Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun Review

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, made by Mimimi in collaboration with Daedalic Entertainment, is a game that is very easy to overlook as just another ordinary stealth game, when in reality it’s anything but that.

The journey’s what matters.

Shadow Tactics is a game that shines brightest with its beautiful maps which feel like real places. The level design is intricate and detailed, including environmental hazards, objects you can interact with, multiple ways to tackle the objective and strategic enemy placements. The aesthetic design is also phenomenal, as every place and every object is as detailed as a professional diorama which you could stare at for hours on end. The maps never feel empty and they always look like something you’d see in a samurai movie. The enemy placement feels meaningful and thought out, which means it never feels cheap or unfairly difficult.

The gameplay pays homage to Commandos and Desperados following the same basic principles and improving upon them. The camera is often hard to maneuver around and at times it can be rather awkward, often obscuring gameplay and diminishing the overall enjoyment I got from exploring all the gorgeous maps Shadow Tactics had to offer. Blades of the Shogun presents a tool named “Shadow mode”, which allows the player to plan multiple actions for multiple characters then execute all of them at once. Meanwhile it does sound good in theory, in practice its usefulness is greatly limited by the fact that time continues to flow even when the player is in this mode, something which was later fixed in Desperados III. Nevertheless the synchronized takedowns that can be achieved with this tool are really satisfying to pull off.

No one said that stopping a revolution would be easy.

The game can offer a great challenge even to experienced players with its decent AI, enemy placement and various twists to shake up the rules. Quick-saving and quick-loading are essential parts of this game, to the point they’re one of the primary mechanics. Trial and error is key. Shadow Tactics can be frustrating at times, but it is all the more satisfying once you get over those bumps. During the early missions there were a few difficulty spikes that almost matched the toughness of end-game missions. The AI, while decent for the most part has its fair share of flaws. The enemies often lose track of you whenever you climb a ladder or hook up to a rooftop. Sometimes pathfinding does not work, causing the enemy to stand idly as it stares at the detected character.

For those who seek an even greater challenge there are multiple difficulty settings as well as badges. Badges are awarded for completing missions in different ways which often forces you to think of different approaches to the problems Blades of the Shogun presents you with. That being said, badges are optional and are not required in order to finish the game or unlock a secret ending.

A tale about 5 warriors in feudal Japan.

The plot revolves around a group of characters controlled by the player as they seek to stop a revolution against the shogun. The story is by far the game’s weakest point, being rather bland and predictable most of the time, but despite that it was enough to hold my interest for the 40 or so hours Shadow Tactics had to offer. Despite the story being bland, the characters the player controls are not. Each character has a unique and memorable personality that is complemented by their abilities and skills. Each member of the group is well written and believable to some degree. I found myself enjoying listening to every bad joke the wise old sniper had to say, as well as every bit of backstory Yuki revealed about herself. I never had trouble remembering what a character is useful for since their personality and designs matched up so well with their personality: Hayato acting as a stealthy ninja who does not talk much, Mugen’s presentation as a tough tradition-honoring samurai, Yuki being a cunning and mischievous thief, Takuma’s role as an old and somewhat wise sniper, Aiko’s part as a seductive and deadly assassin.

The game is fully voice acted both during cutscenes and during in-game dialogue. The voice acting is on-point most of the time, although it does feel strange when characters far away communicate to each other via whispers. The voice lines for various actions also change from mission to mission, so hearing the same line over and over again is not a problem in this game. The cutscenes have detailed backgrounds and great pacing. I never felt that the events were happening too fast or too slow, and I have never found myself wanting to skip a cutscene.

The music, the aesthetic and the gameplay create a great atmosphere which I gladly sank hours delving into. I greatly recommend Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun to any fans of the genre or to anyone who finds this sort of setting interesting.

You can find Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun on Steam here.

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