Tenchu Z
by Kazlo

I've never been a fan of the Tenchu series. It seemed like the creators always just missed the memo when some other recent game raised the bar. What, people want interesting environments? Okay, here you go... oh, now people expect decent controls... what? Now they want AI? Bitch shit! Obviously, I didn't have high expectations for Tenchu Z, but I figured I'd try it, since this is The Next Generation of games and From Software have had a while to work on the game, so I'd think it would show a little more polish than usual.

HAHAHA! HAHA! HA! That was a hilarious joke I just made, wasn't it? Tenchu Z is a walking demo of From Software's incapacity for design, presentation, and originality. I don't even know where to start, so I guess I'll tackle this bitch straight up the middle with the design.

Tenchu Z starts with you creating a ninja. You can choose your gender, but it doesn't really matter, since all the animations are the same and your character never talks. You can choose from 5 starting clothing options and about 25 heads, about 23 of which are utterly [REDACTED]ed. Seriously, you could not come up with dumber, more constipated and Downs'-ridden looking heads if you tried. You can also customize your partner, who talks for you in cutscenes and shows up out of nowhere to take credit after you finish a mission because he's a worthless bastard. Later, you can buy new clothing in the ninja village, which I have to admit is kind of cool if you don't mind spending half the price of a skill upgrade on a hat you can't preview and is probably a leather thong your character ties to his nose or something. When it's not clipping through every other clothing item, that is. If you ignore the clothing, you'll have more money to spend on upgrading your character throughout the game. You can get items such as rice balls that your character eats like a drink, throwing stars that are slower than Batman Begins and twice as dull, and smoke bombs that will mildly irritate your enemies as you jump over their heads and run away three times faster than they can. You can also buy new sword combos, all of which are worthless, stealth techniques (also worthless), combat techniques (worthless) and skill upgrades (give me a W-O-R-T-H! L-E... who even cares.)

The gameplay is dated across the board. You can sneak, roll, slash, run around on rooftops, and the missions give you a great amount of freedom, but this freedom makes the game simplistic and boring. The best strategy is to simply grappling hook to the nearest rooftop and run around out of sight until you get a chance to jump down and gut an enemy before he can react, then return to the roofs. In outdoor areas, this is basically foolproof, because a stealth kill from above is completely soundless to an enemy literally 5 feet away and if someone happens across the body they'll simply become alarmed, pull out their sword, rotate in place while vibrating slightly for ten seconds and return to patrolling as if nothing happened. The AI is pretty accomodating that way, apparently suffering from years of inbreeding. Patrolling guards can see pretty far, and a few can spot you on rooftops, but they're kind enough to let everyone within a mile know that they've heard you by shouting out "HEY, WHAT'S THAT?! THAT WAS A NOISE! OH WELL, I GUESS IT WAS NOTHING. I HAVE TO MAKE POO POOS! WHOOPS, NOT ANYMORE." If you get caught the best course of action is to hide and wait for things to blow over, but if you decide to stay and fight, get ready for a no-holds-barred action extravaganza. You have a whopping one shitty attack combo to combat the guards' occasional stumbling single strikes. You target enemies with the right trigger, attack with X, and block by holding the left trigger and X at the same time. Not clunky enough for you? Not to worry, getting hit by a combo attack or more than one enemy will send your ass whirling into the air and down like a brick, sending you into a ten-second coma while nearby enemies swat flies with their swords and hump each other's legs.

The game has something like 50 missions, which is pretty impressive if you're a fan of the series or the simple stealth action happens to tickle your fancy. Unfortunately, most of them are the most terrible examples of copy-and-paste, in-game level editor design I've seen. There are only a handful of tilesets and times of day, and by only the third or fourth mission you'll start noticing identical rooms. A few levels do an okay job of mixing up the level design with hills, outer walls and bridges, but these mostly serve to seperate copy-and-pasted sections of levels and can be easily scaled or avoided. There's a half-hearted attempt at variety in mission objectives, such as finding contacts, delivering messages past heavily fortified points or collecting top-secret dangerous packages lying on the ground outside the castle walls. However, you receive more money for every enemy samurai you kill, regardless of your objective, so the best course of action is to simply slaughter everyone in the level and sort out your objective afterwards.

If there was a story, I sure as hell never noticed it. Before most missions, you get a cutscene introducing your target who has no bearing on anything because he'll be dead in 15 minutes. Every now and then some Final Fantasy emo[REDACTED] named Shigi pops up to look at you moodily with his arms crossed, talk about your power level or something, fight, and vanish in a shower of petals. Fag. He also wears a trenchcoat despite the fact the game takes place in feudal Japan and there were no trenchcoats in FEUDAL FUCKING JAPAN AUGHALGHAULGH. Also, I can't stress this enough, the character's mouths don't move in the in-engine cutscenes. Their mouths don't move in the in-engine cutscenes. I'm no graphics whore, but JESUS. PS1 games had mouth-flapping by a year or two in! This is supposed to be a next-gen game! God knows their level resources aren't taking up a lot of space, so why couldn't they do ANYTHING to make the game more than the older Tenchu games with bloom effects and more female ninja pantyshots? Or add a little polish and weight to character animations? Or AI smart enough to remember their dead friend's body lying in their patrol path? Or gameplay that's actually FUN and not just stealth-killing shitheads in endless identical levels? Because From Software are a bunch of unimaginative untalented hacks, you moron! Why would you even ask such a stupid question?!

Tenchu Z was fun for the first fifteen minutes or so, but after you get used to the stealth kills and get tired of your female ninja running around rooftops with bare legs and feet (and believe you me, it takes me a while to get tired of that), there's nothing there. I'm fine with a game that doesn't feel it has to bring anything new to the table, as long as it's fun and well-designed, but this game is neither. It's not next-gen and it wouldn't be worth 60 dollars if it was a PS2 game. It's old Tenchu with half a coat of new paint. And Tenchu was behind the times before it even came out.


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