Tenchu Kurenai (Tenchu: Fatal Shadows)

From software picks up where Activision left off


The Lowdown

Pros: Everything you liked about Wraith of Heaven and more.

Cons: Uses the last Tenchu's graphic system and gameplay system.

Purchase at Play-Asia
Even though the last Playstation 2 Tenchu game, Wraith of Heaven, was a worldwide hit Activision sold the Tenchu license to Japan's From Software. From software did publish Tenchu: Return to Darkness for the Xbox, but they are better known in Japan for their Armored Core mech series. You can't help but wonder why Activision sold one of their core licenses to a new Japanese developer. Thankfully, they just didn't sell the rights to Tenchu. They included all of the code, character models and charm of the original series.

The leap from Tenchu 2 on the PSX to Tenchu: Wraith of Heaven was huge leap in terms of graphics, gameplay and level size. If you're expecting that type of change in Kurenai, you're going to be let down. Instead Kurenai takes everything that Wraith of Heaven did right and add a few tweaks to the game. This makes Tenchu Kurenai play more like an expansion pack of the Wraith of Heaven, than a completely new game.

The story of Tenchu Kurenai takes place in between the second game and Wraith of Heaven. Rikimaru, on of the stars of the series, has gone missing. Ayane, another Tenchu star, goes out on a quest to find him. On her way she enters a burning village where another ninja Rin is returning home to. At first the two ninjas fight, but afterwards find that they need to work together. Each of the characters has a different style of fighting. Rin fights with hand to hand combos. She has a sword that she uses to end combos and for a longer ranged jumping attack. Ayane has her traditional double dagger combination. Ayane is faster than Rin and can score more, but less damaging hits.

With both characters the emphasis isn't about face to face killing. It's all about being stealthy. Your ninja training allows you to execute instant kills if an enemy isn't looking straight at you. Performing stealth kills not only guarantees you won't be attacked back by an enemy, but you can also acquire new skill scrolls this way. Skill scrolls can teach your characters new moves, which are important for fighting bosses. The stealth kills aren't nearly as bloody as they were in Wraith of Heaven, which isn't really a big deal. To help you identify far assailants you have a type of "ninja sense" just like in Wraith of Heaven. Different colored indicators tell you how close you are to enemies and if you've been spotted. Players will have to rely on this system as a makeshift radar early on in the game.

One thing that fans of the Tenchu series will enjoy is the enemies have increased AI. You can't just hide in a bunch of bushes and be "invisible" to enemies anymore. Enemy ninjas will chase you down for long distances. They'll even call for backup if they spot you or a lifeless corpse. Players will need to be extra careful since Ayane and Rin aren't suited for up close fighting. If you encounter three or four ninjas at once you're in trouble. Luckily you have a couple of new stealthy abilities like hiding bodies. The levels in Tenchu Kurenai are outdoors like in Wraith of Heaven, but are much larger. Larger levels mean more areas to run through and more areas for enemies to hide in. It may not be intentional, but the designers at From Software have the ninjas with uniforms that blend in to the backgrounds really well. Sometimes you'll be scanning for threats to find that you missed a ninja right in front of you.

Using the same gameplay system is OK, since Tenchu: Wraith of Heaven had good gameplay. Where the Playstation 2 Tenchu didn't shine was in the graphics department. The character models were blocky and the areas were devoid of detail. A year later and the same graphics engine, looks even worse. Ayane has blocks of rectangular hair and Rin has a square shaped dress. Even though the areas have gotten larger, they also suffered from the lack of a graphical upgrade. Sometimes there are long pixilated strands of grass and surrounded by cubes of wood. It's not that Tenchu 3 has "bad" graphics, its just they're not up to par.

Even though it may not be the most visually appealing game, Tenchu Kurenai has more of what Tenchu fans come to love. Fans of the series and stealth games will get a kick out of a larger stages. From software picked up where Activision left off, if this is any indication of how well the next Tenchu game will turn out we're excited.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 5

The all Japanese menus, use of ancient kanji and the artistic water brush font will challenge even the most educated Japanese linguists. With this level of a language barrier players won't be able to complete the missions without a great deal of language ability.

US Bound?

Due to the popularity of the Tenchu series and From Software's good relationship with Activision, we expect to see this game here.

Overall

Is more of a good game a bad thing? If we're talking about the Tenchu series, defiantly not.