Review: Tenchu: Fatal Shadows (PS2)

Tenchu: Fatal Shadows
Developer: K2 LLC
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Action/Stealth
Release Date: 02-15-05

Where do I start? Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven was my first experience with any title in the series, and I loved it. It had it’s flaws, yes, but the brutal stealth-kills and the fun-as-hell two-player co-op mode made up for a dumb AI and a sometimes impossible-to-deal-with camera.

So, when Fatal Shadows was slated for release, I was elated, to say the least. Everything was there, the cool stealth kills, the stupid AI, the bitch of a camera.. but wait! What’s this? Flip the case over and I see something glaring back at me. I narrow my eyes and take a closer look. “1 Player” – ONE PLAYER?! Where did my beloved co-op mode go?! Surely this is a typo of monumental proportions!

Sadly, I am wrong…

1. Story

I’ll try not to dwell too much on my disappointment with the lack of any co-op modes, but it’s going to be hard.

Fatal Shadows’ story, as with Wrath of Heaven, takes place in centuries past Japan. Your main cast of characters for this round of stealth-killing goodness are two female ninjas: Ayame & Rin.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with past Tenchu titles, this story starts from scratch and is easy to follow: Ayame is sworn to protect her land from anyone who would do it harm. Cue the slaughter of a local villager and Ayame must go on a mission to investigate.. and kill. Oh, there’ll be lots of killing, too. Rin’s perspective, however, is a little different. She’s actually a village from said slaughtered village and she’s out for some pure and delicious revenge. The story moves on from there, with Ayame & Rin crossing paths several times. Just like in Wrath of Heaven, portions of Fatal Shadows’ story are told via cut scenes and narratives.

Personally, while the story is original – the presentation isn’t. It falls just short of good and comes up “fair.”

Story: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

The graphics for this game, unfortunately, haven’t changed a bit.

The character models are getting a bit old, and I’m really surprised that they weren’t beefed up for this latest installment of sneaky ninja goodness. A little too jagged for my tastes. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change the blocky graphics on Resident Evil 2 at all, that’s one thing I love about the game. But this is 2005, Sega & K2 should’ve given us something a little prettier to gawk over.

The environments/levels aren’t much better. They are a little larger, but the textures just seem a little stretched and blurred when viewed up close. Thankfully, a lot of the game is played out during the night, so you don’t notice it quite as much.

The cut scenes.. oh, the cut scenes. I appreciate what they were trying to go for – a throwback to some classic flicks.. but everything just seems so wooden. We don’t even get a nice rendered cut-scene as everything seems to use the in-game models.

Graphics: 6/10

3. Sound

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard English voice-acting this bad. I mean, holy crap, not since the original Resident Evil, at least. Sometimes too wooden, sometimes too over-dramatic, it’s the classic case of hiring for cost instead of quality, here. I’m just glad that the original Japanese language track was included again this time around.

The music and effects make up for the bad voice-acting, but just a little bit.

The music does a good job of staying in line with the atmosphere of the game. If you’re on the prowl, sneaking around – the music is very subdued. Alternatively, if you’re being hunted down or are in the thick of some melee combat – you get some pumped up tracks.

The effects are par for the course with Tenchu, it’s the usual hack’n’slash effects that are totally over-the-top, but – I don’t know bout you – that’s the way I like it when it comes to ninja sword-slashing.

Sound: 5.5/10

4. Gameplay

For those familiar with the Tenchu series – nothing has really changed with the game play. This time around, instead of taking one character through story mode, you alternate between the two main cast members: Ayame & Rin.

The basics are still there – you sneak around corners, on roofs, through tunnels, etc. in an attempt to silently dispatch an unaware enemy. These are called Stealth Kills. The angle at which you approach an enemy decides the actual stealth kill that is performed – these can be anything from directly behind the enemy, to falling on them from high above. A new feature that has been added is the ability to stealth kill TWO enemies at once – and while this is a really cool idea, you’re hardly ever presented with the opportunity to perform it.

