Once upon a time, in preparation for the arrival of the most highly anticipated games, I’d work on lowering my expectations for how accessible they’d be. I expect nothing, so on the off chance subtitles were done well, I can be pleasantly surprised. After doing this sort of reviewing for six years, it’s necessary to take that approach. Then The Last of Us 2 came and made me wonder if it was time to revisit that practice, at least for Playstation exclusives. It felt like if Naughty Dog could achieve all they did with their masterpiece, surely Sony would see the benefit and encourage all of their studios to follow suit, right?
I let my guard down. While I don’t expect any game to achieve what TLOU2 did, at least not for a few years, I thought Ghost of Tsushima would be ambitious with its accessibility. Instead, it feels like the dedicated accessibility menu is there simply to be able to say there is one. Why else would you go to the trouble of creating an accessibility menu only to have massive barriers for some of the core gameplay requirements, like locking navigational assistance to swiping up on the touchpad?
Not only is one of the most necessary features for many disabled players permanently bound to an up swipe, players can’t change anything about the control scheme. Can’t use L1? Too bad for you, you’ll never block an attack, I guess. Unable to press LS? You will never sprint on foot or gallop on your horse.
Also maddening is a major accessibility feature for Deaf and hard of hearing players – enhanced listening – being progression locked. Yes, it’s unlocked early on in the game but I had to bumble my way through the world to get to it, with minimal indication of nearby enemies, being killed by boars at one point because I was trying to pay attention to the damn wind instead of listening. Enhanced listening allows players to tap the touchpad and it will drown out ambient sounds and place a red highlight around nearby enemies. But even this mode has its inaccessible limitations.
Above, I have enabled enhanced listening but it essentially serves no purpose because while there is an enemy nearby, I’m not looking directly at him, so no indication of him shows up.
And here is the exact same scene moved just a hair to the right and you can now see the enhanced listening effect shown on the enemy that was just outside of my live of sight. I can’t help but wonder what the point of this mode is if it only shows you enemies you’d likely be able to spot on your own. It’s great if enemies are only directly in front of you, useless if you’re hoping to have any indication of nearby enemies not on screen.
And about that Guiding Wind? I hate it. I felt like I was trying to navigate on Naked and Afraid, paying attention to the faint wind lines and what direction the leaves were blowing. Not only that but I was constantly swiping up on the touchpad. Constantly. Because I’m the sort of person that needs specific guidance for a game to not be too much cognitively. This is a lovely feature. Really, it is. It’s a great idea and fits beautifully with the game art. It’s also an incredibly inaccessible feature. I desperately hope Sucker Punch will see fit to give players better, more accessible navigation help in a patch because this single feature will be what stops me from ever finishing this gorgeous game.
One thing Sucker Punch did quite well in Ghost of Tsushima is this incoming projective notification. Any time something is about to be shot at you, you’ll see this little icon and be prompted to dodge, in the event that you don’t hear the incoming arrows. Also benefiting Deaf and hoh players is the enemy awareness indicator. It functions just as it does in every other game ever, slowly filling in as nearby enemies become more aware of you.
Now let’s talk subtitles! My favorite topic. This game has them! You can turn them on! That’s about it though.
You can also turn on a backdrop to make sure contrast is never an issue in reading them. What you can’t do is resize them and while they’re certainly a good default size, they won’t be nearly large enough for many players.
I appreciate that there are speaker names too, but they get a bit confusing at times because there are only speaker names for characters that aren’t you, so often times Jin’s lines of dialogue too easily seem like just a continuation of what the named person was saying. They certainly didn’t follow speaker labeling guidelines here.
Ghost of Tsushima opens with a cinematic, as many do, and players are prompted to “select an experience” prior to the opening scene playing. Available options are English dialogue, English dialogue with subtitles, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles, and Kurosawa mode. While I’d have appreciated the ability to explore all the options fully, prior to starting the opening scene, I am glad Sucker Punch didn’t just pick my experience for me.
Overall, Ghost of Tsushima tried to create an accessible gameplay experience, but as Steve said in his impressions video, they just missed the mark. Deaf and hard of hearing players may struggle to enjoy the game despite an accessibility menu, due to several inaccessible design choices.
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