The choice this week was inspired by some of the great answers you all gave to the question of what your favourite PlayStation games were. Tenchu was mentioned, and memories of the hours I sunk in to Stealth Assassins cam flooding back. It was the closest thing to a ninja simulator I had ever experienced and a really unique game for the time. As such, it definitely deserves a spot in our retro corner.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was released in 1998 on the PlayStation by Activision and was developed by Acquire. The one I will focus on today is the one I have played, Stealth Assassins which is an update of the original Japanese Tenchu. There was a re-release in Japan (yes, this even happened in the 90s) called Tenchu: Shinoi Gaisan which had many updates, including different mission layouts and all the stages seen in the American and European versions (levels 4 and 5 were missing in the original). It also had a mission editor with endless possibilities which prompted a release of an expansion containing 100 best missions created by Japanese players called Tenchu: Shinobi Hyakusen.
The game is based in feudal Japan and stars two ninjas, Rikimaru and Ayame who became members of the Azuma ninja clan in their childhood. The ninja serve Lord Gohda and help in his mission to rid his province of evil and corruption. He is countered by the demonic sorceror Lord Mei-Oh who wants to destroy Lord Gohda. With help from his warrior Onikage they seek to cause destruction in Lord Gohda’s dominion.
You start with the heros of the game, Rikimaru and Ayame training to reach an honorable rank. During these missions the rank is decided with Lord Gohda and his daughter Princess Kiku giving their opinions on Rikimaru’s and Ayame’s performance respectively. Players must choose which character to play through the game as. This choice isn’t however, as simple as choosing a female or male character as they both played differently. Rikimaru is older and stronger than Ayame and the main character in the game and comes armed with a ninjatō (a katana type sword). Ayame on the other hand, although not as strong as Rikimaru, is faster and has more combos. She carries a pair of tantō.
There are 10 levels in the game, each getting progressively more difficult. The game is pure stealth, so the maps should be approached almost as if they were a puzzle. You need to be silent and unseen, or remove any potential threats to your walk in the shadows. You do this using your grappling hook, ability to move silently and a variety of tools and weapons such as shurikan, smoke bombs, caltrops, poison rice cakes, coloured rice, healing potions, grenades and mines. There were bonus items for having completed a mission with the rank of Grand Master such as, Super Shuriken, Lightfoot Scroll, Fire Eater Scroll, Protections Amulet, Sleeping Gas, Ninja Armour, Shadow Decoy, Resurrection Leaf, Chameleon Spell, Dog Bone and Decoy Whistle.
The missions are challenging and dying results in you losing all of your items until you find them again in future missions. The gameplay mechanics keep you coming back however, and it really is one of the best stealth games on the PlayStation. Done right, you could trigger some very satisfying death animations. The fact that there are only 10 levels does not indicate a small game. On the contrary, the game was pretty lengthy and had fantastic replay value.
The musical score was by Noriyuki Asakura, famous for composing the soundtracks to the anime series Rurouni Kenshin and many of the other Tenchu games. The soundtrack is a fantastic mix of traditional Japanese music with elements of rock, jazz, and classical.
I could easily say that Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is one of my favourite games on the PlayStation, and certainly a very memorable one. Have you any memories of Tenchu? Let us know in the comments.