|It goes without saying that
at least once in everyones life theyve wanted to be a ninja. I mean, who in
their right mind can argue against the ninjas absolute coolness. So, of course, any
game that allows you to play out childhood (or perhaps adulthood) martial arts fantasies
is good in my book. I thought that the first Tenchu game was simply stunning, and to this
day it remains one of my favorite PlayStation games. Silently stalking around feudal Japan
in a nifty outfit with tons of handy gadgets is uniquely fun. For those of you who
happened to miss this groundbreaking game, Tenchu is part Metal Gear Solid and part Thief,
and all highly stylized ancient Japan. The goal is to be a shadow, to kill before your
victim feels an inkling of trouble. The first Tenchu has you bouncing around on a number
of missions playing either Ayame, the weaker but stealthier female ninja, or Rikimaru, the
bulkier male ninja. The levels are large, well laid out, detailed, and just stuffed with
bad guys. With such a cool first game I was expecting a lot out of its sequel (though
its actually a prequel), and I have to admit that it didnt quite fulfill my
Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins starts with Ayame and Rikimaru completing their training and beginning their careers as ninjas. But, before they can even learn the ins and outs of being a ninja theyre swept up in an epic battle for control of all Japan. The characters are much younger, much of the time Ayame is actually whining like a valley girl, and less experienced. But the missions remain very similar to those in the first Tenchu; theyre slightly larger and include more diverse terrain. As in the first Tenchu, stealth is key (note the full title of the game); Tenchu 2 tries, with some success, to make it easier yet more in-depth. It returns with the same movement style with a few extra moves thrown in, the moonsault for one. There are also more tools, which are a lot more useful than they were in the first game. For instance, theres a blowgun that I just couldnt live without. Most importantly, Ayame and Rikimaru have different missions; at times they utilize the same area but the specifics, like the goal, time of day, and bad guy population, all changes. Also adding to the variety is Tatsumaru, a not-so-hidden character unlocked by beating the game with the other two characters. Tatsumarus missions are also different, making Tenchu 2 an unbelievably large game. But it doesnt stop there; theres also a mission editor that comes stocked with some extra hard missions. You also open up new missions in the mission editor by beating levels in the actual game. Man, talk about some serious game time. With all the characters, difficulty levels, pre-made missions, and all the missions you could make, Tenchu 2 has hours upon hours of sneaky fun.
I have to admit that I was pretty pleased with the size of the game. Tenchu 2 had me playing for weeks on end. Size is one of the things I look for in a sequel; if its not bigger than the first then it is probably not worth getting. I want more moves, more modes, and a lot more game play. But there are other things to look for in a sequel, namely improvement. Improvement on the graphics, on the writing, on the movement, even on the FMVs. Improvement is where I felt really let down by Tenchu 2, mainly because there isnt any. The graphics are definitely the biggest let down, while the graphics on the first Tenchu arent the best on the PlayStation I was satisfied because the game is so innovative. Now, a few years later I expect the graphics to improve with the times and to build on the weak parts of the first game. But to my great dismay the graphics remain the same (sometimes, I think, they look worse). The game looks dated by at least a few years. The clipping is horrendous, and in a game where seeing an enemy before they see you means life or death, clipping can literally ruin the whole thing. Enemies on the horizon flicker in and out, seem to walk on thin air, and disappear just when you look at them. The over-the-shoulder camera works just fine for up close sneaking and killing, but the moment the enemy catches on to you the camera becomes a major liability. In the first game this was just a minor annoyance, but in Tenchu 2 there are numerous boss characters to fight and the camera makes it an arduous ordeal. After playing a level for a half-hour just to get to the boss, its no fun to get trampled because you couldnt find the damn boss. I just couldnt help feeling ripped off, dealing with the same problems held over from the first game. But aside from the terrible camera movement, clipping problems, and dated graphics the game's visuals werent so bad. The areas were detailed and well arranged, and I was very impressed with the lighting and weather effects. The rainstorm was pretty cool, but the lightning was truly ominous.
Tenchu is a game based on tight control, being able to creep right up to an enemy undetected and pounce on them at just the right moment. The movement remains largely unchanged, save the addition of the moonsaut and a few other moves. The big difference is the ability to swim. While it could have been a spectacular function swimming was a noisy affair that I tried to avoid all together (plus theres sharks in some water). I was also disappointed to see no improvement on the wall sneaking. Wall sneaking is an important part of the game, but switching positions remains a pain that often results in revealing your not-so-secret position. Interacting with the landscape can also be tricky and clipping is always a factor. The control is also a factor that makes the boss characters so hard to beat. A ninja should move fluidly (like water or the wind, right?) not all hearky jerky. The less than perfect control doesnt ruin the game, but it does at times interfere with the flow of the game. Nothing quite spoils the mood like accidentally rolling through a room full of guards or taking a misstep towards an enemy instead of back around the corner. They also added a drag and hide body function, like in Thief, but for the most part its ineffectual and clumsy. The only time I ever used the body drag was when I was trying to steal some goods off a dead guy, for some reason dragging them around makes finding items a bit easier, but dont ask me why. Mainly Im just sad that no substantial improvements were made on the first Tenchus movementbecause there was definitely room for improvement.
Tenchu 2 has the same alertness meter that made the first game so cool; it measures your enemys awareness of you. As you creep closer the meter rises until theyre actually suspicious. If they really see you, theyll usually give chase, but a true ninja will never be seen. Im still puzzled by the music and vibration that occurs when youre sighted, it seems really inconsistent and often it confused me more than it helped. The actual music and background sound was pretty cool; it kept that feudal Japan theme. They also kept the unmistakable sound of the grappling hook and sword fighting straight form the first game. The FMVs were spectacular, but too few and far between. Instead we have to make do with poor quality game graphic cut scenes. But even the cut scenes exhibit high quality voice acting and a pretty cool story line to boot.
Now, it may seem like I didnt like Tenchu 2, but thats definitely not the case. I really liked the first Tenchu and Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins is just a lot more of the same. But I was really disappointed that Tenchus developers didnt spend the time to clean up a few minor issues left over from the first game. I kind of feel like they mishandled a true classic. But all that being said, Tenchu 2 is still a highly entertaining game that offers hours upon hours of engaging game play. I hope that they plan on continuing the Tenchu saga (perhaps on a next generation system) and that in the future more time will be spent on cleaning up those little things.