy to punish you for overstepping - but it’s the game’s most frequent reminder that you’d do well to take your time.
More than just a useful tool in combat however, patience is a concept encouraged throughout Ghost of Tsushima. There are plenty of open-world games that offer impressive vistas, but few let you benefit from fully investing yourself in them. Soaking in a hot spring forces you to take a moment to consider something important. Haiku spots encourage reflection on the world around you. The use of the wind to show rather than tell you your next location helps transform Tsushima from a gamified open world into a genuine, living space, all of which further encourages you to slow down and smell the roses.
Even Tsushima’s photo mode contributes to an increased attention paid to the natural world. Its myriad of options are impressive, of course, but more important is the fact that it’s right there to take advantage of whenever you want. You can be playing around with it at the touch of a button, part of Sucker Punch’s commitment to Japanese cinematic tradition, but also a useful tool for investing you even further in its picturesque world.
All of these mechanical devices are underwritten by the samurai code that Jin and the surviving Tsushima nobles cite throughout the game. Of its eight values, one - self-control - is alluded to more than any other. As characters threaten to give in to their emotions, the code helps bring them back, and in doing so facilitates patience as an aspect of the entire game, rather than simply a story crutch associated with the idea of the samurai. Jin’s still, silent demeanour in cutscenes would fall a little flat if his approach to combat was chaotic and wrathful, but with self-control pervading the story, it instead fits seamlessly with the rest of the game.
By offering the player multiple meaningful ways to slow things down, whether they’re in the midst of combat or simply wandering the world, Ghost of Tsushima elevates patience from a historically relevant theme to a gameplay feature in its own right. It’s not a perfect idea; it stumbles from time to time, occasionally stifling an otherwise interesting protagonist or discouraging players from utilising the fun that’s present in its set-piece design. But mostly, it allows some of the game’s other important ideas – its cinematic homage and exploration of samurai culture – far more room to grow.