Thursday, July 18, 2013

Japanese video-game franchises I would like to see rebooted - Tenchu

I do like me some video games, and as the new console generation is gearing up for release with some promising titles and features on the way, I'd like to take an opportunity to look back on some of my favorite Japanese video game IPs that I would like to see rebooted in this new generation. Back in the days of PS2 Japanese IPs were everywhere, with a good number of triple-A titles coming out of some of Japan's top publishers. However, in the latest console generation it seems that Japan's presence has lessened to some degree, especially with companies like Square Enix releasing North American-produced games such as Deus Ex (which was awesome) and the fall from grace of the Final Fantasy series following the delay and final release of the lacklustre Final Fantasy XIII. What happened, Japan? Some of my friends suggest that many Japanese game developers are stuck in the past, relying on game mechanics and storytelling elements that haven't seen real innovation in years. I don't know if I agree with that, but certainly the market has shifted, and that's pretty darn interesting. Still, there are Japanese games that I remember fondly that I could totally see being redone in our current console cycle to brilliant effect, so in no particular order, here we go!

The third and, in my opinion, best entry in the series. 
I remember talking to a friend of mine some years ago when the first reboot of Ninja Gaiden came out for the original Xbox. I was kind of curious about the game 'cause it had ninjas in it and looked cool. When I asked about it, my friend told me, "In that game you can do anything you've ever wanted to do as a ninja." My immediate thought was, "really? More so than Tenchu?!" 

Stick to the roofs. Screen capture from Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven.
The original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins came out for the original PlayStation back in 1998, the same year as a little game called Metal Gear Solid, and the two games are credited with having revolutionized stealth mechanics in action games. Tenchu had you playing as either the ninja Rikimaru or the kunoichi (female ninja) Ayame. Each character's levels were the same, with a few changing story elements and different bosses depending on who you played as. The name of the game was stealth, as the player was judged on each level based on how many times they got detected, how many stealth kills were achieved, etc. Available to the player was a wealth of items that could be used to great effect, such as bombs, mines, disguises, poison rice, and of course the grappling hook, with more items unlockable based on the player's performance. The player was encouraged to stick to the shadows and get the drop on their adversaries, as fighting them head-on proved both ineffective and taxing (if more than two enemies ganged up on you, staying and fighting would likely be fatal). Creeping through the shadows and using ninja tools made it feel like you were a real ninja (insofar as we imagine ninjas in pop culture) and that was pretty neat! When I first got a PlayStation, I didn't have a memory card, so I played through the first Tenchu game in one sitting. It took hours! (but I was 13 years old and didn't go to parties.)  

Rikimaru gets the drop on an unlucky spear-wielding guard in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
After a prequel, Tenchu: Birth of Assassins, in 2000, which garnered mixed reviews from fans, the series was handed over from its original developers, Aquire, to K2. It reached its pinnacle in 2003 with Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, its PS2 debut and official sequel to the first game, which overcame the shortcomings of the prequel and tightened up the things that made the first two games work, improving on the mechanics and story exponentially. It was generally considered to be a success by fans of the series and reviewers alike. I remember playing it over and over, and when my original copy got broken through some mishap, I asked for another copy as a birthday present instead of a newer game. Unfortunately the next release marked the beginning of the decline of the series. Tenchu: Deadly Shadows was the next instalment, which took place between the first and third instalments, and Rikimaru was axed as a playable character. Instead players filled the role of female lead Ayame and a female newcomer named Rin. While not a bad game that did attempt to add to the mechanics a bit, it felt like a much smaller project overall, with much less effort put into the story and level design, and it just wasn't as satisfying to play for those reasons. It simply felt like an inferior product. However, it was still playable and did keep me coming back, so it wasn't a failure per se.  

I am not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the best gameplay innovations in Tenchu Z. If only the game had been as good as previous entries. 
However, the final straw that really hampered the series was the release of Tenchu Z in 2006. As a loyal fan of the series I gave Tenchu Z a try and there were things I liked about it. Several gameplay innovations were added that were pretty cool! You could stash bodies more easily, you could chain-kill, there were more items and in-depth character customization, you could play online and have a literal squad of ninjas tear through the level, killing everyone in their path (stealthily, of course), and finally--my favourite thing--you could stealth-kill targets through paper screens! (It's the little things that count.) However, despite all the welcome added mechanics the game was INCOMPLETE! Levels were recycled; the narrative was disjointed and nonsensical; there didn't seem to be any reason to do anything. Considering that the previous entries in the series were so full of narrative and character development, this was quite a disappointment to fans, and to top it off the game received dismal to mediocre reviews for the reasons I just stated.

Ayame as seen in Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. While not as good as Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, it's still a decent entry into the series and expands upon the narrative. It managed to keep me invested. 
Things seemed bleak for the franchise until in 2008 the IP was handed back to Aquire and Tenchu: Shadow Assassins was released for the Nintendo Wii and PSP. The game received generally positive reviews and marked a return to form, featuring Ayame and Rikimaru as the main protagonists. I'm ashamed to say, though, that I haven't played this apparently formidable entry into the series, as I have neither a Wii nor a PSP, but it seemed to me that by the time of its release, many people had forgotten how awesome Tenchu once was. How sad. 

Currently the latest entry in the series. 
So why do I want to see this series rebooted? Because think of the possibilities! We've seen some pretty awesome stealth games as of late, some of which have been reboots, such as the recent Splinter Cell games and the latest entry in the Hitman series, and there have also been entirely new IPs such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and Assassin's Creed, and of course the indie hit Mark of the Ninja! We've seen what can be done with this genre. I think a truly next-gen, true-to-form Tenchu game with its feudal Japanese setting, array of ninja gadgets and abilities, and unique story and characters, redone with contemporary graphics, physics engines, and gameplay innovations, could truly be a thing of beauty. I can't think of too many games with ninjas in them in which stealth is actually encouraged, oddly enough, and in my opinion, for that reason Tenchu is and has always been the quintessential ninja IP. I would love to see it brought into the next generation (by Aquire, hopefully).                                       

No comments:

Post a Comment