Do you love the old-school, tactical series Commandos? Are you a fan of the stealth title Invisible Inc.? If you answered yes to either of these rhetorical inquiries, then you’re in for a treat! Germany-based development studios Daedalic Entertainment and Mimimi Productions have collaborated on Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, a fresh, stealthy, real-time tactics title. Released last December, it is set in Japan’s Edo period (aka the Tokugawa period) when Japan was controlled by its feudal military regime for over 250 years.
After years of a flourishing economy and martial stability due to the Shogun’s leadership, Kage-sama aims to overthrow Japan’s commander-in-chief, thus imposing a huge threat to Japan’s security. The story starts with the Shogun assigning his most faithful samurai, Mugen, to hunt down his nemesis, Kage-sama. Throughout the game, Mugen comes across four skilled assassins: Hayato, a swift Ninja; Takuma, a sharp-eyed sniper; Yuki, a feisty trapper; and Aiko, an expert in the art of diversion. Together, the five allies cooperate in order to protect the Shogun and identify the Kage-sama before it’s too late. So, what’s the catch? All five contradictory characters are playable. That’s what makes playing this game quite captivating.
The game mechanics of a RTT like Shadow Tactics forces the player to focus on outsmarting and outrunning the in-game enemy AI. The main controls are the mouse buttons for point-and-click movement and actions, as well as the ASD buttons for ability selection. The numeric keypad is used for switching back and forth between the five playable characters. Meanwhile, the most important control of all is F5 – the quick save hotkey. If you forget to quick save after each successful kill or undetected maneuver, you’ll become the reason behind your own frustration.
In Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, you get to play as five different characters with varying abilities
In total, Shadow Tactics has 13 missions for you to complete, and each one could take up to 2-3 hours to beat. The game even offers speedrun mode for those who are hardcore tactical players. It’ll require lots of patience, good timing and appropriate use of characters/abilities in order to beat the game. Each of the five characters has three primary attacks. Hayato can use his Ninjato blade for hand-to-hand combat, his Shuriken for mid to long-range attacks, and he can throw stones to distract nearby enemies. Mugen uses a Katana to strike enemies, and he can use two of his blades to take out multiple enemies with one swift movement. He also has a Sake bottle that he can use as bait. Being a skilled sniper at heart, Takuma has a rifle, sleeping gas and explosive grenades for ranged attacks, as well as a Japanese raccoon dog (referred to as Tanuki in Japanese) to divert enemies’ attention to a specific click-on area.
As for Yuki, she uses daggers for close-range strikes, a fatal trap that ends the life of any enemy that sets foot in its radius, and a flute for luring enemies. Finally, Aiko uses her hairpins (which are deadlier than they sound) to kill enemies within a close range, a sneezing powder that blinds enemies for a brief duration of time, and a disguise that allows her to hide in plain sight. She can charm her way into killing enemies, à la Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation‘s Aveline de Grandpré. Despite the fact that all five characters share the range as a skill set category, their abilities vary in damage and speed. For example, Hayato’s Ninjato works on all enemies except for Samurais, while Mugen does not have a ranged weapon like Hayato’s Shuriken, he can finish off Samurais with his Katana. The bottom line: choose your characters, moves, and attacks wisely. Timely execution is key in order for you to progress through the game.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun oozes rich Japanese culture because of its art, music, sound effects and featured characters
From an artistic perspective, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun shines in its own way. Graphically, since it’s a tactical game, it has the expected isometric view. However, the in-game assets and characters are finely polished in detail, along with a friendly UI. Musically, from the main menu to the in-game missions, one could note that the music sounded rather epic and well-composed. Composer Filippo Beck Peccoz managed to excel in conveying the intended sentiment, from mystery to valor to sorrow. The music, combined with the ambient sounds and on-point voice over brought more life to the visuals – making the game adequately immersive.
In a nutshell, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a refreshing take on the real-time tactics genre. It’s also a great start for those who are new to the genre itself. It’s quite impressive how the creators managed to keep the character development far from superficial. The gameplay could get frustrating if you forget to save – and its slow progression and high enemy respawn rate could be a turn-off for some. However, being challenged to uphold the perfect combination of timing, scheme, and character selection make Shadow Tactics a genuinely enjoyable experience that pushes you to outwit both the enemy AI and yourself.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
(Stealth) Kill or be killed...
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Plot - 8/10
Design - 8/10
+ Challenging tactical gameplay
+ Different sets of abilities spanning over 5 playable characters
+ Japanese essence embedded within all of the game's features
+ Quicksave hotkey (F5)
- High rate of enemy respawn could be exasperating
- Missions could take quite some time to beat, especially for tactical newbies
- Forgetting to press F5