Melee attacks are still present, as well, and they are still a bitch to control effectively. You’ve got the usual combos that you can pull off by pressing different directions along with the attack button – but, honestly, stealth kills are where it’s at. It might be fun once in a while to go in with swords-a-blazin’, but eventually – when there’s an entire troop of enemies bearing down on you – you’re going to find yourself wishing you’d made less noise and quickly dispatched that single enemy before he had the chance to alert his buddies.

The camera in Fatal Shadows is also as annoying as it ever was in Wrath of Heaven. I realize the need to present the action from a certain perspective, but can someone just give us a camera that sticks to the position we put it in, instead of slowly panning back to the default? I’d love to see that, really.

All in all, adding the double stealth kill doesn’t help the game play out a single bit, here. K2 should’ve been working to improve things, not just duplicate what was already done.

Gameplay: 5/10

5. Balance

The AI is dumb. REALLY DUMB. Seriously, unless you’ve got about five enemies on your ass, then you’re going to be able to easily out run them once they spot you. Even some of the boss characters were painfully easy to do away with.

Even when stealth killing enemies, you can easily sit back and see the pattern that an enemy follows and then go in for the kill when you know his back will be turned for a specific amount of time.

The only thing the enemies have going for them this time around is the fact that they can perform stealth kills as well. But, as I said, the AI is so dumb you’ll rarely find yourself in that situation.

Nothing ever changes, which gets very boring after a while. I’d have to say that the only advantage the AI has is the fact that the camera is working against the player 99% of the time…

Balance: 5/10

6. Replayability

Having more than one difficulty setting these days barely – for me, at least – counts as a reason to play through a game a second time. Unless I REALLY love a game or am presented with different storylines to go through, then I’m going to go through it on Normal – once – and be done with it.

This fact of life, coupled with the nonsensical removal of the two-player co-op mode, really hinders Fatal Shadows’ replay ability. The “pit-fight” mode where you face off against all the bosses is still available – but what’s the point when a lot of the bosses share the same stupid AI as some of the enemy drones?

What a sad state of affairs this is…

Replayability: 4/10

7. Originality

What can you say for originality when not only has nothing changed – but things have actually been taken away?

Adding a double stealth kill and alternating between two characters does not cause the game to burst at the seams with originality.

When I started writing this review, I was only slightly annoyed. But now, going through everything that’s bad about this game.. I’m just REALLY disappointed. What have they done to my Tenchu???

Originality: 4.5/10

8. Addictiveness

Wrath of Heaven might not have been the BEST game out there, but it had a few great things going for it. Different storylines, and even different level variations depending on the character you chose. A two-player co-op mode that was one of the most fun stealth experiences I’ve ever had in a game – I seriously still play this very often with a friend of mine.

Unfortunately for Fatal Shadows – NONE of this is present this time around. Nothing is expanded on, nothing is added to.. There’s nothing to be addicted to with this game.

Addictiveness: 4/10

9. Appeal

Maybe to die-hard Tenchu fans.. but hey, I consider myself one and even I think this game is a waste of money. Seriously. Forget about the two-player thing for a minute. Even Wrath of Heaven had more reason to play through single-player mode more than once.

If you’ve never played a Tenchu game. Try Wrath of Heaven.

If you’re a die-hard Tenchu fan that MUST have everything related to the series – then fine. But I’d wait to find it in the bargain bin or at a used game store, first.

Appeal: 4.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

A lot of the “extras” have already been mentioned. Optional Japanese language – the only reason I’m even bothering to give points in this section – & the boss fight mode. Aside from that it’s just another case of not having enough to make a gamer want to OWN this game.

Miscellaneous: 5/10

The Ratings
Story: 6.5
Graphics: 6
Sound: 5.5
Gameplay: 5
Balance: 5
Replayability: 4
Originality: 4.5
Addictiveness: 4
Appeal: 4.5
Miscellaneous: 5

Overall Score: 50/100



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