Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (review copy received for free from the publisher) is a fantastic PC port to the consoles. I happened to take my adventure on the PS4 and after a lot of nights in which I made slower progress than I anticipated, I was quite happy that the campaign is not being too nice to me by letting me progress through the campaign too fast.
In the year 1615 in a little country known Japan a new Shogun has taken over Japan. He brought peace and all was good in the land. Now, there’s a mysterious Kage-sama crawling in the dark, trying to overthrow the just newly risen shogun from his place as the head of state. Somehow the shogun did notice this though and hired a few able men and women to protect the peace of the nation and of course also his own life, by having them work together. And that’s basically all of a setup you’ll need to enjoy this game. What makes Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun actually great is not really the story, but the setting, gameplay and interactivity of the characters on screen.
Mugen, the samurai and backbone of the group, is able to kill a whole group of enemies with a single ability attack and strong as he is, he can also grab two dead bodies to hide them in bushes, wells or to throw them off a cliff if necessary. Yuki, a small girl with a spike trap and the ability to be just quiet and lightweight, kills by luring enemies on her location with a flute. Hayato can throw a shuriken and distract guards by throwing pebbles. Aiko can disguise herself to walk freely around the enemy area and distract any guards to open a path for her friends. And lastly we have Takuma, the oldest member of the five with excellent sniping skills and a trained tanuki that can distract people as well.
These five characters are not in every mission, as the story brings in some characters later of course and partly even are to be rescued later on. It’s quite fascinating how the game gives you plenty of tests to see how well you’re doing with the given group or single character.
For the most part, you’re actually playing an isometric stealth game, usually not attacking any enemies, as this makes the mission much harder, if detected. You can see every guard’s and NPC’s viewcone by placing a little node on the floor in front of them. Granted, you can view only one NPC’s viewcone at a time, but that only further increases the difficulty later on, when multiple enemies are watching the same place from different angles. If you’re detected, more guards will show up and even later on Samurai warriors, which most characters will be killed by if trying to take them down on their own. In order to be undetected you can hide in bushes, inside of houses and even some caves in special areas. Of course, you can also swim and dive with some characters in specific levels as well.
In case you have to kill guards to open a path ahead, there are also many ways to make them disappear, like throwing them into bushes, wells, and rivers. My favorite though is to just throw them off a cliff whenever possible. Just looks rather funny to me. Oh and watch out, while carrying a body to dump it, you’ll be visible for enemies. It’s quite intense at times when you’re trying to clean up the mess you made, while also being under the stress of having still many other guards around you. The good thing is, that the game also encourages you to be spotted at times, as I have to explain that you’re not spotted right away. The viewcone is actually filling up over time and while it take a little longer for the guard to empty the viewcone or to let go of what he saw, you still have a chance to evade an alarm and attack on you. Which I would consider quite great design, especially since we’re playing on console.
Levels and World
This also leads me to my next point, the maps that the missions are set on are giving you a good variety of different possible approaches to a problem. I’m not really trying to say that Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a puzzle game, but it may help when considering you’re playing a realtime strategy game on a console with controller inputs. Planning ahead and observing enemy movements is the number one thing to do in order to execute proper mission goals. At least, that’s what I found out after numerous attempts at brute forcing my way through. It may work in the earlier levels of the game, but later on it does not work out anymore and you as a player really have to use your chess skills in order to predict, plan ahead and execute your next advancing move, before you’re hiding in the next bush again to consider your next move.
And even when you think you’re save in the bushes, this also is not always the case. Enemy types over a great variety in how you can approach ways around the map. There are normal guards that just patrol and go after you. At least with tricks you can manipulate them to lure them into the shadows. Then there are those guards with hats that don’t let go of their position, even when you use abilities to distract them. They turn around, but will quickly return their gaze to the normal pattern. Lastly we have runners and as a complementary a guard formation, usually with a samurai in the middle and 4 companions.
The game gives you plenty of opportunities to challenge you for multiple hours and what I really appreciated was the snappy quicksave function, which even reminds you how much time has passed since the last quicksave, so you won’t lose too much progress if a move wasn’t successful.
Overall I recommend Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun to everyone who likes challenging realtime action games that force you to work with what you have. Making the most of every situation, especially when confronted with an almost impossible task that seemingly forces you to restart the chapter, I was quite entertained and couldn’t put the controller down.