[Disclosure: A review key was provided for the contents of this article]
Shadow tactics: Blades OF The Shogun is an isometric tactical espionage, Ninja strategy game, developed by Mimimi Productions and produced by Daedalic Entertainment.
The story for Shadow tactics: Blades OF The Shogun is exactly what it sounds like. The game is set in the Edo period of Japan, where a rebellion is brewing to assassinate and overthrow the Shogun. When matters become more severe, the Shogun tasks his best Samurai named Mugen, to put together a team and find the leader of the rebellion to put it to an end before matters spiral out of control. The situation is delicate and requires stealth and tactics, so Mugen employs the help of a Shinobi named Hayato; Aiko, an assassin that disguises as Geishas and Civilians; an agile young thief named Yuki that utilizes speed and traps; and a trustworthy old man named Takuma that is a master marksman that utilizes a variety of firearms and explosives. Together, the team must uncover the leader behind the rebellion and stop his plot to overthrow the Shogun before its too late, while also saving civilians along the way to bring peace to the land.
Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun is a real time isometric strategy game that is often times compared to the Commandos series, however I never played those games, so for me Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun feels like a mix of an isometric Tenchu meets Splinter Cell, and that is a totally awesome combination.
Gameplay And Missions
Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun has a cast of five interesting characters, each having a very unique set of skills and abilities that you will have to utilize to complete your missions. The game steers clear from magic and mystical ninja tropes you normally see in games, and keeps it pretty grounded in reality. No teleporting, no shadow jutsu clones, no turning into decoy logs. You get things like grappling hooks, flintlock pistols, and spring activated traps.
Depending on the story events and the current mission, you may only have one or two people on a team at a time, so you will really have to use a lot of strategy to overcome the odds. The missions range from gathering intel, to listening in on conversations, stealing items, assassinations, and rescue missions.
Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun starts the game off slow with Hayato and Mugen working together, and runs you through the basic gameplay features to serve as a tutorial. You can pick up hint scrolls along the way whenever a new feature is introduced to give you a heads up about how a specific feature works. However, I really like that the game doesn’t hold your hand. There are three difficulty settings, and even on the normal setting Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun still gives you a nice challenge with a fair difficulty level without it being overly ridiculous or way too easy, it has a nice balance of strategy, tactics and challenge.
One of the best parts about Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun, is that you can actually do everything they show in the below trailer, by using the special “Shadow Command” feature.
The last clip where all the characters take out the enemies at once is exactly how the Shadow commands work. Since the game is in real time with no way to pause (unless you go into the options menu), it is almost impossible to control five characters at once. Shadow commands is activated by pressing the Shift key, which allows you to assign different characters a target or a specific action, then when you press the Enter key all the characters will activate their assigned actions all at the same time. This will allow you to pull off complex assassination maneuvers without any witnesses or raising the alarm.
The Shadow commands work flawlessly and is probably the coolest feature in the game because it gives you complete control over your characters to pull off the plans you set in motion. The game gives you a lot of control over how you move and navigate the stages, allowing you to climb ladders and buildings, scale walls, tightrope across buildings, swim, and jump from rooftop to rooftop. You can also utilize moves from Assassin’s Creed, such as running across the roof and jumping down to your unsuspecting victim to perform a lethal Death From Above kill.
AI, Tactics and Planning
The enemy AI has a viewcone area of sight, similar to the Metal Gear series of games, where their vision will sweep left and right to look around the area. The viewcone has two colors, a large faded cone and then a brighter smaller cone inside of it that is closer to the NPC’s body. If you are standing up and enter the large cone the enemy will spot you, but if you crouch down and enter the cone they won’t notice you because you are out of sight. The only time they will see you while crouching is if you get too close and enter the smaller cone and stay there for too long, at which point you will alert the guard. If you are skilled enough you can enter their line of sight for a brief second and run by before they fully notice you.
The AI will also adapt and change based on the stage and environment. For example, if it is snowing out you will leave behind footprints that the AI will notice and follow. If it is raining and you run through a puddle it will splash and make noise. If they find a dead body they will raise the alarm and call for extra security which will make the game harder.
