Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (PC Review)
Japan, 1615. The beginning of what would later be known as the Edo period. Five skilled warriors, strangers to one another and brought together by circumstance, must unite to protect the new shogun against an enigmatic enemy who is slowly amassing power. Using their guile, cunning and ability, each must overcome their differences to protect the land’s new found peace.
Shadow Tactics’ story and setting is nothing new, of course – particularly amongst video games. Indeed, it’s such an overused backdrop that Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to stories set in Feudal Japan (look up ‘jidaigeki’ if you’re ever interested), and despite what that page’s woefully lacking video games list would have you believe, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun runs great risk of being yet another addition in an already over-saturated market. The greatest advantage Mimimi Productions’ take has over its jidaigeki counterparts, however, is Shadow Tactics’ truly unique blend of stealth gameplay, the likes of which you’d find in any Assassin’s Creed or Tenchu game, with real-time strategy elements, whereby you control a group of unique units with individual talents to complete missions on a large map.
The five skilled wariors are comprised of: Hayato, the world’s chattiest ninja who can climb up buildings and dispatch enemies while remaining unseen; Mugen, an otherwise front-lining samurai who will do a lot of the heavy lifting and cut down large clusters of enemies when stealth is no longer an option; Takuma, a quirky old man with a pretty deadly shot, but with limited mobility; Aiko, a geisha and master of camouflage and distraction; and Yuki, the trap-laying Robin to Hayato’s broody, monologuing Bruce Wayne. Each character is introduced one at a time, and Shadow Tactics’ story allows us to see how different combinations of personalities interact. Dedicating entire missions to restricted character choice, allowing the player not only to get used to each unit’s style of play, but also get personally attached to the characters. There are some really fun mechanics to mess around with, and given that each map rarely has one singular, predefined method to go through it, it can be really weigh up your options as you can sneak, infiltrate and sabotage your way through a mission. Not only that, but while you’re given free rein to play each mission as you please the first time around, you are presented with a list of badges achieved for fulfilling certain conditions at the end, encouraging you to go back and play these missions in different ways.
The mix of stealth and real-time strategy can be initially daunting. In my experience, RTS games can go from nothing to complete disaster so quickly that it usually catches me off guard, and stealth games just straight up wouldn’t exist without that high level of risk vs. reward. Luckily, in Shadow Tactics, there is very little chance of sudden surprise. From the moment you start a mission, you can see the entire map and look at the placement of every enemy before you consider making your first move. This means you can strategise each step far in advance to get through the mission safely – which is frankly pretty useful, given that one slip up will result in getting a character spotted, focused down, and killed, triggering a game over. These failures very much feel like the player’s doing, but with frequent quick saves and good map awareness, you can circumvent failure and you’ll become much better at advancing as you get used to what different enemy types are capable of. Because I’m a complete masochist, though, I think the stealth aspect of the gameplay would be improved a little with the addition of a light fog of war that clears as soon as one of the characters explores and scouts an area, allowing the player to then decide which tool would be best for the situation. But that’s a minor gripe given that it would probably only serve to ramp up the difficulty to ludicrous levels, and getting through maps unseen and unscathed can be challenging enough, even on Normal mode.
There’s a definite sense of progression in Shadow Tactics, not only in its gameplay and level design, but also in how it presents itself narratively. The story is woven neatly through the missions, and character interactions come across relatively naturally during gameplay and in cutscene segments. That said, the dialogue can get a little bit trope heavy for the setting, and the English voice acting has some rather ridiculous faux-Far Eastern accents for added levels of cheese (there is a Japanese voice option which adds to the immersion somewhat and is slightly less cringey.) Outside of voices, the audio is generally pretty decent. The soundtrack is mostly ambient and not overbearingly rooted in traditional Japanese instrumentation, but as your characters are put in danger the music changes to reflect the situation – which I suppose is pretty standard, but it’s a nice touch anyway. The sound effects are also rather decent, and given how much noise you’ll be making from throwing stones and bottles of sake to distract enemies before you slice them up, or bird-calling them in to a dart trap and hiding their bodies in rustling bushes, it’s fortunate that the sounds are as neat and unassuming as they are.
Deadalic Entertainment have been making a name for themselves as quite a reliable developer on Steam, and I’m really happy to see them collaborate with another European studio to create something as fun and challenging as Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. Even though they are listed as the publisher, Daedalic’s influence can be felt in the unmistakable atmosphere this game shares with something like Blackguards or The Dark Eye series. That said, going from the style of the promotional art, the main menu splash, and the in-game cutscene animations, I think the concept concocted by Mimimi Productions alone was what made Shadow Tactics a worthwhile game to make, and even more worthwhile to play.
Shadow Tactics was reviewed by Ruri Mac, AKA @Ruruccio on behalf of the site as a guest reviewer. If you think you can beat his score, or just want to see what he looks like unfiltered, give him a follow!