Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi’s Ghost Of Tsushima score is a wonderfully-crafted blend of action orchestra and samurai-esque musical atmosphere, with Umebayashi’s lengthy suites being of particular highlight.
Ghost Of Tsushima is an open world action-adventure game set on the Japanese island of Tushisma in the late 13th century. You play as Jin Sakai, one of the last samurai on the island while the first Mongol invasion of Japan occurs. The score was composed by Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi, and is split into two distinctive parts. The first half is Eshkeri’s and is essentially the score for the narrative of the game, while the back half is entirely Umebayashi’s and covers the ambient score that plays as the player explores the game’s open world.
We’ll explore the former’s first – Eshkeri’s side of things begins with The Way Of The Ghost, otherwise known as the main theme for the game. Slow, almost mournful strings open the cue, sounding out the first few sombre notes of the main theme before rumbling percussion and dramatic brass then arrive for the first full performance of the motif. It’s bold and rather epic, and yet it still manages to retain the pensive solemnity of the track’s earlier moments, creating an intriguing overall sense of melancholic heroism. Quiet woodwinds then arrive after the theme finishes its introduction to stylistically establish the score in a Japanese samurai-esque setting before the music then simply fades away. Jin Sakai then continues where it leaves off, opening with the pensive samurai woodwinds before then adding quietly dramatic percussion to the mix alongside slowly emboldening brass. As themes go this track is more of an atmospheric piece than the previous cue, representing the main character of the game through well-crafted orchestration setting a reluctantly heroic mood as opposed to using specific, memorable notes. Not that this is a bad thing of course, because if one thing’s for sure here – it definitely works. If it wasn’t for Umebayashi’s magnificent (and lengthy) suites towards the end of the score (we’ll get to those later), Jin Sakai would actually be the album’s standout cue.
Light woodwinds, rumbling percussion and some rather sinister sounding brass occupy much of the three minute Komoda Beach, with some quietly sombre strings arriving after about a minute or so to add to the darkened mood. The Way Of The Samurai then lifts spirits slightly, opening with similarly quiet woodwinds before then taking quite a dramatic turn with chanting, war-like vocals and fast-paced action strings. Worrisome brass then interjects at various intervals, building tension rapidly in the background before the cue comes to a sudden climax a minute later. Melancholic woodwinds open Lord Shimura, with heavy drums rolling in alongside pensive strings. The percussion then builds to a crashing crescendo about ninety odd seconds in, with the strings becoming louder and louder while hammering a tonal combination of war and solemnity home. As character themes go this one’s much like Jin’s, utilising orchestral atmosphere to induce mood rather than memorable motifs, and like Jin‘s in that regard it is rather effective. Another character piece – this time for Lady Masako – takes a comparable stylistic approach, though this time holding more to the Japanese-esque side of things in the first half with light woodwinds, before then building into brassy heroism a little later on.
Battle commences in A Reckoning In Blood, with rapid strings and tense woodwinds musically leading the charge for the first two minutes before loud, epic brass bursts into view towards the end. The fight then continues in The Last Of Clan Adachi, where dramatic percussion takes centre stage with fleeting woodwinds cropping up infrequently in the background accompanied by sudden punches of brass. Both of these action cues lean more towards anxious combat rather than epic musical moments, though there are a few standout seconds of boldness dotted here and there. The Tale Of Sensei Ishikawa starts off quietly, building with low-pitched string instruments and the occasional touch of percussion, before louder strings and epic yet curiously rather ominous brass jump in and elevate the cue to extremely high levels of tension – particularly in the final minute or so, where frantic percussion also joins the fray. Slow, gentle vocals then begin Forgotten Song, with solemn strings occupying the background. It’s sadly rather a short cue coming in at just over two minutes long, but that doesn’t stop it from being a surprisingly standout piece – especially towards the end when woodwinds are added to the mix. What sounds very much like an orchestral boss battle forms the stylistic centrepiece of Khotun Khan, with loud and rather threatening percussion looming over worrisome stabs of brass and tense string notes. After a few minutes things come to a particularly horror-like high-pitched strings crescendo with the track then closing just a few seconds later.
Orchestral rapidity bursts into frame with The Fate Of Tsushima, starting with tense percussion before then moving up to action-centric strings and ferocious blasts of brass. Things then quieten slightly about midway through with lower-pitched percussion and ominous woodwinds before the brass returns with a vengeance in the final minute for an epic crescendo. The action then continues in Sacrifice Of Tradition, with the brass playing a much more prominent part especially towards the end, where the music hints heavily at epic heroism before coming to a rapid finish. To close off Ilan Eshkeri’s side of the score, the main theme then gets a lengthy and enjoyably vocal reprise in The Way Of The Ghost (feat. Clare Uchima). It’s a more or less note-for-note reprise of the first Way Of The Ghost but with dramatic and excellently performed vocals layered over the top – and it’s absolutely sublime. When compared I feel this cue really adds to the main theme more so than the original cue, and its certainly a great way to end the narrative side of the album.
Shigeru Umebayashi takes over for the remainder of the score, with five distinctive and rather lengthy suites that represent the atmospheric side of the game’s open world. The first, entitled Tsushima Suite I: Seion, is a nine minute piece that focuses on quiet, peaceful woodwinds and gentle strings, establishing a calming and rather serene atmosphere and overall making for quite a pleasant and relaxing listen – especially coming off the back of Eshkeri’s rather action-oriented finale. Tsushima Suite II: Shurai however returns to that faster-paced musical arena – utilising thunderous brass, threatening strings and ominous vocals for nine minutes of edge-of-your-seat dark action score. The final minute is also rather spectacular.
The standout cue award however then goes to the third suite; Tsushima Suite III: Bushido. It opens softly with rather hopeful-sounding woodwinds playing a distinctly noble theme. Brass and strings then quietly join the fray, playing up the new theme and building its strength for the first five minutes or so before dramatic percussion arrives and the cue really starts to kick into gear. This all then comes to a head at seven and a half minutes in, where the brass plays a particularly heroic rendition of the theme alongside grandiose woodwinds and loud percussion. This bit is about as epic as this score gets, and is a masterful musical moment all on its own. Tsushima Suite IV: Koduk then descends back into darker territory, with creepy horror-like strings occupying the first half before loud, imposing percussion and evil-sounding brass arrive later on to bring the suite fully into villainous musical territory. To round off the score Umebayashi then presents one final piece; Tsushima Suite V: Seiiki. Much like the first suite this one is primarily based around slow, gentle strings and wondrous woodwinds, making for some highly enjoyable and gentle musical atmosphere for much of its ten minute runtime before then building up into a rather beautiful brass-based finale right at the end.
Overall, Ghost Of Tshushima is a very enjoyable action-adventure score. The narrative section composed by Ilan Eshkeri is well orchestrated and at times rather beautiful, with The Way Of The Ghost and Jin Sakai being particular highlights. Where the score properly shines however is with Shigeru Umebayashi’s suites – five atmospheric and absolutely breathtaking musical setpieces that each bring something exquisitely new to the table. Suite III: Bushido and Suite V: Seiiki are the standouts of this already excellent section of score, with the former ushering in a gallantly heroic new theme and the latter utilising gentle Japanese-esque musical atmosphere to great musical effect. Speaking of which, the tone of the score is spot on with both composers, and both of their respective sections complement and work well with the other – which is not a feat easily achievable with score, so major props there. All-in, it’s a great album and by the looks of it, representative of a pretty great game too.
Standout Cue: 20. Tsushima Suite III: Bushido