One thing I really like about Shadow tactics: Blades OF The Shogun is that the game doesn’t take it easy on the player. This can be annoying at times, but it is also really fun having to take the time to brainstorm a situation and think through the best course of action to get out alive, especially when you have multiple people to look after in real time. When you screw up and you have 5 seconds to clean up the mistake before the next guard comes around it really gets your adrenalin pumping to try to get out of the area alive, or panic and revert to killing the guard to remain undetected.
The missions are designed where they will give you an objective, place you in the stage, and then they pretty much say “This is your main objective, now go figure out how to complete it”. They normally don’t provide step by step instructions for you to follow and there are often times multiple ways to complete the main objectives, and this is a really good thing because it adds replay value. They will provide you with disguises, moving ox carts that you can hide inside, rooftops you can run across, and water that you can swim through to find the best possible way to complete your mission. Shadow Tactics gives you all the tools you need, then let’s you figure out how to use them on your own to win.
It really annoys me when games introduce new features but you can never utilize them on your own. It’s like the game is nothing but one giant tutorial.
I also like that Shadow Tactics has hidden challenges for you to complete. If you somehow find a way to complete the objective in a way that isn’t listed, you will normally be rewarded with a badge for doing so. For example, one mission tasked me with assassinating a high profile target by either poisoning his tea and escaping before anyone noticed he died, or sniping him off with Takuma’s rifle. Instead, I threw a grenade and blew him up and received a badge for not using either the rifle nor the poison to kill him. Of course, the entire area went on lockdown since it was extremely loud and messy, but who cares, I eliminated the target!
I really love that about Shadow Tactics because it gives you the freedom to create your own tactics and strategies without limiting you with ridiculous restrictions. The only way to really fail a mission is if one of your team members dies in battle.
UI, Options And Sound
There are quite a few options for you to choose from to adjust the graphics, the sound and the controls. The graphics quality is quite beautiful on the higher end settings, especially since the environments have quite a bit of detail and complexity to them.
There is even an option to switch between English voices or Japanese voice actors. I very much prefer the Japanese voices better in comparison to the English voices. It isn’t because the actors themselves are bad, it is simply that the English voices sound… well… a bit racist. Some of the characters have pure American accents, while others have stereotypical Japanese accents that sound a bit fake. For that reason, I prefer the Japanese audio because all the voices sound a lot more natural. If you watch anime then you will know what I am talking about with English dubs (the Dynasty Warriors series is notorious for bad English dubs).
However, I play the game with English voices because it is distracting when you have to read the subtitles while keeping an eye on the events in game. There is quite a bit of dialogue and unique banter between characters for every single level in game. Some of it is quite clever and funny, and there are also dialogue lines that gives you little hints about what you should do or items you can interact with, so it just makes it easier to have English voices. Out of all the characters, Yuki’s English voice actress is my favorite because when she talks she describes everything as if it were alive and has its own personality, and that makes her voice the most interesting since her dialogue is so unique and colorful.
The music for Shadow Tactics is amazing, I absolutely love the soundtrack. It is a mix of traditional Japanese music, subtle bass guitars and percussion sounds to really add to the spy, sneaky, espionage feeling. The music gives off a great feeling of both tension and stealth.
The ambient sounds and subtle music cues are also really clever. Every time you perform a “Ninja” move, there is a subtle music cue that plays. If you walk into the bushes it might play a small flute tune, climb up the wall and it plays a subtle drum rattle. The thing that makes the music cues so brilliant is that every character has their own unique sounds that play with the different actions, and those cues blend in perfectly with the music that is already playing in the background. It really makes the game come alive and immerses you into the world of Shinobi and Shadow tactics, especially when you perform multiple actions at once and it creates a satisfying melody of sounds to accompany those actions.
The controls are really simple and pretty much revolves around pointing and clicking. You can also set hotkeys in the options menu to utilize the keyboard to quickly activate skills, abilities, or to tell a certain character to kill a specific target with the press of a button.
The number keys allows you to quickly switch between characters, the A key is to attack, Space is to toggle between standing and crouching, Y is for non-lethal attacks, D is for distraction, and Q and E rotates the cameras left and right respectively. You can also use the F5 and F8 keys to quick-save and quick-load to save your progress without ever leaving the action. Almost everything you can think of with the controls can be customized in the options menu.
