As of this writing, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun since the end of 2016. Since I’ve played it within 2016, it can technically be included in my Top 10 Games of 2016 list (which is coming soon). While you may say that less than a week isn’t enough for a thorough assessment of a game, I fell in love with this game right at the first few moments as it reminded me of Commandos—a series I played growing up. It was one of those franchises that truly made you think while you played.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun first came to my attention via demo on Steam, which immediately piqued my interest due to its similarity to Commandos. It’s basically Commandos with more gameplay features set in feudal Japan instead of the European theater of World War II. Having been fascinated by Japanese history during my youth, it didn’t hurt at all that I got to play with ninjas through this game.
NOTE: Despite Shadow Tactics having been released for quite a while now, I still wanted to talk about it, especially with how it compares to the Commandos games. Pardon me as I indulge myself.
Also, I’ve never played the Desperados games by Spellbound Entertainment. Perhaps I’ll try them out someday.
The very first thing that struck me was how similar the vision cones look between Commandos and Shadow Tactics. Commandos’ influence is clear, like with how there are tiers of vision in an enemy’s line of sight, letting your units stay hidden by crouching. However, Shadow Tactics does give some delay in enemies detecting an interloper’s presence by showing a progression in yellow, which denotes wariness. Of course, the cone turns red when they become hostile.
Another thing that immediately struck me is how this game doesn’t have the pistols with unlimited ammo that the Commandos games have, which let you lure enemies by shooting the ground so you can kill them as they come around the corner of the wall your unit is hiding behind. That did make gameplay there ridiculous at times, but it’s not like you wouldn’t want to use it.
Other than that, the enemy behavior is fairly similar to that of Commandos. There are stationary enemies, there are patrols, and there are different enemy types that range from normal guards that can be distracted or baited, straw hat officers who aren’t as easily distracted, and samurai who can see through disguises and be really hard to kill.
Characters and Narrative
In Commandos, the only narrative you really needed to keep in mind is that you’re commanding the good guys and they have to disrupt Nazi operations through sabotage and espionage. The characters themselves have their own personalities, but they don’t really have much in backstory other than them not being average soldiers.
The five main characters of Shadow Tactics have backstories you learn about as you play. Each has his/her own motivations and interactions with each other. With the chaos and class-based injustice of feudal Japan as a backdrop, the stage is set for the players and whatever drives them to foil the plans of the rebel leader Kage-sama in the name of the Shogun.
Their roles are reminiscent of the Commandos, aside from some abilities that are unique to the game. For instance, Mugen the samurai is much like the Green Beret in being the powerhouse of the group with the ability to lift objects and two bodies at once, Hayato is like the Marine, Aiko the kunoichi is like the spy with the ability to don a disguise, Takuma is like the Sniper, and Yuki is like a combination of the thief and the sapper (the latter due to her booby trap).
They bond over time, which makes you care about who they are, how they came to be, and how they’ll respond to future events. In contrast, the Commandos are just pieces you move across a map like in chess, with distinctions merely superficial and functional.
Meanwhile, the five heroes in Shadow Tactics have names (Hayato, Yuki, Mugen, Aiko, and Takuma), and there’s even a cute furry animal named Kuma used by Takuma. All five of them have interesting traits:
Hayato is a serious mercenary ninja from Iga who’s mostly in it for the money. He is no-nonsense in both demeanor and preferred way of working. He embodies the essence of “Shadow Tactics.”
Mugen is an honorable samurai who is loyal to the Shogun, but has no qualms in using stealth to do what is needed. He is both romantic in his adherence to Bushido and pragmatic in having no scruples when it comes to how he performs in his missions.
Yuki is a young thief who’s precocious and eager to prove herself; a product of a childhood full of hardship. She learned how to kill with her knife and booby trap the hard way. She is perhaps the most developed character in the game.
Aiko is a kunoichi from Shinano who’s a close associate of Mugen and has a difference in philosophy with Hayato. While Hayato prefers skulking in the shadows and keeping things quiet, she prefers hiding in plain sight through disguises and using both her beauty and gift of gab to her advantage.
Takuma is an old tinkerer with a penchant for rifles and explosives. Despite his age, he is no dead weight; both his wisdom and sniper rifle are convenient. As a testament to his character, upon losing his leg early in the game, he fashions a peg leg that doubles as his rifle assembly.
Shadow Tactics — Recommendation
Yeah, I put in some minor spoilers. Yeah, I don’t think that would significantly affect your experience of this game if you choose to play it. Get it on Steam now if you like games that make you think and/or if you’re a Japanophile.
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