Stealth games are a nuanced genre that players either love or hate: Those who hate them ascribe to the belief that gaming shouldn’t be about waiting, while those who enjoy them may believe that striking at the perfect opportunity makes for the most enjoyable experience. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a game set in the tactical stealth genre, foregoing the typical third or first person viewpoints with narrow fields of view for an isometric view that allows you to more adequately plan each of your actions. You’ll be overwhelmingly thankful for the information you take in as you plan your shots or distract and lure guards with stones, bottles of alcohol, or even footprints. Is Shadow Tactics worth all of the reloading you’ll spend when you make a mistake, or does this game fall on its own sword in disgrace? Let’s find out.
The setting of Shadow Tactics is extremely Japanese- its set just after the Sengoku period of history, and the player controls a variety of characters who meet under differing circumstances and missions, more often than not something related to the shogunate. The story is by and large your average Japanese-inspired plot, though it has some excellent moments sprinkled throughout that touch on a wide variety of subjects that may even surprise you. For the most part, however, character motivations for the vast majority of the cast are obvious and by-the-numbers, though your group’s banter to one another is certainly one of the highlights of the character development.
The tutorial mission places you in control of Hayato, initially, a shinobi with a wide variety of stealth skills as he attempts to break into a stronghold of forces warring against the Shogun under whom Hayato is employed. Hayato is mostly ill-equipped to take out multiple enemies at once, his skills best utilized by skewering enemies from above or behind, throwing shuriken at guard’s vital organs, or throwing stones to distract enemies while he sneaks around enemy lines. His kit is vastly contrasted by samurai Mugen, who lacks the ability to climb on top of buildings and roofs but has a cooldown-laden ability that lets him cut down three enemies in close proximity. The technically-diverse cast even includes a character that can use disguises to move undetected in enemy camps, excellent at diverting attention away from your other party members.
Players will control a wide variety of characters throughout the game, each with their own special characteristics. Not every character is available for every mission, however, so flexibility will be extremely important since your favorite character to use may be missing from one stage to the next. Each mission in Shadow Tactics is essentially a tactical puzzle game- you need to make it to a specific objective with specific tools, and each stage is intricately designed with those exact tools in mind which offers an extremely tight gameplay experience. Like a Rube Goldberg Machine of death, you will oftentimes attempt to figure out how to get from one area to the next, creating situations like using one character to throw a stone to lure a guard near a different character, so that character can sneak behind him and kill two guards while you use two other characters to hide the bodies so that the first guard doesn’t turn around and sound an alarm.
If that sounds fun to you, that’s because it is. Of course, as will all stealth games, not every time you attempt a level are you going to know exactly what to do at the first try- something of which Stealth Tactics is openly aware. You have access to a reminder that lets you know how long ago it was that you last saved, which is something invaluable considering this is a genre that is practically inseparable from some elements of trial and error. Still, even so, there’s nothing more gratifying than finally discovering exactly how you were supposed to take out a trickily placed detachment of guards.
Speaking of dealing with complicated enemy placement, players will control more than one character at a time, as mentioned previously, and Shadow Tactics is not a turn-based game. Switching control of characters can be done on the fly, and shadow mode allows you to assign characters tasks to perform simultaneously by assigning them moments before, making complex maneuvers a little easier to perform.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a great looking game. Objects have crisp and detailed visuals that are pleasant to view from almost any angle; the art style is superb. The outlines are reminiscent of cel-shaded graphics, and the bright colors and dark shadows contrast very well. This probably isn’t one of the most technically demanding games out there, but it sure looks nice, as a little attention to art style goes a long, long way. The voice acting is plentiful as characters will speak to one another during progress of missions and during scripted events, and none of it is horribly offensive or out of place.
Now, onto the bad: The game is somewhat glitchy, and, for some reason or another, prone to crash. For a game that includes a timer to let you know how long it’s been since your last save, it is strange that saving and/or loading too many times could cause the game to crash. There also seemed to be quite the number of bugs when it came to having multiple characters use the same objects simultaneously- such as two characters trying to hide two bodies at the same time can cause them to be stuck and unable to be moved while they’re not actually out of the lines of sight of any guards, which can cause problems. A glitch I personally experienced, as well, after playing the game normally for some time, it crashed when attempting to quick save, and then the game never fully loaded past a black screen for days. It simply began working again after two days of multiple reboots and nothing else changed on the system- not even a Windows Update.
Overall, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is an excellent game to play. The stealth combat is rewarding and is fully aware of why people play the genre. The stage design is absolutely outstanding and can easily lead to players feeling extremely accomplished when finally grasping victory after being browbeaten by alarms, guns, and more, due to simple mistakes. Of course, while the game is excellent to play, there are some glitches that cause enough trouble for the user experience that it may be best to wait until they get patched out. Once a patch releases, however, Shadow Tactics will easily be one of the best tactical stealth games on the Steam storefront; this game simply hits every note right in its respective genre, and it would seem almost be remiss to not recommend this to people who enjoy strategy titles or the trial and error gameplay of stealth games.