You play as ninjas Rikimaru and Ayame across 2 different campaigns that use the same maps and bosses to tell similar stories. There's characters that I don't know anything about because I didn't play the previous Tenchu games, but you understand "good guy", "bad guy", and "guy who works for the bad guys who sometimes helps us". It's not complicated stuff. Main Bad Guy wants to resurrect some old king or something and control him. Along your way to stopping him, you'll assassinate sex slavers, steal magic swords from graveyards filled with zombies, and escape from a castle full of creepy murderous robots.
The gameplay is excellent. You'll mostly be going through levels as stealthily as possible. You can do open combat with enemies, but it's not only the more difficult option for survivability, but you're also penalized for being spotted. And because stealth kills reward more points than "normal" kills during fights, even if you're spotted, the game rewards you more for escaping and returning to stealth-kill the enemy. Fighting is always going to be your last resort.
Instead, you'll move slowly and cautiously through the nicely-designed maps, keeping an eye on your "ki" meter, which lets you know when an enemy is getting closer or farther. It's a useful tool to make up for not having any of the "see through walls" abilities that appear in modern stealth games. When you're close to an unaware enemy, smash that "square" button to perform one of uh... 6, I believe, stealth executions, depending on whether you're attacking from the back, left, right, front, from the air, or from a different height as the target. Rikimaru and Ayame both have their own sets of animations. Rikimaru will stab a guy through the head where Ayame will get on someone's shoulders and snap their neck with her legs. Rikimaru and Ayame can mostly do the same things. Rikimaru is a little stronger than Ayame, while Ayame can jump higher. Both of them feel kind of slow-moving though, and it feels like the speed they move at doesn't match their running animations. It looks awkward. (This is partially fixed in Fatal Shadows.)
Stealth-killing around 10 enemies (a little more or less depending on how you do it) in each mission will unlock a new ability. Some of them are extremely powerful combos to use in combat, some are new stealth abilities like clinging to ceilings. Some of them are so situational and hard to pull off that you'll probably never find a time to use them.
You've also got a ton of items to use both in stealth and in combat, though they're pretty limited in usefulness. Some items like poison darts that can steathily kill from afar can obviously be extremely useful, while others like "colored rice" to mark locations on your map are things you'll never use. Even items you'd think /would/ be useful like shuriken are almost pointless to take with you from the cool and comfy item screen which appears before each mission. You never NEED to bring any items with you, though-- enemies are easy enough to kill without them, even in the open combat which you should be avoiding, and certain items can even make boss fights feel TOO easy. Your stock of items is replenished by getting good ranks in the missions, and you're given a fair amount which encourages you to have some fun and experiment--especially in the first mission, where you infiltrate a small castle-town. Getting the highest rank in each mission will also unlock a new item.
The game's pretty easy. The biggest challenge is probably its clunky controls. The camera is mostly controlled not freely with the right analog stick like in many games, but with a combination of it and the left and right triggers, and can feel slow and difficult to get used to-- though when you do get used to it, it works well enough. It definitely helps that the game is slow-paced and you're often not in too much of a hurry. There are some issues like not being able to see well enough around certain corners in indoor maps, resulting in getting spotted. Issues like this can normally be overcome pretty easily by using your map, your ki meters, and even baiting enemies with rice balls.
After you beat both Rikimaru's and Ayame's campaigns, you unlock a third character who's prettyyyy cool. Instead of getting items from completing missions, he earns gold (by completing missions or taking from dead bodies) which he then uses to /purchase/ items before missions. You're given a good amount of gold, so the availability of items is really about the same for him as the other 2 ninja. Though he does have some unique items, as well as all his own moves.
Fatal Shadows is a perfect example of a sequel that makes great improvements, but screws up just as much.
First improvement: Rin
Rin is perfect and great. She's a tomboy who beats people up and snaps their necks. I want her to judo-throw me. After her village is burned down, she becomes a killer-for-hire and on the side tries to track down the people who destroyed her home.
Back then, Tenchu fans took issue with Rikimaru not being in the game. Since this was my first time playing the games, I didn't really miss him. Especially since Rin is Best Girl. And sicne she's a new character, her story of revenge was a little easier to follow than the first game's which seemed to have a lot of throwbacks to previous titles.
Speaking of throwbacks, Ayame is back. And even though she's not Best Girl, she's still great. Unlike the first game though where it didn't really matter whether you were Rikimaru or Ayame, Rin and Ayame have a lot of different abilities that will affect how you play. For example, Rin eventually acquires the ability to turn invisible for a few seconds, which allows you to charge through levels like a madwoman. Ayame lacks this ability, but gets the ability to sprint very quickly in short bursts. It's a great ability, but it in no-way beats being able to attack enemies from the front like Rin.
