[In the following article, I will be talking about a video game series dating all the way back to the PS1 days: Tenchu. The purpose of this article is to take a look at this game series, when it was at the height of the PS1 and PS2, and talk about its eventual decline and what lead to it. Then, I will give my own opinions on whether I think a new Tenchu game could fit into today’s market and what could be done to help a new game succeed.
Remember–this is an opinion piece and my opinions may be different than yours, so keep comments civil. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s get started before I bore you here.]
Some of you may or may not know what Tenchu is. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll explain real quick exactly what the series is about. Tenchu is a stealth-action game series that was first developed by Acquire in 1998. The series’ main focus was it’s stealth gameplay and the fact that it is one of the first, if not the first, ninja games that tried to put more emphasis on what ninja actually did in feudal Japan. All games had players assume the role of ninja characters–usually the series staples Rikimaru and Ayame–as you traversed through missions of varying objectives and assassinate enemies using stealth tactics. These could include hiding behind walls, crouching in darkness or bushes, spying from rooftops, and so on and so forth. Stealth was usually a necessity because you would gain higher ranks to acquire new skills and weapons.
Sounds like an awesome idea for a game, right? There aren’t too many ninja games with a focus on stealth. This series has actually been one of my favorites ever since it first debuted in 1998 for the PS1. I remember first playing it at a cousin’s house before I eventually went forward and bought it myself. Well, sadly, the series has been in a state of decline over the years and, so far, has yet to be able to pick itself back up to it’s former glory to this day.
To further reiterate my point on the series decline, I shall share with you each game in the series’ ranking through Metacritic and GameRankings. To help you out, I will put (MC) for Metacritic scores and (GR) for GameRankings percentages:
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (Ps1): GR- 86% MC- 87
Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins (PS1): GR- 79% MC- 77
Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (PS2/Mobile): GR- 81% MC- 79
Tenchu: Return From Darkness (Xbox): GR- 70% MC- 70
Tenchu: Fatal Shadows (PS2): GR- 61% MC- 58
Tenchu: Time of the Assassins (PSP): GR- 51% MC- No score shown
Tenchu Z (Xbox 360): GR- 57% MC- 56
Tenchu: Dark Secret (DS): GR- 34% MC- 37
Tenchu: Shadow Assault (XBLA): GR- 49% MC-46
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (PSP): GR- 65% MC- 68
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (Wii): GR- 70% MC- 70
These scores may not fully illustrate my point since everyone else could have different opinions (for instance, I think Tenchu 2 is the best in the series), but I think they can give some idea. The Tenchu series isn’t quite dead yet. After all, it had a couple releases about 3 years ago, but it is facing a slow and steady decline. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that the last few titles in that list really flew under the radar. In fact, I never knew Tenchu: Shadow Assassins was coming around until very, very close to release date–and I’m typically always on the lookout for another Tenchu game.
There are a few reasons, based on my opinion alone, on why I believe the series is heading in this direction. I don’t wish to see it go that route because I’ve enjoyed my times in feudal Japan going on assassination missions. All that aside, here are some of my ideas of why the series may have been led this way:
- Games Began To Get Repetitive
I think this is pretty much the biggest problem with the Tenchu series– the general repetitiveness of the games, especially as it crawled along. True that some of the games added different elements (like Tenchu Z and its multiplayer) or were completely different games outright (Shadow Assault was a puzzle game), but for most of the series the general idea was pretty much the same: you start a mission and go from point A to point B while assassinating people.
In the end, it just ended up becoming a product of the “we should get this game out as fast as we can” mindset i.e. the movie adapted game maneuver. Little things get added here and there to make it seem just a tad bit different However, core gameplay was pretty much exactly the same and in, in some cases, games would have recycled material like graphic models, stealth kill moves, and sometimes even missions(remember the return of Mr. Echigoya, people?).
- Decisions On The Later Titles
I’m mainly talking about the last few titles released to be a bit more specific. Each one had issues that, frankly, could have affected people’s opinions on the series or alienated the fanbase in some way. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll talk about each of those titles briefly.