The UI is pretty simple and clean. The character portraits are at the bottom left, map is to the right, and skills are at the bottom middle. At the top left is the options menu and the button display to save or load your game. Other than that, there isn’t much else on the screen. All of the characters are also color coded so that you can easily find them in case you are hiding in the bushes or behind a wall, so it makes it easy to find your character and know where they are at all times.
As for combat, all of the melee attacks also has the option to knock the target out so that you can use non-lethal maneuvers to remove a threat in case you need to disable a civilian without killing them. If you hold down the CTRL key while attacking a target then your character will attack and then automatically pick the body up, this is useful to hide bodies and get them out of sight. CTRL is also used for picking up other items or interacting with the environment in different ways.
There is also a handy option that you can turn on to visually remind you when the last time you saved the game so that you don’t forget and lose your progress.
Shadow Tactics Flaws
I’m not going to put the English voices as a flaw because the more I played the game the more I enjoyed them and I got used to all the dialogue and I actually looked forward to hearing how the characters would interact with one another. Because of that, there actually aren’t that many flaws I found in the game. In fact, I currently have about 20 hours logged and I don’t think I discovered any glitches.
The first flaw is a feature that exists in other stealth games as well, the feature that I call “Smelling human”. this was extremely bad in the Splinter Cell series. The AI will slightly detect you, you quickly move away from that area and hide in the shadows or bushes, and then magically the AI will sniff you out and make a beeline to your exact location to find you and kill you. Granted, the “smelling human” isn’t nearly as bad in Shadow Tactics because they are designed to search and sweep the area in a logical manner, so the few times it does happen can be forgiven.
The second flaw is with the camera itself. When it comes to turn-based isometric games that have multiple floors and levels, there is normally an option to turn off higher level floors so that you don’t accidently click an area you don’t want. From my knowledge, there is no option to do that in Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun. If an enemy is approaching and I want my character to take a few steps up to hide in the bushes, but instead I accidently click the rooftop, the character will proceed to say the dreaded “I can’t go there” and will fail to move, only to get caught by the patrolling guard because they didn’t hide in time.
You may not notice the camera issue on the first few levels, but as the game goes on the stages become more complex with higher levels and more cluttered city environments, and if you don’t rotate the camera just right you will click on something you don’t want. For certain games if the character is on the ground and you click the same location but a building is blocking, the character will attempt to go to that location but from the ground level, which normally causes them to walk up to the wall and stay there; that isn’t the case here. So when you are in a cluttered city environment, clicking the wrong space is bound to happen, and it is often times a deadly mistake. Since you can’t zoom the camera in and out I found that I kept clicking the wrong area.
After I became aware of the problem I tried to be more careful with the way I click, but with a game based around strategy, timing, and perfect movements, you can’t always take time and care with your clicks. Since you can also interact with certain objects, such as hooks hanging from the roof to grapple onto them to pull you up to the roof, I would sometimes interact with objects I didn’t mean to click. If there was a feature to deactivate certain floors so that you could only click on the current level, that would go a long way with helping with accidental clicks and unnecessary deaths caused by your character moving or not moving to the desired location.
My Overall thoughts
I would have personally preferred Hayato to be in the game a bit more because the first 6 stages or so gives you quite a bit of Mugen, but as the game goes on the characters rotate for all of the missions giving you a combination of different team members, so I suppose it is okay. I was just expecting Hayato to be the main character since they show him so much and since the game starts with him.
As for the game and my final thoughts on it… even though I sometimes get frustrated with the AI and the camera, I actually really like Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun and it has more good points than flaws. It is challenging, it gives you wiggle room to create your own strategies, the characters and missions are well done and interesting, and most importantly, the game is just a heck of a lot of fun to play. I highly recommend you grab this one when it releases.
Shadow tactics: Blades Of The Shogun will be available for purchase from a variety of stores on December 6th, but you can also play a free demo to test it out for yourself. You can learn more by visiting the Official Shadow tactics website for further details.
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