And it wouldn't have to beat it, if it weren't for all of things Fatal Shadows does differently, and worse, than Wrath of Heaven.
Let's start with the level design. Maps are now a lot more "open", and a lot more crammed with enemies, often in pairs. The "situational awareness" issues in Wrath of Heaven are made worse now. It's more difficult to know where enemies are, and it matters more than ever now. The infamous issue in games where enemies could see through tall grass and shrubs--but you can't-- is now present in levels full of greenery.
It's not all bad though, and there's still some very good maps. The best ones are always the towns, where you can climb to the rooftops to scope out your targets.
Unfortunately, the game makes another change which makes dealing with the increased enemy-count more difficult. The game no-longer deals you out a decent amount of items after you complete a mission. Where in the first game, you might get say, 4 of an item, now you only get 1 or 2--if you get any at all.
This is a problem, because items matter more than ever now. Especially for Ayame, who cannot use an inherent invisibility technique to put herself into good positions like Rin can. Truly Rin is best girl.
And if you don't want to use your precious-few items, you might be stuck waiting a *long* time to get lucky enough to be able to pick off an enemy before their friend turns around.
Besides not giving you as many of them, item-use is actually even FURTHER discouraged now. You now unlock abilities by collecting scrolls that drop from enemies when you stealth-kill them. And you'll get more scrolls by performing perfectly-timed stealth kills.
So if you're trying to actually unlock all of the abilites--and why wouldn't you be--it makes sense to kill everyone you see, and to kill them without using items. In the first game, you weren't rewarded nor discouraged from killing outside of the 10 you needed to unlock a new ability per level. For me personally, this was an even more unwelcomed change, because in Wrath of Heaven I intentionally never killed female ninjas or dogs. Now, between the level-design and the scroll incentives, you're better off just killing everyone all of the time--at least until you've gotten all of the abilities, which will most-likely be after you've already completed the game. On the OTHER hand, you now have a few ways of non-lethally dealing with people, which you lacked in the first game. So it's just more "1 step forward, 1 step back" More varied skills? Worse maps. New costumes? Worse music. Even completely-new things just aren't very good. You can re-fight bosses any time without having to finish their missions, but you can't bring items in with you. There's a survival mode, but it's combat-based instead of stealth based and not really fun. You can carry bodies now to hide them, but it's rarely worth it-- you're slow to pick them up and slow to carry them, and trying it often puts you in even more danger than if another enemy turns the corner and sees the body. At least then they'll only see the body, and not you trying to carry it away. It's a nice addition that would have been great if enemy placement wasn't so obnoxious.
Overall, Fatal Shadows is good enough. The camera is a little easier to cope with, the running animations are nicer and you don't seem to move as slowly.
It's just the eternal shame that sequels can't ever seem to only fix what was wrong instead of introducing new problems. Fatal Shadows is made needlessly difficult by throwing too many enemies at you, in too many not-so-great maps, and not giving you enough items to deal with them. Oh, and I forgot you actually have to stop and pick up the scrolls that drop, which disappear after a little while. That sucks so muchlmao
whatever. both are good games, but Fatal Shadows is probably saved by Rin, who looks EVEN CUTER in her ninja armor. TOO BAD THE NINJA ARMOR DOESN'T ALWAYS AUTOMATICALLY RESTOCK IF YOU RANK WELL, LIKE IT DOES IN WRATH OF HEAVEN.
it's hard to believe this game even exists. and, in a way, it doesn't.
besides Japan, Shinobido was not released in any important countries, and never saw a U.S. release.
the weird gross PAL version does have English voice acting, but unfortunately, it's the worst kind of English-- British. If you thought they were bad enough on their own, imagine listening to those voices coming out of ninja and samurai.
Thankfully, you can switch the voices over to the original Japanese, so the game loses very few points. (But obviously it must lose points for including British voices in the first place.)
The game's similarities to Tenchu don't really go beyond "peering around corners". The gameplay is significantly faster, the maps are more open and easier to traverse, and the narrative is pretty player-driven. It's a lot more of a "ninja simulator" where you'll decide what missions you do or don't take.
Missions which progress the actual story (which is basically "I'm Goh the Crow, I lost my memory, I need to get it back", oh here's a magical bad guy) are few and far between (especially if you're like me and just keep doing meaningless assassination missions to get money), but the characters and story are pretty good.
There's a good amount of humor, and the 3 lords you can work for all really make you want to not betray them for different reasons. It's hard to dislike most of the characters-- even the other ninja who eventually enter the land trying to kill you.
but as a wise bodybuilder I saw on YouTube once said, "You can choose, but you cannot not choose."
