Why Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is Unquestionably the Most Realistic Ninja Game Ever

In the history of video games, ninjas are everywhere – from Bad Dudes to Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden to Final Fantasy. Ninjas are so popular in video games that it’s easy to get confused and think that they are simply fictional characters, created by game designers.  You know, like Mario, Pac-Man and John Madden. However, ninjas were real, and played an important role in the history of medieval Japan, although the real ones barely resemble the characters we are used to seeing in video games. Until now.

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The Devil will occasionally ask you what time it is, but as long as you show him, he’ll leave you alone.

Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is the third game in the Tenchu series, and like its predecessors, it is a very realistic simulation of what a real ninja was like. Tenchu encourages the player to rely on stealth and sneaking to complete your objectives, instead of constant fighting seen in most other games about ninjas. This means that instead of walking up to the front door of a heavily guarded compound in broad daylight and whipping throwing stars at everyone, you instead wait until nightfall, then climb over the wall, and then sneak in through an open window.  Only then should you whip throwing stars at everyone.

The realism is evident right from the character select screen, as you are given the choice to play as one of three totally authentic ninjas. The first, Rikimaru, is realistically dressed in traditional ninja garb, which covers up everything except for his most recognizable features – a scar around his eye and his hair, which follows the ancient ninja style of looking like it was cut by a drunk amputee using a flowbee while having a seizure. The female ninja, Ayame, wears the traditional tight pants and tank top that all female ninjas wore in their time. In order to keep her identity a secret, she makes no attempt to cover her face, and constantly yells out her own name when confronted. Then she kills everyone who sees her.

There is also a 3rd ninja, called “Guy I Haven’t Unlocked Yet”, who is not playable until you beat the game as both Rikimaru and Ayame. This is to recreate a special, little-known branch of the ninja, who would only go into action if two other ninjas had already done all the missions and defeated the enemy armies first.  They weren’t very useful.

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Note that the enemy ninja goes to great lengths to cover his face and body, whereas Ayame is wearing a tank top, the same belt as Slash from Guns N’ Roses, and no mask.  Also note that Ayame is about to kill the hell out of the enemy ninja.

In order to assist you in completing your missions as stealthily and realistically as possible, there are many items to help you. The time-honored tools of the ancient ninja, such as grenades, mines, sticky bombs, exploding arrows and fireworks, will all make a lot of noise and draw attention to you, which is critical to being sneaky. There are also whiskey flasks that you can drink from to recover your health, throwing stars (which are mandatory for all ninja games) which you can be used to kill dogs or piss off (but not kill) guards from a safe distance, and “strength potions” which even today are still used, no longer by ninjas, but by professional athletes. Less-realistic ninja games rarely offer you the opportunity to go into a mission equipped the same way real ninjas were – with whiskey, steroids, and bottle rockets.

Of course, the best item in the game is the poison rice ball. Guards love to eat rice, and if they see a rice ball, they will go to it without question. The prospect of free rice causes them to forget any other concerns they may have, such as doing their job, the huge cliff they will walk off of in order to get to it, or why there is a big pile of dead guards all around the rice ball. Apparently in medieval Japan, rice grew in a ball shape on trees, and when it turned ripe it would fall from the tree, similar to an apple. So just like you wouldn’t find it unusual to see an apple laying on the ground, the guards in the game understandably find nothing strange about seeing balls of rice laying around outside and eat them. Even if they happen to find them in underground caves, on top of roofs, or inside castles.  Rice can be a very aggressive plant.

You may be asking why the guards are so stupid about the rice balls. It’s because they are stupid about everything. I have to admit that I don’t know much about the profession of being a guard in feudal Japan, but considering how realistic the rest of this game is, I think its safe to say that the guards in this game would also very true to their historical counterparts. Therefore it’s safe to say that only really low-intelligence people were hired as guards. There could be a lot of reasons why. Considering that there are so many evil plots for you to stop, it’s entirely possible that all the people of average intelligence or higher were already evil masterminds, leaving only the dumb people to be their guards. Or maybe the average guard’s diet just contained a lot of mercury.  It’s hard to say.

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Hmmm, yesterday when Bob found that ball of rice on the floor and tried to eat it, a ninja came around the corner and almost killed him.  I’d better eat this one before that happens again.

In addition to the characters and weapons, the designers also went to great lengths to make the missions as realistic as possible. Instead of the tired scenarios that we’ve seen in hundreds of other video games, every level in Tenchu is something that you’ve never seen in any other game – for example, in one mission you have to rescue a kidnapped princess. In another mission, you have to cross a graveyard, but instead of having normal human guards, which wouldn’t make any sense at all, the graveyard is full of fire-breathing zombies, just like real life. I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve read about ninjas that described all the times they had to sneak past zombies, often while laying land mines, shooting off fireworks, and drinking whiskey.

Of course, all this realism would be wasted if the player didn’t play along and try to act like a real ninja. So in order to encourage you to sneak through levels, you can kill any guard in one strike if the guard doesn’t see you. You lose points for being seen, but gain points for every “stealth kill”, so getting a high score requires not being seen and killing from the shadows. If your score is high enough, you will get a new item that will help you be even sneakier, so its a reward you can put to good use.

However, if you are bad at sneaking, don’t worry. You can plow through enemy guards pretty effortlessly, or if you want, just run past them – they probably won’t be able to catch up. After a while they will stop chasing and instead mock your cowardice by saying things like “Yeah! Run away! Run away toward that thing I was supposed to be guarding!” Of course, doing this will get you a low score, but that’s okay since getting a high score only rewards you with items that make it easier to sneak around, which you weren’t really doing anyway.

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The greatest enemy of any true ninja is Alice Cooper.

There’s no denying the realism of the Tenchu series, and Wrath of Heaven is a perfect example.  Whether you’re sneaking up behind a zombie and cutting its throat, drinking whiskey to recover from a tough battle against wooden robots, or shooting off fireworks to distract evil Buddhist monks while you sneak into their temple, you’ll marvel at the historical accuracy of all these activities.  Nothing could be more closer to the real thing.

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