Arashi: Castles of Sin is Ghost of Tsushima in VR
The blood on your face runs hotter and sweeter when you wield the sword yourself. Sword fighting has been a staple of video games for decades, and bef...
The blood on your face runs hotter and sweeter when you wield the sword yourself. Sword fighting has been a staple of video games for decades, and before that, it was fantasy role-playing games that did the same. But the addition of VR to the equation reminds us why we used to pick up sticks in the schoolyard, why we still tell stories of knights from times past. Many VR games struggle to distill the intricate actions required for video games down to the movement of your hands, but sword fighting is inherently intuitive. It is upon these simple yet exhilarating pleasures that Arashi: Castles of Sin is built.
Arashi was initially released in 2021 but is making a comeback later this year with a Final Cut version that offers faster and more responsive combat, intensified boss battles with new phases, and improved graphics. I had the opportunity to test this version at Gamescom, where it quickly became a surprising highlight of the show.
Most of the VR opportunities at Gamescom fell to me, TheGamer. I was the only one on our team who owned a headset, which, at least on paper, made me well-suited for the task. However, in practice, as the one with the most makeup, the largest earrings, and the thickest (read: only) glasses, I was not the VR player's dream that had been prophesied. While I had expected my experience with the medium to break through a barrier, it instead seemed to pose a hurdle. I was not impressed by the magic of virtual reality like a newcomer, and being already accustomed to the PS VR2, I did not expect much more than a bothersome affair from other headsets. But in the end, Arashi: Castles of Sin was still a damn good time, even if I had to hide my earrings to don a sweaty contraption that would wash away my makeup.
I felt actively engaged in the game rather than just standing around with a strange first-person perspective and wearing an uncomfortable headset. Set in a feudal Japanese backdrop, you assume the role of a samurai warrior who sneaks through camps and engages in warfare. Perhaps my favorite aspect of Arashi is that, despite its reliance on stealth mechanics, it firmly believes in the rule of cool. You have a dog that you can sic on enemies, and despite the usual VR glitches of it passing through objects and jumping around, it won't be detected as long as you remain hidden and don't let it sniff around randomly. And yes, of course, you can pet the dog. It feels much more authentic when you actually stroke it with your hand.
You can also use various samurai tools to swing from ledge to ledge, and as long as you remain out of sight, you'll stay undetected. Other stealth games can be too committed to realism, and when playing in VR, where things can get hectic, it makes the experience much smoother when you're given the leeway to likely remain undetected as long as you try to be quiet. However, the best application of this cool rule is that you can surprise your enemies and sneak up on them from behind, resulting in an instant deadly strike when you stab them in the back. This is accompanied by a cry of pain and a slow-motion fall to the ground.
It can sometimes come across as a little offensive to say that Game A is good because it's like Game B, but Arashi: Castles of Sin is like Ghost of Tsushima in VR. Like most VR games, it moves through a tight and mostly linear sequence of climbing passages, bridges, and bases, but by allowing you to meticulously take down enemies rather than relying on overwhelming force, Arashi: Castles of Sin creates a Hollywood fantasy of the samurai experience. However, it's not just about one-hit kills and an invincible god mode - when facing enemies face-to-face, you engage in a dual-sword combat, with one hand in a defensive stance and the other striking and cutting in front.
You will understand the combat system immediately, but you will discover the right timing and which hand is best suited for each technique over time. The fact that you can involve your dog and even switch to a bow and arrow adds additional depth to the game without making it overly complicated. Of all the VR games I've played, Horizon: Call of the Mountain feels closest to transforming the AAA experience into something that works for VR - most other VR games either feel like their own genre or like regular games but with a silly, expensive hat. From what I've seen, Arashi: Castles of Sin poses the biggest challenge to Call of the Mountain.
Arashi: Castles of Sin - Final Cut is a great addition to the VR library and will be released later this year for Quest 2, Quest 3, and PS VR2. If you want to play Ghost of Tsushima in VR, this is as close as you will get - plus, you can even pet the dog.