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Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven - The first must-buy game of 2003
on 21 May 2003
To whoever the word 'Tenchu' is new, here's a little lowdown on this excellent ninja series.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was the game to introduce the 'ninja stealth simulation' idea to any console. Released way back in 1998, this game soon become a cult classic and obtained a vast number of fans.
Later, the second game, Tenchu: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, which was a prequel, arrived on the PSX / PSONE. It passed the first in terms of graphics, but it wasn't as much fun.
Now that the power of PS2 is with us, Activision and K2 have united to bring to us the excellent third instalment - Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven.
This brilliant game once again places you in feudal Japan, one year after the happenings of the first Tenchu. For the third time you must, either as the mysterious and extremely focused Rikimaru, or his feisty female partner Ayame, uncover an evil plot that is being silently brewed up by a new enemy.
The new plot consists mainly of three magical jewels that when utilised together form a great force. Should all three fall into the hands of the enemy, this world will be doomed. Obviously the two cunning ninjas aren't just gonna stand around; you will embark on a number of missions before finally meeting the big bad guy face-to-face.
The main idea of Tenchu is its awesome stealth simulation. In this game your ninjas have many different ways of moving in stealth. You can sneak up on an enemy who is unaware of your presence and perform a particular attack known as a stealth kill. This is a usually gory and always painful way of taking out your enemies. There are 6 different stealth kills for each character, and they are all very cool to look at. However you need to master the way of silent killing. If an enemy spots you as an opponent, they will attack and you will have to either hide and wait for the enemy to calm down, or you can fight. Fighting is as enjoyable as stealth killing, but stealth is more rewarding.
Now for the statistical stuff.
Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven sports some of the most impressive graphics yet when it comes to character models. The main character models are well-done and extremely detailed, and the enemies are more or less equally impressive. This graphical improvement is especially true in the cutscenes, which are done in gameplay graphics instead of CG. This excludes the excellent CG intro movie. These great graphics help immensely to make the stealth kills as pleasing as possible. The backgrounds are also well-designed, but there are cases when the Tenchu fan will notice that the graphics are very similar to those of the previous instalments, only sharper. The game moves at a fast 60 frames per second, keeping everything at a quick pace, though there are cases when the game slows down when there are too many enemies on screen. You needn't fret, it's very rare that the game slows down, and the one time i've witnessed it was when i grouped some 6 enemies to fight at the same time!
The sound has always been superb in the Tenchu series, so it's no surprise that the excellent soundtrack has made a return. One particular track pays homage to a similar track in the first Tenchu. The soundtrack is varied and changes in every stage. The sound effects are also very sharp. There is a large amount of different soundtracks, such as your swords swishing through the air and then hitting flesh, sputtering blood falling on the ground, splashing water, clashes as two blades strike each other, and many more.
Tenchu has never been all that great in fighting, but here it's made a large change. You can now lock on to the enemy and successfully dodge, strafe and counter attacks with great ease.
The controls are all very simple. One button operates the different attacks and combos, another allows you to block and perform throws on the enemy (the throws are a great new addition), another allows you to perform all manner of jumps and quick movements, etc...
The gameplay in Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is extremely cool and also most importantly the game is great fun to play. As mentioned before, you have the choice of choosing from two characters (and there is also a third hidden character). Both of them have different attacks and stealth kills. Rikimaru has a long-ranged blade which makes him a bit slow yet also powerful, while Ayame sports two short blades, which while not causing much damage, can be used for lightning-fast attacks. Also both characters have their own style of attacking; while Rikimaru uses traditional sword attacks, Ayame prefers to mix her slashes with acrobatic attacks.
The pure bliss of sneaking up on your enemy by any means that are available to you is the real fun behind this game, as mentioned before. You can just pick up and play. Missions are beaten by getting to the exit, which is marked on your map. The game will rank you after completing the mission. You have a vast amount of different items, which you can select before the mission starts, and depending on your rank you will increase more items in your storage. Getting the best rank also awards you with a brand-new item. A lot of the missions have a boss battle within them, which can be at the start, somewhere in the middle or at the very end. Boss battles require you to have good fighting skills, which evidently shows that you must not rely on stealth only; you must practice your fighting skills now and then. Stealth is made easy with the Ki Meter, which allows you to snes how close or far away the enemy is, and what their status is. Stealth also provides you with a great new feature; you have another meter known as the Kuji meter, which fills up with 'Kanji', which is obtained by performing stealth kills. When the Kui meter is filled, your character will gain a new ability. The abilities range from powerful combos to clinging to ceilings!
This game has a variable lifespan, depending on your choice and taste. There are 10 different levels, with two secret ones, over which 28 missions are spread. Rikimaru and Ayame have 10 missions each, meaning that they both explore the 10 standard levels. The secret character has 6 missions. The stages are quite short, but seem longer due to the time taken in sneaking up on the enemy. It is a bit easy to complete, especially for hardcore gamers and Tenchu fans, but as with the first Tenchu there are three layouts for every mission, meaning that you have three different enemy and item positions all in one stage. This excludes the tow secret missions. This means that to fully complete the game, you have to go through (26 X 3) + 2...80 missions!
And if you get a bit bored of story mode, there is also a brand new and superb multiplater mode. Versus allows you to play as 20 different characters - the three main characters, two secret characters, and a large number of enemies, most of which are bosses. Then you have to choose a stage and hunt each other down. You can stealth kill or fight the enemies placed in the stage before you take out your buddy. There are also a few item boxes in the map to pick up; the armed opponent is the dangerous one. There is also a co-op mode where you must choose from the three main characters to take on 6 different missions. New characters and stages are unlcoked by beating missions in story mode.
Over 30 unique ninja items to use on your enemies, including throwing knives, grenades, smoke bombs, poisoned rice balls, the new sticky bombs (a remote mine / pinwheel hybrid with a sticky underside) as well as number of ninja spells.
Loads of New Enemies
A huge list of different and varied enemies. Samurai, ninjas, robots and even the undead are actively blocking your path.
Advanced Stealth Techniques
Your ninjas can use all manner of stealthy techniques; pressing against walls to see what's around the corner, sneaking and rolling, crawling through thin spaces, and many more.
Great Attention to Detail
Each stage has its own detailed features. The Limestone Cavern, for example, is full of shimmering crystals, while the Cemetery is riddled with mist-covered tunnels. The Bamboo Forest has rock-filled rivers and soft snow which crunches underfoot.
Smarter Enemy AI
Enemies have different patrol patterns, statuses and emotions. Know your enemy and then see when you have the chance to strike. Alerted foes can now climb up to rooftops and diligently search for you from a height.
Extreme Boss Fights
A large cast of enemy bosses whom you must fight up close and personal. Bosses have their own special attacks and attack tactics and patterns.
Hope this review helps. In my opinion, this is a great game to own - a classic. There is no reason why not to give it five stars.