I wanted to be a Ninja when I grew up. Ever since I read Frank Miller’s Daredevil I’ve been in awe of these silent, powerful examples of humanity at its finest. Their presence meant the end of idle chatter, failed diplomacy, stagnant negotiations. If the night killed, its blade was Ninja!
I ended up being a writer on the Atkins diet. I did sneak up on my cat once without him hearing me, though. So I’m left with two options. One, cry a river over lost dreams, Two, track the latest Ninja games like a hawk. Enter Tenchu: Return From Darkness, a port of the PS2 Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (with online play thrown in, amongst other enhancements).
I have been living the life of Ninja Gaiden for a while now. That should be made clear up front. I am spoiled. Comparisons to this instant classic may be unfair but they’re also unavoidable. I mean, if you have 50 bucks to spend on a Ninja game should it be Tenchu: RFD or Ninja Gaiden. The answer is two-fold – one being the instant knee-jerk response and two being the fair-minded response. One, “Go for Ninja Gaiden, no doubt about it.” Two, “Well, it depends on what you’re looking for in a Ninja game.”
If you are a fan of the Thief series where the word of the day is “stealth” then you may want to check Tenchu: RFD out. Stealth is what it’s all about. You don’t take your enemies on face-to-face if you can avoid it -- the true Ninja-way in my book. You must try to find the silent path to success.
At the start of the game you can choose which hero you want to play -- Rikimaru, the strong boy-Ninja or the fast girl-Ninja, Ayame. They each have their own campaign to go through, with each story weaving through the same locations from different points of view. The story is pretty basic stuff. Chaos and strife rule 16th century Japan. Tenrai has gathered a huge army of Ninja and “lords of darkness”. It is up to you to kill Tenrai and restore order to the country. Does any of that matter? Nah.
What does matter is the impressively large depth of the game. Not only do you get two characters to play with, you also get alternate endings depending on the choices you make. I didn’t get through more than one ending but it’s always cool to realize you could play through the game again and really squeeze out your dollar’s worth. In addition, there’s a nice big collection of weapons and abilities to gather. I would equate Tenchu: RFD with the Jedi Knight series -- you might be best with a sword but there are many tricks to learn. As you move through the game, quietly eliminating or sidestepping everyone in your way, you collect tools for your arsenal. You’ll get points at the end of each level depending on how “stealthy” you are and those points directly translate into some serious bounty. There’s a mind-control ability that will make your opponents fight each other and even kill themselves. You also get a spell that makes you Hulk-lite as well as a camouflage spell for those close quarter moments. All-in-all there are 20 tools of the trade.
Add to the mix an unlockable character named Tesshu and you get even more for your money. Though the character is only available in story mode for a while he’s still a nice touch, mastering in breaking bones and pressure points.
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