SHADOW TACTICS: BLADES of the SHOGUN
Three ranges of Difficulty:
Beginner: Easiest level but no Badge Awards
Normal: How the game is supposed to be played
Hardcore: Expert level for fast acting, high dexterity player
You can begin on one difficulty level and if you are struggling you can drop down (or move up) a level (or two) in the Mission Menu.
You can hear this in English or Japanese. Occasionally it takes up to two minutes for a level to load. This is probably because of the amount of onscreen animations and visuals.
I started on the Easy level and found I was controlling a character called Hayato. He had a Ninjago (sword) and a Shiruken. The Shiruken is excellent, Target, Aim, Throw, Dead person. But as you only have one Shiruken you then have to go and collect it. This usually means some stealthy movement and some enemy dodging before you can get to it, you also really should move the body of the victim because guards are on regular patrols, but I'm getting a step ahead of myself here. The story as I understand it is that Hayato has been sent ahead by his Commander to sneak into the fortified compound of Kage-Sama (an at the moment unidentified, as in you have to unmask him) enemy of the newly unified Japan and open the main gates to let the Shogun's army in.
After an amount of sneaking, killing, body hiding etc your ninja character; Hayato, sees that one of the Shogun's Samurai, Mugen, is attacking one of the smaller compound's gates on his own. He is strong and smart and has a Katana, 2 Swords, and a Bottle of sake but he looks to be in trouble as the enemy swarm around him. This is where you, controlling Hayato helps Mugen out by clearing some of the enemy out of his way and then you take over as Mugen and fight your way through, switching back to Hayato if you want but basically when you get Mugen to a certain point there is a cut scene and the pair of them are automatically together and discussing future moves. You can continue as Mugen here because the game has a sandbox feel to it, but it does seem that Hayato is required for the next part of the story simply by the way things are set up - the golden hook on the roof for example which allows Hayato but not Mugen to climb up to the rooftop and observe.
Later in the game you will meet up/rescue Yuki, Aiko and Takuma, all of which are playable characters so that you have five very different styles of play - these add a Spy, Thief and Sharp-Shooter - to select from, though obviously there are times when each of their speciality skillsets are going to be required.
If you have played any of the Commando games you will have an idea of the necessity for stealth as well as combat. I found that I was on the edge of my seat while playing trying desperately to look round the end of my monitor to see where the guards were or what the next problem was. If you make any noise of attack someone in front of another person, civilian or guard, then you are as good as dead. Very raely you can run away and hide, but the guards are pretty sharp and they come searching for you - you can see their vision range via a coloured cone that sweeps around like a searchlight. If they see you the cone goes red and guards appear from all over the place. Sneaking becomes a lot more sensible than killing for the sake of it, but of course occasionally you have little choice but to remove the guards from your path.
One way to split pairs of guards up or to distract them is to throw a stone - press D and you have a stone in your hand and a visual arc as to where you can throw it. Generally if there are two guards they will both look to where the noise the stonemakes on landing comes from and then one of them will go off and investigate. If you have thrown the stone advantageously you can sneak up from behind and despatch the guard who didn't move and if you are quick enough you can also kill the other guard, both times without making any noise or disturbing anyone else. Hids the bodies - there are quite a few places where you can hide them, down a well for instance or behind a cart or some barrels, just don't leave them in the open.
It is likely you will get caught and die, I do regularly, but then you start back at a saved position and try to do better next time. I often use my first death in a situation to let me get a clear view and idea of what I am up against - surveying the land so as to speak. Better players than I will be able to do this stealthily and stay alive all the time but I aint the best or most patient of players, but then I never worry about scoring points for successes or racing the clock (unless I cannot proceed without doing so) I just enjoy playing.
The screenshots I have taken give you some idea of how beautiful the backdrops and 3D imagery of the buildings and mountains are, but what they cannot show you is that there are several animations going on within those compound walls which really give the appearance of you really looking at a working fortress. The people here live here and work here and that is well put over.
I have yet to complete my mission but I have played for several hours, probably dying a few too many times if truth be told, but it is one of those games where you have more than one way to solve most of the puzzles presented to you, by puzzles I mean how to get from A to B etc, and it is with great satisfaction when you do outwit the guards, especially if you haven't had to kill them, and you can move on to the next part of the mission. Shadow Tactics is a strong tactical game set in an era of Japan that has been a myth to so many for so long.