Feudal Japan is a commonly used period in video games, and it’s not a bad thing, ninjas and samurai make for some great gems. The Dynasty Warriors games and the fantastically brutal Nioh are but a few of these games set in this interesting golden age of history. Same is said for isometric viewpoints; role playing treasures use them like the iconic Diablo and the Commando: Behind Enemy Lines series (remember them?). Developers Mimimi Productions (what?) have combined these two subjects to create a brilliant stealth title that is a refreshing take on both. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun embraces stealth as its crutch to success and executes it all from a bird’s-eye aerial view, something not seen for a long time in the video game market.
Shadow Tactics tells the different motives of the five playable protagonists to take down the warlord Kagesama who thrives to disrupt the stability of Japan. Players are first placed in control of Hayate, a ninja who goes behind enemy lines to seek out the identity of this new threat. It’s not long before Hayate crosses paths with the hulking samurai of a Shogun, Mugen, who with his Shogun army, plans to smash the forces of Kagesama with brute force; an unlikely partnership with a similar goal that goes on to recruit three more very different allies. Although there are no cutscenes as such, the story moves along at a manageable pace as in-between mission goals, there are periods of action and chatter without ever moving from the isometric view. What Shadow Tactics does just fine is the banter between the protagonists as they chatter between each other constantly during missions.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a stealth title on and beneath its surface, and a satisfyingly deep one at that. You control your team, swapping between them on-the-fly with the press of the shoulder button as you are able to freely walk (or crouch) around each of the mission areas. Enemies litter the area and, even though you’re controlling ninjas and samurai, you’re unable to fight; the bad guys are armed with muskets, anyway. Your only way to progress is to stay hidden and take out enemies quickly and silently. The main thing to consider is the enemy eyesight represented by view cones which fill up from green and yellow to orange and finally red if you’re spotted and identified as a threat. These view cones have two areas; the bold coloured area, which fills up if you’re seen, and a shaded area at the edge which is safe if you’re crouching or hidden in bushes. This is the fundamental basis of the entire game, to avoid being seen. It’s not easy, in fact, it’s bloody hard! Thankfully, each of your warriors has abilities and tools unique to them to help dispatch these living obstacles. Hayate has shuriken to take out guards, but they must be retrieved to in order to be used again, Mugen has a spinning sword attack which takes out a small group in one flashy technique, Yuki has traps and a bird whistle to manipulate enemies towards her, Aiko can disguise herself or throw sneezing powder and old man Takuma has a sniper rifle to pick off enemies. Each warrior has their use, and it’s up to you how you use them.
Plotting simultaneous actions is a novelty feature that comes in handy in missions. Simply called ‘Shadow Mode’, this turns your character into a shadow which records your actions up until Shadow Mode is done or you mark the end, after which, simply pressing a button activates that character to repeat that action. This means you can perform slick ambushes or manoeuvre one character whilst another one clears a path. It’s a fantastic feature that is extremely useful here.
Another handy feature is a clock that appears at the top of the screen which displays the last time the game was saved. It encourages you to save very often by turning from green to red the higher it counts. This brings me back to the game’s difficulty; if you’re seen, your only option is to retreat to a hiding place and wait out the alert, similar to Metal Gear Solid. Stand and fight, and you’re destined to fail. There are no combos here, no finishing moves or any combat at all really except a single strike which only serves as a stealth attack.
From the get-go, the siege of Osaka Castle showing all-out war whilst you do your sneaky thing looks impressive from the often underused viewpoint. The explosions of the cannon fire and warring factions really give off the struggle going on around you. Same during quieter missions as you sneak around villagers going about their daily lives who shout for help if they see you. Some won’t, however, but you ask yourself if it’s a risk worth taking? Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a great looking game but suffers frame-rate drops during the more explosive parts, which doesn’t ruin the experience at all, but it is annoying.
Developer: Mimimi Productions
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 1st August 2017