Tenchu Z Review (Xbox 360)

Ninjas are still cool

Back in the day, ninjas held a very active role in gaming. Ninjas such as Joe Musashi and Ryu Hyabusa were names that any kid would know. Now it seems the ninja mania of the 1980’s has largely subsided, forcing ninja games to step to the backburner. Even so,  a number of ninja-heavy games continue to pop up every now and then, including the long running Tenchu series. While Tenchu Z didn’t create a huge splash when it was released and was largely dismissed by major game reviewing publications, take it from me – Tenchu Z is worth playing.

Story

It’s roughly the mid 17th century, Japan. The land of Goda, where the Azuma clan of ninja reside, is on the brink of war with the neighboring land of Ogawara. As a new recruit in the Azuma clan, you are sent to assassinate those who are assisting Ogawara, including army officials and spies who have infiltrated Goda, as well as recover stolen items and rescue prisoners. In between thwarting Ogawara’s plans, you will be tasked with delivering divine justice to the wicked who terrorize the land. A shinobi’s work is never finished.

Graphics

The game may be in HD, but it’s very evident that From Software had nearly no experience with the 360 hardware. Much of what you see probably could have been accomplished on the PS2 without much degradation. There are no lip movements at all. Character models are particularly wooden and lack refined movement. From afar, they look passable, but Tenchu Z really comes across looking more like a budget title than anything else. The game is a ton of fun though, so the graphics are in the end, acceptable.

Audio

The music is largely subdued, traditional Japanese interments and very oriental sounding. All the voice acting is in Japanese, most of which is left completely unsubtitled, making it feel even more Japanese in origin. If you know any Japanese, hearing the various enemy voices can be fun in of itself.

Here’s the game’s main theme, as shown in its opening sequence.

Gameplay

Like the previous games in the series, Tenchu Z is a stealth action game that mainly focuses on unobserved assassinations. As such, Tenchu Z lives and dies by it’s gameplay, which luckily is functional and a lot of fun. After choosing if you want to be a ninja or kunoichi (female ninja), the player’s first task is to design how their character looks and what they wear. As you play the game, you will unlock the ability to buy additional costumes and accessories, making your ninja as badass – or as ridiculous – as you want.

Tenchu Z mainly centers around preforming assassinations while remaining unobserved. As such, there is an in-depth stealth system in place. Enemies will react not only to sight, but also to sound, and even to smell. It’s almost always a good idea to crouch rather than walk or run and to only move when enemies have their back to you. Many stages employ pitfalls and noise traps to prevent you from carrying out your missions. Daytime assassinations are more difficult as they require you to stick to shadows and avoid rooftops, and so on. After you kill an enemy, it’s usually a good idea to also move their body to a hidden location to prevent other guards from sounding the alarm. All this will sound old hat to Metal Gear Solid fans, but this level of depth in a ninja game is both surprising and appreciated.

Missions usually present you with the goal of assassinating a single target, but leaves how to accomplish this task to the player. You can rush in and attempt to kill everyone in sword fight after sword fight or take them out one at a time with a well placed lunge through the back or a snap of their neck. Or, you can use your grappling hook and other items to skillfully move about remaining completely unseen, killing only your target.  Sounds simple, but with so many guards, it’s easier said than done.

Another complication are the innocents that populate some areas. Usually merchants or housemaids, these unarmed civilians will totally freak out and their noise will alert guards if they spot you, and killing them will result in major deductions to your reward money after completing each mission.

There are a total of fifty stages, but not all involve assassinations. Occasionally, you will be tasked with retrieving secret documents, disarming explosives, rescuing hostages, etc. There is an online multiplayer mode, but I have never played it so I cannot give any impressions.

Controls

Luckily the controls makes sense, are easy to learn and won’t account for many cheap deaths.

Left Stick: Movement
Right Stick: Look
LT: Defend
RT: Check enemy vitality/strafe
LB: Use item
RB: Crouch
A: Jump
B: Draw katana/sheath katana
X: Attack
Y: No usage
Start: Pause
Back: no usage
L3: no useage
R3: Change to first person view, throw gabbling hook

Frustration

Being detected sucks. It will drastically reduce your reward money. There are times when guards will seemingly come out of nowhere and spot you. If this happens, it’s usually a better idea to just restart the mission that continue on. Occasionally the controls become a little awkward, such as looking over the edge of roofs and when crawling under building foundations.  Add on lengthy load times and the problems can potentially be a deal breaker for some gamers.

Availability & Price

Tenchu Z isn’t particularity rare, but it is somewhat uncommon. Expect to pay between $15-25 for a used copy. Search around your local area and you should come across a copy with enough searching.

History

The Tenchu series dates back to the PS1 in 1997 and over the years, sequels have been somewhat sparse. Tenchu Z has no bearing on the timeline canon of the Tenchu series and can thus be considered a side story.  Tenchu Z remains the only HD Tenchu game and unfortunately poor sales have so far prohibited a sequel.

Overall

Good

  • Being a Shinobi is awesome
  • Stealth killing is awesome
  • Good controls
  • Great replay value

Bad

  • Rather repetitive goals
  • Stages repeat constantly
  • No explanation of what items do
  • Some uneven difficulty spikes; Tenchu Z isn’t combat focused, so when you are forced to engage the enemy, the game feels sluggish.

Conclusion

Tenchu Z, manages to offer a thrilling and entertaining experience, flaws and all. Jumping from a rooftop and stabbing a guy in the back so he dies before he hits the ground is a kind of morbid fun that no FPS headshot can compare with. The game might not be pretty, but like they say, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. Give Tenchu Z a shot. Chances are you’ll find it to your liking.

Data
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Ninja Stealth
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Developer: K2 LLC
Publisher: From Software
Also from the developer: No idea!
Also try: Ninja Gaiden Black, Ninja Blade
Game Length: ~30 hours
ESRB: M
Buy/Skip: Buy it, rent it or borrow it. Just…try it.

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