Video games

Game Franchise History: Tenchu – A Tale of Two Assassins (Part One)

Not all ninjas need to know transformation spells. Not all ninjas need to know how to summon giant toads. These ninjas only need their weapons and the shadows to take people out. Here's an overview of the Tenchu franchise.

The life of an assassin is always a dangerous one; one’s life is in constant danger. However, a true assassin knows how to stay hidden and is able to kill without being spotted. In 1998, Sony Music Entertainment Japan in Japan released the first installment of a game franchise that would follow this very idea all the way through; Acquire would be the developer. For the rest of the world, the game would be released by Activision. With the slogan, “Live by Honor. Kill by Stealth,” the Tenchu franchise made is debut on the Playstation with its first game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. Before we get into the game specific story and details, let’s get a general overview of the franchise as a whole.

Set in a fictional feudal Japan, Tenchu puts the player in the role of a ninja assassin sent on assignments. Since the player is taking the role of an assassin, the most common assignment involves finding the required target and killing them. However, there are other assignments that the player will need to do, such as retrieving vital documents and items, rescuing a key character, and reaching the objective point (Point A to Point B). Although the main way to complete these assignments was to stay hidden and use stealth around enemies, the player had the ultimate decision how they go about completing it; using stealth and attacking enemies from behind or above, or just running up to them and starting a brawl are both possible based on the player’s preference. New objective types are added to the games as the franchise furthers in games.

Through the use of ninja items, players were given a wide variety of how they were able to take out patrolling guards, ninjas on rooftops, and mystical beings and creatures blocking pathways. Some items were to be expected in the game, such as a health pack to recover lost health, shuriken (throwing stars) to attack from a distance, and caltrops (road spikes) to protect yourself if you felt like you were being followed. On top of that, new items could be unlocked in-game by getting the highest ranking on an assignment. These items would range from simple items, such as blow guns and darts, to very dangerous items, like portable fire arrows and invisibility spells. The variety of items allows to very different strategies to be created, adding to the replay ability of games and missions. However, the one tool that was always at your disposal was the grappling hook, giving you the ability to reach rooftops, traverse across pitfalls, and reach ledges from a distance.

Using a game mechanic called the “Ki Meter,” players were able to determine an enemy’s location in relation to their own; the higher the number became, the closer the player was to an enemy. There were also different symbols and colors within the meter to help figure out what kind of status enemies were in, such as if they didn’t detect you, they’re aware that somebody was near by, or they were on the attack for intruders. The meter would even detect enemies in other rooms, so players would had to take this into consideration when going from room to room if they wanted to remain undetected. The Ki Meter also picked up civilians roaming around the map, so players had to be mindful of this as well, as it would dramatically hurt the overall score for the assignment should one be killed.

Between the first game’s debut in 1998 and the most recent game release, which was in 2009, a total of thirteen games were created. Unfortunately, The United States only received nine of them, Europe only getting ten, while Japan got all thirteen. There’s one game that some don’t count as an entirely new game, so some say that the US count is only eight (one specific game was an expansion on another, but that will be covered in another article.) There was also a live adaptation of the game done in Tokyo, Japan roughly two years ago (this too, will be brought up in another article.)

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