Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a tactical stealth game placed in medieval Japan, where a player needs to accomplish covert missions with his small team of uniquely skilled fighters.
My first thoughts upon seeing Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun were that Tenchu and Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines had a love child. If you have no idea what I am talking about, good for you – you are still young. If you do recall these titles, then you know the general atmosphere and feel of the gameplay.
This game had me completely sold within ten minutes of play.
In the first mission, you command a young shinobi with the task of opening the gates of the besieged castle to let the forces of your master, in this case, the Shogun himself, into the castle. But of course, in order to do so, you need to be stealthy, smart and quick. You encounter random enemies, must figure the best approach on how to either circumvent them or how to silently dispose of them so nobody notices their demise. For this, you need to use all the advantages of your surroundings, bushes, roofs you can climb on, baskets to throw the dead enemies in (Hitman style). Throw a rock to divert the attention of an enemy, sneak upon him and stab him with the Ninjato, the shinobi style sword. When this is done, drag him to the nearest cover so that the passing guards won’t raise alarm.
Raising alarm is something that will get your shinobi quickly killed. While he will flawlessly cut short the existence of any enemy soldier oblivious to him, when the alarm is raised and our hero Hayato finds himself face to face with several guards, he will die very quickly – his only hope is a quick escape. Essentially, you can’t go into open combat with your forces and kill the enemy that way, so play the stealth tactic card and plan your approach carefully.
The guards have a cone of vision, and the farther you are from them, the harder will it be for them to notice you, but if they do, you only got a couple of precious seconds to run off into shadows. Agitated guards will look around, even go through bushes at some point if they just witnessed a murder of one of them and only slowly go back to routine. Additional problem; each major alarm will draw extra troops on to the map, where the soldiers will stand watch or patrol for you. Make sure you are not too clumsy!
After some 15 minutes of the initial mission, Hayato runs into Mugen, a huge, very strong Samurai who also serves the Shogun. Now things get really interesting, since Mugen has a whole new set of skills which are quite different from Hayato. For example, he can charge into small groups of enemy guards and cut them down with a few swings of his dual swords. However, in order for him to be able to do so, he needs to come close enough without be noticed and the enemy must be grouped fairly close to each other. That special attack also has a somewhat longer cooldown, so you can’t really storm into enemy reinforcements like a berserker. Mugen can also throw sake on the ground which can get guards to become careless and wander off their path to pick up sake – only to find they are missing a limb or two. Whereas you won’t see Mugen climbing the rooftops of buildings or killing guards with shuriken, like Hayato does, he will be able to pick up and carry off two dead enemies at once or throw heavy items on the rooftops, such as barrels with explosives.
Now, after you have two different characters at your disposal, you will start to see the tactical possibilities opening before you. Where Hayato couldn’t get through with the help of stealth, suddenly Muggen’s deadly blades solve problems in a blink of an eye, and of course, vice versa; Hayato helps to eliminate those enemies that require agility and speed that Mugen does not possess. But the best part comes when these two skill sets need to be combined – at the same time!
Here come the so called “shadow tactics” into play, which is the ability to sequence and time a set of abilities of multiple characters. Instead of rapidly switching between them and clicking fiercely, hoping you will hit the right moment, you just sequence a simple line of orders. By pressing and holding SHIFT, you order Hayato to throw a rock and draw away the attention of two guards in an other direction, and at the same time, Mugen should jump from his cover, charge and cut down the guards. After these two simple orders are set, you wait for the best moment and execute the order, hopefully resulting in the demise of baddies and accomplished mission.
By the end of the third mission, you are joined by Takuma-san, an old sharpshooter who was probably a forefather of Simo Häyhä, who provides you with deadly support as he is picking off enemies from his vantage position from a castle tower. Luckily, there is a lot of shooting going on – Shogun’s troops are attacking the castle and this is, after all, Sengoku Jidai, the time of civil war where the firearms were well know and widely accepted into use by all Japanese clans that fought for the dominance over the country.
In later missions you are joined by more characters with individual strengths and abilities you need to combine to the best possible effect……
I must admit that I was surprised how easily and quickly Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun won me over; Munich based game development company, the Mimimi Production, has managed to land a perfect score with this title – great work, boys and girls! If hard pressed to say what is so great about this game at the end of this review, words such as “simplicity”, “aesthetics”, “atmosphere” but above all simply “fun gameplay”. This game has the beauty of a perfect haiku and I have enjoyed every moment of it.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun is one of those titles which will be remembered and played in the years to come, an instant classic. Its greatness probably lies in the fact that it does not try to innovate for the sake of novelty, but instead makes every feature of a tactical stealth game simply perfect.