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Nataku Chaotica's review of Tenchu: Stealth Assassins

Posted by Shiro_dk on February 17, 2013 at 9:10 PM

 


Everyone is always fussing about the new and improved games coming out in the next year, such as Injustice: Gods Among Us, a fighter game starring DC comic heroes made by NetherRealm Studios--the guys that make Mortal Kombat. Or, there’s the new Fire Emblem: Awakening (That I just got also as a last birthday present, yay~;), which is quite an addicting game. Then there is of course BioShock: Infinite, God of War: Ascension, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and the list goes on and on. But what about their roots? Where do they come from? How did they develop.


 

Surprisingly, I am not going to talk about the aforementioned hits’ roots this time around. Instead, I’m here to talk about Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. Tenchu is a classic game, which was initially released on the first PlayStation back in 1998. This game was probably the first game to feature stealth as a primary mechanic (at least I haven’t found anything previous). Even the games Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden are both historically arcade platformers and hack-n-slash games. Everyone knows that the modern day interpretation of a ninja is to be sneaky assassins from within the shadows, but in this game you get to experience being that sneaky assassin in a realistic feudal Japan setting. Coming from 1998, how does this game feel so real?




 

The stealth tactics in this game is was actually motion captured by a pair of martial artists/actors. Actually these two are a father and son duo: Sho and Kane Kosugi. These two are both well known actors in Japan, and the son even competed in the Japanese TV show SASUKE (Known as Ninja Warrior in America). The martial arts maneuvers were motion captured from these two: stealth runs, sword strikes, and tumbles. What was also impressive was the entire setting. The houses looked wonderful (with 1998 pixelation taken into consideration) and the way each level played simply made me feel like a real ninja. How so? Let’s have a quick comparison:(


 

In feudal Japan, ninjas were primarily spies, informants, mercenaries, and assassins. Though this game revolves mostly around the assassinating part, the fact of the matter is that stealth and deception were a ninja’s greatest tool. In this game also, stealth and deception is your greatest tool. These tools in the end are the focal point of the game as you are deducted points for being detected. You don’t earn points for running out in the open and killing everything in your path, though that is definitely a possible route.



 


Secondly, ninjas operated based on survival and efficiency. They prioritized their own survival to a certain degree, contrary to the samurai’s code. They would often have a planned escape route, that they can get to, whether a mission went poorly or even after a successful mission. However, such jobs often took tons of research about the environment and small jobs such as stealing a document from a samurai warlord could take weeks or months. On the side of efficiency, ninjas were farmers, villagers, and ex-samurai. They did not have resources to forge superbly high grade equipment and resulted in using what they had and found. This meant that equipment was not easily replaced if lost or stolen. In Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, ensuring an escape is available with the use of of tools such as smoke bombs and caltrops (Wow, they even had caltrops, amazing) in case you are detected. Also in comparison, if you were to die on a level and choose to do a quick restart on a mission, you lose the equipment you previously had brought on the mission, but can also pick up reusable equipment that you have used to kill an enemy (such as picking up a shuriken that you tossed at a guy’s throat).

 


Despite the well done settings (for you cultural aficionados), the presentation is a bit lacking. Going back to the pixelation, the lines are unfortunately not as crisp as they could have been in comparison to Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII or, for closer comparison, even Konami’s Metal Gear Solid. The environments are well put together for a feudal Japanese appearance, but with the blocky look of the pixels with Japanese curved roofs and such, it often feels awkward running on what is supposed to be smooth, but chunks of...well pixels.

 


However, with the beautifully done settings aside, The controls are a bit confusing to a first time traveler to this genre of gaming. Of course, like any action game you have your base movement, primary weapon attack, secondary tool button, and of course camera control. However, what is unique to this game is the stealth button. While holding this button down your ninja will crouch and move extra slow. When next to a wall, your ninja will sneak along the wall and can peer around corners for a stealth view of a street. This is particularly useful when you are trying to get through a heavily guarded area and trying to avoid detection, however it. Is. So. Slow. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely realistic in the sense that you must move a lot slower to conceal your own movement and the sounds it causes, but this is a game. In the end I’m still playing a game and don’t want to spend an hour on a tiny map sneaking around. While I love sneaking around and being stealthy about it, I prefer a little more efficiency and finesse to it. But in the end, I do appreciate this system so much as it really gets the stealth feel across to a player as you sneak around.


 


While the stealth system is bearable with its ups and downs, I must say, the camera control is abysmal. It might just be me trying a new game on an old system, but the angles were horrible. I couldn’t see anything unless I used the stealth mode and when it comes to aiming your grappling hook, I just got frustrated to no end. If you can do a better job, props to you, because I hated it. I often tried to shoot my grapple and landed on the wrong roof. It would be like a clumsy ninja episode wondering how the heck I landed on the wrong roof right next to the one I wanted. Maybe I was just clumsy with the camera control, but wow, I hated it in this game.

 

The story was interesting, being about two ninja serving their honourable Lord Gohda (technically I think that should be “Goda” but meh). The first level is assassinating a greedy merchant, the second about warning your lord about an incoming ambush. There is also a mission where the Lord Gohda grants you permission to break a ninja’s code to rescue another ninja. However, it all escalates quickly into the supernatural of Japanese mythos.


 


I have no completely finished the game, being stuck on level eight out of ten levels. However, this is a solid game for story and setting players (like myself). Actually the only reason I have bothered to come this far in the game is because of the cultural accuracy and story plot (as corny as the story is, even for 1998). The stealth system in particular is what has me captivated, though it definitely tests my patience about the game. I’m a patient person naturally, I’d rather turtle out a boss than go all in to kill him quickly. I also like sneaking around, but this brings it to a whole new level. Overall, if you enjoy classics and are looking to try something new, this is definitely a game worth trying--at least the first few levels if not the whole game.

 


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