Tenchu: Dark Secret is the title released for the DS. The gameplay had a top-down function rather than the usual style of gameplay. As such, all gameplay is kept to the ground and using rooftops was not included. Enemies could also be several screens ahead of you which takes away all ability to see and plan attacks. Instead, you almost had to run in blind (I say almost because you still have the Ki meter, but that only helps so much).
Shadow Assault: Tenchu is an XBLA downloadable game that plays out more like a puzzle games. I don’t think I need to say anymore on that.
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is the latest released on the Wii and PSP. This one is a bit iffy because it came back and did things right and expected, but still some flubs. A big one is, once again, not being able to use rooftops. Unlike past Tenchu games where the ability to use rooftops added an adventure element on top of the stealth, the ability to not use roofs made the game incredibly linear where you basically only had one set way of going about a mission. The game also had a really, really short story mode only consisting of ten missions and nothing much else outside of that. It would have been great if Rikimaru and Ayame had their own set of ten missions or so, but both are merged into the ten mission story mode.
Another questionable choice is where they decided to release the games as well. Save for Shadow Assault (which is pretty much an unneeded game in the first place), the other two were released on Nintendo systems– systems that are a bit more family friendly. Not to say that there aren’t M rated titles on both, but it’s a rather slim market for those types of games on the DS and Wii. Plus, I would imagine that the typical Wii/DS crowd would not be too familiar with the Tenchu series. I would expect that this would dwindle the market for those games.
This might have been one of the reasons why Shadow Assassins was released to the PSP, but that’s just a matter of opinion. I also know that some of the games released previously also made some “not great” decisions, but I think these three were better examples. Plus, being later releases, they didn’t really help that much in helping the series gain a foothold.
- Story…The Lack of One
I find this to be a slight problem because developers have already gone out of their way to at least create some form of story continuity in some of the games. Then it went missing with many of the spin-off titles and when it came back in Shadow Assassins, the story was rather mediocre at best.
In today’s market, console games are usually required to have a story– after all, games have reached the point of competing with films. Also, players typically like captivating stories as well. Tenchu games don’t really have that aspect going for them at the moment and I feel like it might be a point of the series’ gradual downward spiral.
Looking back through the series, Tenchu 2 on the PS1 probably had the most well-written story. This was helped primarily by the fact that the story intertwined and connected through all three characters. While they all started out primarily on their own specific missions, everything began to piece together and culminated into one big climax at the end involving all three characters.
Shadow Assassins also had one intertwined story, but once again it was rather short and generally poorly executed as far as the general plot. Wrath of Heaven also tried the Tenchu 2 story method, but there were places in each story that didn’t add up (like how Rikimaru and Ayame fought the same last boss, but he looked different depending on each character’s plot).
The fact that there isn’t a story leaves very little to keep the gamer’s interest as it becomes nothing more than just going to a map and killing people. The games need to have some form of story arc (which I will get to later).
[Just reminding you of these beautiful 1998 Playstation 1 graphics]
I guess a big question I would have to ask myself is, “Do I think they should make another Tenchu?” Well, that really depends on how the game turns out. It’s very tricky because you don’t want to have a game that might end up becoming something like Assassin’s Creed, which is the new series of stealth games. Personally, that has always been my general fear with a new Tenchu game. However, developers shouldn’t also keep going the repetitive route with the Tenchu games. It may be old, familiar roads for people, but it still gets stale and stagnant from time to time. If there is a Tenchu game still waiting on the horizon, it really depends on how much work the developers want to put in it. Personally, I have a few things I believe developers could work on in future installments. This will be the closing of my article.
- Explore New Story And Also Ones From Past Games
This should be a must…especially today where it’s something that gamers expect of their games. With that said, I think future installments should explore some things that were set up in previous games. For instance, in Wrath of Heaven, an old villain from the first game resurfaced in a surprise ending during Rikimaru’s campaign. Then, the sequel Shadow Assassins came and we didn’t see him. Developers could find a way to bring him back into the story and fill that gap. There’s also the ending of Shadow Assassins. I didn’t really like that ending, but it set itself up for something interesting. Do a story following that.