Eventually you'll have to screw over the other 2 lords to end up with 1.(EDIT: i was wrong, you CAN actually manage to keep all 3 lords alive.)
And you'll do that with a variety of missions from robbing rice transports, to infiltrating castles and stealing chests of money, to assassinating samurai generals. Everything's BASICALLY "kill, steal, or protect" but the variety is pretty decent. There's only a handful of maps that you'll visit over and over to do the different missions, and they're pretty big maps that largely put Tenchu's to shame.
You don't have as huge of variety of tools as you do in Tenchu, but what you do have BASICALLY accomplishes anything that you could do in Tenchu. You can throw things to distract guards, or put them to sleep, etc. And the amount that you're actually able to get your hands on FAR surpasses Tenchu, allowing you to walk around with an absolutely massive arsenal of items from health potions to explosives. Eventually you unlock ALCHEMY, a pretty convoluted system which nonetheless allows you to stop needing to buy items by brewing up your own potions and bombs and... sushi... which do everything from blowing up in someone's face and giving them amnesia to healing you and making you faster and stronger, and also making all of your items more effective.
And you're encouraged to use them. The game tells you multiple times to throw away the idea of fighting fairly. And you should, because trying to swordfight any more than a single opponent at a time is a pretty quick way to die, and enemies will call out for help. The enemies who DON'T call out for help-- yojimbo bodyguards, don't NEED help, and will beat the tar out of you anyway. So you're better off slitting everyone's throat from behind, or giving them explosive sushi to eat. The game's fairly easy if you play like a bastard. But if you underestimate the walking armored-tanks who look like Shredder from Ninja Turtles, then you're going to have a bad time.
If someone spots you, just run away. Enemies are a lot smarter and faster than in Tenchu, and will follow you a lot further. But you're also a lot faster. Maybe too fast. In fact, sprinting around in this game is a lot like running on ice with Mario. Goh will slip and slide around a lot-- even more so if it's raining-- and it takes some getting used to. Once you do, though, you'll be able to escape from enemies absolutely effortlessly. You've even got a grappling hook, which you can quick-fire MUCH more easily than in Tenchu and functions a lot like Arkham City, propelling you over walls, or on to ledges if you manually aim a little lower.
The creativity the game allows for with its open-endedness is pretty sweet. The game has that kind of clunky Monster Hunter physics--idk what else to really call it, but it's like there's so many mechanics in the game, and they're kinda janky, but it's still just GOOD. And it allows for tons of cool stuff. I think my favorite kill was when I flipped someone over my back and they fell down a well. Wells in this game canonically go to Hell, so that's pretty cool. Oh, and you can dispose of bodies in them, but like in Fatal Shadows, there's really no need. Even if someone spots a body, they'll drop their guard again after a little while. OH WAIT i take that back, my favorite kill was this-- there are sliding doors that you can kill enemies from behind. But since the kill is triggered by the actual object of the door, I once jumped into a door, sending it flying into an enemy who was in the middle of the room, and then performed the "doorway" assassination right there in the middle of the room on him because the door was pushed in front of him. Pretty cool.
About halfway into the game, a female ninja joins you and you can play as her. It's never a good idea to fight yojimbo, but she has a pretty funny advantage over them and everyone else-- she can stunlock them with basic attacks and there's absolutely nothing they can do about it. So if you're ever fighting a single enemy, it's an EZ kill. Even still, it's always easier to just jump on top of someone and snap their neck.
Oh, the game is COMFY too. Every once in a while, your base will be attacked by filthy disgusting idiot subhuman savages trying to invade your house and steal your stuff, or ninjas just trying to kill you. Luckily you can CUSTOMIZE your garden, changing the terrain, adding walls, and allies, and traps. It's not a huge amount of space to work with, but it's still pretty nice. What you have to start with is nearly impossible to defend from the hordes that will come at you, but eventually, you can fortify your base so well that you can just hide behind your walls, chilling with your bodyguards by your pond and willow trees, while your traps destroy anything that tries to get at you. With the setup I have now, the overwhelming majority of enemies can't get in. Maybe one or two will manage to jump over my walls before a trap gets them, only to be immediately slaughtered by my yooooooooojimbo. It's relaxing.
After the game ends, you unlock a bunch of cool secrets, maybe the coolest of which is the ability to get new playable skins from any characters that you leave a mission carrying. There's plenty of characters to get from girls to fat goofy merchants to cool samurai. It's neato. The game was already cool by letting you kind of craft your own story, but with the added ability to use so many different characters, it's really just great.
Is that it? I think that's it. It's a great game