Saturday, 28 May 2022

Revisiting Tenchu Part 2-A Thoughts on Wrath of Heaven

 Good time of day ladies and gentlethings, now that my fun with Shadow Assassins on the PSP has been had, I've ventured back to the Tenchu game I am second-most-familiar with (the first being PS1's Stealth Assassins); Tenchu Wrath of Heaven (WOH).

This is another Tenchu game I played a lot of. Quite a lot of in fact.  When I was younger I managed to Grandmaster each level with each character.  I can't remember if I bothered with all three map set ups, unlikely methinks though.

I started this one a while ago and got distracted by the PSP Shadow Assassins, so now I'm back and thought I'd put in and update thoughts, especially since I'm not that close to finishing it.

So far so good, I'm up to the last setting with Rikimaru and a not too far from Ayame's as well.  

I rather like this game for a number of reasons.

  1. Tenchu benefits greatly from having the second analog stick control the camera.
  2. Tenchu benefits from the first analog stick smoothly controlling your character.
  3. Tenchu benefits from an enemy lock on button for one on one fights.
  4. It is still quintessential Tenchu.
As is my usual want, part of revisiting a game that I liked is seeing what others think about it and taking any pros/cons they present into my own thoughts.  

One viewpoint I find rather interesting, I first discovered from a longer than it should've been youtube video of the first PS1 game, where the player disregarded the stealth aspect and went all in on the running around and melee-ing everybody, much like a brawler/beat em up.  This baffled me, since you would get a low ranking and I can't imagine it being that much fun(melee mechanics were crap on the first one).  WOH would be better that the PS1 games, purely for the fact the controls are better, but even then, I find it hard to believe that would be a preferred way of playing the game.  While it's rare for WOH, but I have seen comments saying such...  

This is a viewpoint, I just can't agree with, I feel that if you want to play a ninja game and disregard the stealth mechanics, go play practically any other game with a ninja in it. Ninja Gaiden for example should be right up your alley.  
On a slight side note, I've always wondered why games would often use ninja as a protagonist, but just have them be extremely un-stealthy.  Might as well just have any body else who is good at beating people up.

Tenchu Wrath of Heaven (WOH) also seems to cop a lot of slack from the plot and the level settings.  Which I can kind of understand.  The story seems to consist of three separate stories, one for each character.  And despite the characters interacting with each other in their stories, they don't actually link to one another to fill a whole over-arching narrative.  You end up with three separate small stories, as opposed to three stories being intertwined.  They certainly feel like they should be...

It's a bit odd, but I guess it allows use of the same assets.

For example, it seems to me, that while Rikimaru and Ayame (to main characters) meet up, their stories happen at different times.  The reason being, they fight the same bad guys and characters who should be dead in one's story are alive in another's.  It can be confusing and messes with the timeline of the games somewhat, but I can live with that.

It features the main thing of running, and killing unaware enemies, as well as the occasional very aware boss.  One thing I find a bit frustrating is the fact that you can hide in a bush, but it doesn't count for anything.  Shadow Assassins managed to cope with this rather well. Case in point:

I want to take out that guard. There is a handy bush nearby that looks like it could conceal a crouching ninja.

After successfully concealing myself in the bush, the guard turns around and after spotting something, gets curious.  So as an experiment, I flip out of the bush and stay crouched down, the guard is still curious.  So even though I was in the bush, I was just as visible to the guard as if I were in the open...

The levels are.... hm An interesting mix.  In a way it kind of feels like they had the levels and settings planned out and then needed a way to work them into a cohesive story.  However they had to essentially come up with three cohesive stories.  

Standard Fare

The levels are sometimes "standard fare" kind of things you would expect, such as feudal
Japanese city/forest/castle etc with typical enemies you expect to find, samurai guards, bandits and animals/ er, buddhist monks....  You know, the kind of place you'd expect to find a ninja, then there are less likely ones, like the graveyard for example, which is populated with zombies and fire breathing monsters (although the fire breathing guys were in the first game).   If you can suspend your disbelief and just go with it, it can be an enjoyable romp... if not, well, you're gonna struggle a bit.

Not ninja standard fare

Personally I don't have that much of a problem with it.  Sure, fighting zombies and wooden robots is kinda silly, but then so are many of the abilities and items you can use in game anyway.

So for this revisit, I have been enjoying it.  However I have come to the conclusion that sometimes the levels just drag on for a bit too long.  Especially if you are trying to get through a level without being seen at all.  Hint, that's what I aim for.  I was making my way though the Bamboo Forest as Rikimaru and it was taking me a long time to do it.  Through enough playthroughs, I had a general idea of enemy locations and how to approach them, but on my most successful run, I misjudged a jump and plunged to my death down a bottomless pit.


So I started again and employed a little thing called save states.  I also then went back and applied the save state technique to a level that I struggled with previously, the Graveyard and you now what?  Having the option to easily restart in a good position allowed me to start enjoying the game more.
Previously ( and no doubt when on the PS2), I would carefully make my way along, slowly, watching, watching, looking for the safest moment to strike.  But when I had save states safely at hand, I found myself experimenting a bit more.
Maybe I could rush this guy and take him and his pal before they notice me... Let's give that a crack.
Ok, no, that didn't work (state reload)
All righty, first this guy with a mad long jump, quick retreat up this wall then that guy.
Oh yes!

My enjoyment and the game (and specifically that level) improved immensely.  I went from playing every level safely, to taking opportunities to take some risk.  If the risk failed, it wasn't anywhere near as inconvenient as it used to be as I could quickly reload a save state and didn't have to start from the beginning of the level.

This was also aided by the fact that the game doesn't have an easy level restart option, so if I was going for "no seen" run, I would reset the game if I goofed up.  Resetting meant an awkward holding down of the start/select and l/r buttons and going aaaaallllll the way to title screen to redo everything again.

How I put up with that when I first played it I don't understand. 

I'd also like woth mention the graphics as well.  I've upscaled them and the models looks surprisingly good and some finer details that I don't recall show up very nicely, such as snow sparkles from the crisp powder in the snow level and the flickering shadows that show on the set behind the characters you choose from the character select screen.  This game was pretty good looking now that I think about it.


I'm not quite finished, but have been enjoying what I have come across so far.  Aided by the modern convenience of emulation and save states.

Since I'm still playing I will finish this here and continue with a part two at a later date.

This is a cool level.

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