Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a tactical strategy/stealth game made by Mimimi Productions and published by Daedalic Entertainment. It takes place in Japan during the Edo period, where you must uncover and defeat the mysterious Kage-sama. You control a team of fighters and assassins, each with their own set of skills suited to different situations. You’ll need to coordinate your team’s efforts in order to sneak through villages, assassinate key targets, distract guards, gather intel, or shift battles in favor of the Shogun. It is a game that requires a lot of patience, a great deal of strategy, and a willingness to repeatedly quick save and quick load due to trial and error. If you like the idea of tactical real-time gameplay, methodically dismantling enemy forces, and silently stabbing your prey before dragging them into the bushes, you will likely get many hours of enjoyment out of Shadow Tactics.
Thanks to diverse and clever level design that will take you to places like mountain strongholds, quaint villages, quiet wilderness, or imposing castles, the experience consistently stays fresh. These environments, along with unique skills across the five playable characters, and a few key mechanics, means that there’s plenty to keep you interested in Shadow Tactics. One of the best features in the game, in my opinion, is Shadow Mode. Shadow Mode allows you to queue up actions for multiple characters, so that they can execute them simultaneously. This opens up possibilities for coordinated assassinations, creating distractions so that one characters can sneak by to a better position, and much more. It’s also extremely satisfying. Imagine that you’ve spent several minutes creeping into position behind two guards, you queue up two of your characters and send them leaping out of cover to quickly and quietly slash their targets up before dragging them out of sight.
Across the different characters, you’ll often find similar abilities that have key differences. For instance, one character can throw a rock to cause an enemy to look in a different direction. Another character can blow a bird whistle to draw nearby enemies toward the source of the noise. Both of these are used to create distractions and control enemy attention or position, but must be used in very different ways. There are traps to place, shurikens to throw, disguises to wear, and many more abilities that you’ll use when approaching each mission.
How you solve each mission is entirely up to you, which means that you can go back and try out different tactics again and again. There are also numerous badges that you can earn by completing special challenges. These range from completing the mission within a certain time limit, to not killing any enemies, or even not completing optional objectives to make the mission harder. Several missions also feature branching objectives, such as deciding to enter a stronghold from the east side instead of the west side, or taking out a key target by creating a distraction and sniping him, or by poisoning him covertly. So, on top of adjusting your strategy, you can pursue entirely different objectives when replaying missions.
Overall Experience 9/10
When a plan comes together in Shadow Tactics it feels fantastic. In fact, the entire experience is really satisfying. And with all of the reasons to replay missions, it’s really cool that they give you so many opportunities to come at the game from different perspectives. At times, it even feels like some of the older Metal Gear Solid games, and that’s not a bad thing.
I’ve talked a lot about the way the game plays, but it’s also quite beautiful. The environments are expertly crafted and feel very atmospheric. The architecture helps immerse you in Edo era Japan, and even the rocks and trees in the wilderness are appealing and idyllic. Beautiful Japanese Maples adorned with crimson leaves are a subtle nod to the crimson streaks you will leave in your path.
From a storytelling perspective, it may not be groundbreaking, but it does a competent job without feeling like a stereotype (mostly). Voice acting is somewhat hit or miss, sometimes being quite good, and other times falling a bit short. I haven’t sorted out why different characters have accents that would suggest different nationalities, but the characters are endearing enough that I don’t really mind.
Finally, the music is quite good too. It’s all based on traditional Japanese music – though I will admit that I don’t know enough about traditional Japanese music to know if this is period appropriate, or if this is just what Hollywood portrays as traditional Japanese music. But, I’m sure you get the idea. Either way, it’s nice to listen to, and doesn’t become repetitive, intrusive, or annoying. It almost reminds me of a Japanese version of Diablo’s music, with dark undertones.
When you initially load a level, the load times can be quite long. However, after that, the quick save/quick load feature works lightning fast. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be utilizing this feature quite a lot, as much of the game relies upon trial and error. Often this is because you missed an enemy and got caught in his view cone by mistake. At other times, it’s because you tried to do something and it wasn’t clear that it wouldn’t work. Most of the time what you attempt to do works just fine, but sometimes it just doesn’t. For example, when you kill an enemy, if you’re up on the second level of a building you can usually throw their body over the edge so that it lands down in some bushes. This conceals the body so that you don’t raise an alarm. Sometimes though, there will be a bush down below and the game just won’t let you throw it down. Or, I had another instance where I couldn’t utilize the attack/pick up body action in conjunction with Shadow Mode. These are typically minor inconveniences, but it does mean that you’ll be quick loading a bit more often. Don’t get me wrong – these aren’t game breaking, but I felt that they could have polished the controls and interaction with the world a bit more.
Outside of that, most of the time the game feels quite good. You have great camera control, being able to rotate it 360 degrees, and you can zoom in and out a little bit as well. You can also see enemy view cones by clicking on the enemy, or you can set a marker down that will show you via dotted lines anyone that can see that marker. So, while there are a few little hitches, they do give you a lot of tools to make sure that you have the information that you need to be successful. The UI is informative without being bothersome, and when you pull up mission objective information, it will even focus your view on the part of the map where that objective is located so that you don’t lose track.
This game does a lot of things right, and scratches the tactical itch that many games can’t. Tension will mount as you strategize, waiting for just the right moment to strike. Checking every angle, you inhale, did you miss anything? Anyone? Your target appears, you exhale, and a flash of steel and blood is over in the blink of an eye. Shadow Tactics will test your ability to think, it will test your patience, and it is a hell of a lot of fun.