Five Facts about the Tenchu Series

By Ben McNeill

Leaked footage of the new Assassins Creed hit the web recently. The rumours have now been confirmed; it’s going to take place in ancient Egypt, a rather original setting for a stealthy assassin. However, many fans let out a little sigh of disappointment, as their hopes for an AC game to take place in feudal Japan have once again been dashed (Feudal Japan is the perfect place for Assassins, it’s where ninjas were created for god’s sake!) Luckily, for all the stealth and ninja enthusiasts out there, there will always be Tenchu. You don’t know it? Well, here are five facts about the feudal-Japan-based, third-person, action-adventure, stealth game series: Tenchu.

1. The Tenchu Series has nine games in total.

Tenchu, which translated from Japanese means; ‘Divine Retribution’, has been around for nearly two decades. The first game, Tenchu: Stealth Assassin, was released on the Playstation way back in 1998. Since then, the series has gone on to release a total of eight more games (counting the odd Tenchu bomberman-like puzzle game released in 2008, that is) on many different platforms, from Playstation 1 and 2, to the Wii and even portable consoles such as the PSP and 3DS. The last game to be released was Tenchu Z in 2009 on the Xbox 360. I think it’s fair to say that the world is ready for a next-gen Tenchu game.

2. You often play as Rikimaru and/or Ayame

In nearly every Tenchu game, starting with the original, you have the choice of playing as either a male ninja named Rikimaru or a female ninja named Ayame. The mysterious Rikimaru is known for his trademark silver hair, scarred right eye, masked face and lethal skill with a one-handed Katana. Ayame is a fast and acrobatic assassin, who wields two deadly tactical samurai knives called Tanto. Both are adepts with the grappling hook, used to scale atop pagodas and enemy dojos, or simply to hide in the rafters above as they await their prey. It’s always fun to play as these two badass ninjas, slinking across tiled rooftops or soft tatami floors, silently taking out enemy guards and approaching the target as stealthily as possible. There are only two games where these two characters aren’t playable, Tenchu: Fatal Shadows (although they feature in the plot) and Tenchu Z which takes a different approach, allowing you to build and customize your own ninja instead.

3. All Tenchu games feature elements of historical fantasy and Japanese Mythology.

All the Tenchu games incorporate both the history of feudal Japan and fantasy elements, heavily drawn from Japanese folklore. Throughout, you will often come across demons, spirits, and other strange creatures from Japanese folklore. Many of the Warlords you’re tasked with assassinating are inspired from real life warlords from the feudal era. All this history, mixed up with demonic powers and dark magic, creates an intriguing world filled with tribes fighting between themselves for dominion over Japan. Let’s just say it’s the perfect setting for a secret ninja assassin trade.

4. Only three games were developed by the original team that started the series.

The first game, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and its sequel/prequel Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, were developed by the Japanese company Acquire and directed by series creator Takuma Endo. These two games were praised by gamers and critics alike, particularly the first game which gained an 87 score on Metacritic, the highest score the series ever obtained. From then on, all other games in the series were developed by a new team. It wasn’t until 2008 that Acquire came back and developed Tenchu: Shadow Assassins for the Wii, although this time without Takuma Endo at the helm. The game managed to score a 70 on Metacritic, making it much more successful than the last five Tenchu games released previously.

5. Shinobido: Way of the Ninja was also developed by Acquire

Although this isn’t technically a Tenchu game, Shinobido: Way of the Ninja might as well be. After Acquire lost the rights for Tenchu to the Japanese game developer FromSoftware, they began working on a new title. Hence, Shinobido: Way of the Ninja was released in 2006 for the Playstation 2. Very much a spiritual successor to Tenchu, the game is exactly what fans could expect from a good Tenchu game, on an even bigger scale. The game didn’t receive particularly good reviews, only scoring a 59 overall on Metacritic. Many of the critics disliked the out-of-date controls. For the fans however, this was simply how a good Tenchu game was meant to be played, therefore making Shinobido a good successor for the much-loved franchise it had spawned from. The fans were pleased and the game went on to sell well.

The Tenchu series has certainly had its ups and downs, but it will always be fondly remembered as one of the pioneers in stealth action games and one of the few to take place in feudal Japan. Hopefully, the Tenchu series will step out of the shadows once more and use its ninjutsu skills to hand out divine retribution once again.

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