It also doesn’t have to just be direct continuations of events. I have always been quite hopeful about seeing a game that explored Azuma Shiunsai’s youth (Azuma Shiunsai is the master of Rikimaru and Ayame) and how he came to be the leader of the Azuma Ryu-Sect. How about one that explores the birth of the Azuma Ryu-Sect? What about a game that takes place after Tenchu 2? Basically what I’m saying is that if Tenchu is to be kept alive, developers and writers should work on creating a lore around this game series. Setting up history makes it more exciting.
- More Expansive/Interactive Environments
I’m not talking about sandbox play. That’s going into Assassin’s Creed territory. I still would like missions like the old games, but the whole “box grid map” style just gets really old real quick. Wrath of Heaven took this concept in the right direction when the game allowed you to crawl through spaces to get to different area. That way, there was at least a few ways to play certain missions. Tenchu Z added on this some more by expanding stealth kills (stabbing through sliding doors for example) I think these types of things should be taken further or re-added. Not only should there be bigger environments with multiple ways of going about it, I also would like to see interactive environments. For example, maybe there could be a level with snow where you couldn’t let enemies just die where they stand because stained blood in the snow would alert enemies. Or perhaps bring back alarm systems that were around in Tenchu 2. There’s a multitude of things developers could do with the environments in the game. After all, having that kind of interactivity makes the player feel more immersed in the game.
Someone will hit me on the head for this and say “Well duh, Josh!” However, take into account that Tenchu games haven’t been big with the online play. That needs to change. How so? Bring back some old multiplayer elements from past games and fine tune them a bit. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tenchu Z‘s team multiplayer missions and ninja creation coming back. Maybe bring in the competitive missions from Wrath of Heaven where players could compete for targets. If at all possible, maybe there could be a 16-player deathmatch mode where players have to hunt each other down using stealth techniques.
The one thing that I think should make a comeback though is the mission editor mode, but only if it’s entirely possible to pull off. In the past games that had mission editor, there were ways that players could actually share their levels with other gamers. I’m not sure how they did it, but I think that’d be a great idea–finding some way to allow an online mission editor mode where players could create missions and share them online for other gamers to play. You could be allowed to create one mission and it would be attached to your username on an online board. If you wished to create another, you could delete that one and make another and so on.
Just put some form of online play, that’s been extensively worked on and fine tuned, into any future installments.
- Increase the A.I. of NPC
Anyone who has played a Tenchu game might know this gripe: the NPC A.I. is pretty poor. I think what’s even sadder is that the A.I. seemed to get worse with subsequent releases. I remember playing the first two on the PS1 where enemies would actually run off and alert other enemies to your presence. That was great. This made the situations much more challenging and forced me to think a little. However, when I played Wrath of Heaven and Fatal Shadows, enemies would usually stay and fight you (which eliminates most of the threat level). In Tenchu Z, enemies would always react too late to your approach and couldn’t see three feet in front of them.
Needless to say, it’s an issue that needs to be fixed. If you’re trying to provide gamers with a stealth game, it needs to have some form of danger whenever you get spotted. Enemies should be trying to alert others to your presence. This also plays into what I said about interactive environments and enemies a few sections ago. Having A.I. that’s intelligent like this provides a bigger challenge, forcing you to strategize and plan. It also makes the experience more enjoyable.
Case and point: Batman: Arkham City. Remember how enemies would freak out in certain situations? Remember how enemies would react to gadgets and noises? That’s good A.I. Tenchu games need that.
- Bring Back Swimming and Body Dragging
This is really a personal preference of mine, but only because I thought both were interesting and innovative additions at the time. Body dragging has shown up many times before, but I still can’t believe that the swimming element from Tenchu 2 never came back (and no, wading through water in Tenchu Z does not count). It added a whole new way for you to go about your stealthy ways that there should be no excuse why it doesn’t come back in future installments–bamboo reed breathing and all.
Well, that’s about the gist of what I have to say. Like I said, I don’t think the Tenchu series is effectively dead at the moment. It may be in hibernation at the moment. For all we know, Acquire may be putting some major work into a future title that could blow our expectations out of the water. After all, it really does depend on how much work the developers want to put into these games.
As far as I said regarding what is bad about the series and what could be worked on, do you all think I hit the major points? Got anything to add to what I’ve already said? To disagree with? Leave some comments down below.