Have you ever dreamed about being an expert ninja who prowls past his enemies and takes them out with his shuriken? How about a veteran samurai who assassinates his opponents with one blow? Perhaps you would prefer to be a marksman, master of disguise or a cleaver thief? Luckily you will have the chance to play all five of these characters in the stealth-oriented, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.
During the peaceful Edo period of Japan, the team of five: Mugen, Hayato, Takuma, Yuki and Aiko; fight against the mysterious Kage-sama — who plans to overthrow the Shogun. The story is flushed out in thirteen missions, giving you the option to play them on easy, normal or hard. The story is used as means to introduce the mission and characters and therefore lacks suspense. Their personalities come to life throughout the mission though, with their brief banters and swift strategy plans — all of which you can hear in both English and Japanese – adding a welcomed layer of personality to the game.
The five characters each have their own specialty; Hayato is a ninja who uses shurikens, Mugen is a samurai who can kill multiple enemies, Takuma the mysterious old man who is an expert marksman, Yuki whom is a cleaver thief, and Aiko the geisha who is a master of disguise. Aside from having different weapons, they also have different HP, various tools such as rocks, sake bottles, whistle, and blinding powder, and a single health pack apiece.
Each character has their own strength and weaknesses which plays a key role in strategy. Hayato the ninja can make close-to-medium range kills with his shuriken without being noticed. In comparison, Yuki has to resort to short range kills or luring enemies to her trap which usually brings attention to the other guards, turning your situation from bad to worse. Samurai Mugen can kill multiple enemies at once and, because of his high HP, he can take on more enemies even if they notice him. Mugen’s samurai strength is strong enough to take on powerful samurais that would otherwise kill other characters. However, Mugen lacks mobility and is unable to jump from high or low places or climb buildings and walls. Takuma, who has wooden leg, also lacks mobility and suffers from the same weaknesses. Aiko is probably the most versatile of all the characters. Not only does her hairpin serve as a weapon which is surprisingly fast but she also has the ability to temporarily blind enemies and disguise herself as a friendly ally. This allows her to not only slip past enemies but also distract them, allowing your other character to easily sneak past. This game would be too easy if it gave you all five characters at once. On average, you will be working in a team of two and the game decides your characters by mission. You will have to work with your characters strength and weaknesses to quickly come up with a quick and effective strategy.
Controlling a character is simply and has an easy learning curve. All actions are highlighted, telling you which button to press. Generally, you will move one character at a time, however some strategies might require multiple characters. In this case, the game gives you a planning tool called Shadow Mode. Since there is no way to pause the game, Shadow Mode dramatically slows down the action and darkens the map almost as if it were night time. The advantage to Shadow Mode is that you can use it to plan your strategy and reserve one action per character. Once you have reserved your plan you can choose to execute or cancel the strategy. One could essentially control two characters by creating a waypoint to a bush. Or you can have someone like Yuki blow her whistle to distract the enemies while Hayato runs past them. Just remember that only one action can be planned per character, and all of them can be executed simultaneously.
Strategy depends on how well you can skillfully hide, sneak or kill the enemy to complete mission successfully. Think you can Rambo your way through the enemy? Well guess again. Getting caught is almost entirely implausible. For one, your character will more than likely die if you are caught. Enemies have a cone-like range that you can view anytime. When the enemy spots you, the cone gradually fills up yellow until it reaches you. Once they spot you it turns red, and other guards and samurai will quickly spot and shoot you. Hayato, Yuki and Aiko all have considerably low HP, and take on average two to three seconds to kill an opponent. In that time an enemy can spot them and start shooting. Even if you do manage to escape, the guards will alert the other samurai and patrol the area. Although you may die a lot, the game encourages you to constantly save, allowing at least three game saves to be stored and loaded at any time. After one minute of not saving a timer will appear, letting you know how long it has been since you last saved. As the time progresses, it changes colour from green, yellow and red to indicate how long it’s been since you last save.
Every mission offers new challenges that are more dangerous and complex from the last. The maps are in a three-quarter top-down mode and contain multiple interactive objects. While some objects can be used as part of the mission, others can be used against the enemy such as cattle, boulders, pulleys, watchtowers and wagons. Depending on the environment, there might be extra precautions you may have to take when dealing with the enemy. For example, during a mission in a snowy environment, enemies could spot my footprints in the snow and follow them to the bush I was hiding; something I used also use to my advantage when setting up a kill.
With endless ways to make use of your characters’ skills and environment to outsmart, sneak or kill the enemy, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has plenty of replay value. The game allows you to challenge yourself on different difficulties and unlock secret badges, adding an extra layer replayability. Couple in the beautifully depicted environments and characters of Edo Japan and you have a game that wonderfully reignites the embers of the real-time strategy genre.