[Review] Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

This game is phenomenal. It’s difficult to say when was the last time I played something of such quality. I’m not sure if I ever have.

In one line: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has design.

It’s something that doesn’t seem to exist in games anymore. Developers on one hand are selling RPGs saying “play your way!” and on the other hand are making automatically generated maps for “infinite replayability!”. We might not know how correct those statements actually are, but we know how empty they feel. Skyrim’s most popular playstyle is stealth archer because all things considered it’s the simplest way to fight the game’s mechanics by not even close, No Man’s Sky supposedly has some absurd number of planets but anyone who’s not kidding themselves knows the change from one planet to the next is both obvious and negligible. “You can do anything you want” is something only people who don’t haven’t paid any attention for the past ten years still believe.

In Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, you can’t do whatever you want, and there isn’t infinite replayability. But you can do quite a few exhilarating things, and for me it’ll be the first time I am going to replay a game for achievements and “better score”. If games were paintings, we’ve been sold a blank canvas and a few primary colors for so long we forgot what a piece of art really looked like. This game is a mural, and the 35$ I paid for it feels absolutely way too low for the greatness I’ve seen.

Each character has specific abilities, each mission is playable only to certain characters. Each character has certain strengths and weaknesses, and Mimimi’s amazing map design meets those strengths and weaknesses halfway to create an engaging experience that invites your mind to look into it further. If you want to not get sent back to your last save, you’re going to have to, and you’re going to have to do it constantly – there’s only 4 types of enemies (counting civilians), but in all 40 hours of my first playthrough I only encountered one situation where I was like “oh wait, I remember seeing this before”. That being said, I still had to say “what was the solution again?”, and it still came after trying something else completely ludicrous because I was at my wit’s end, before I forced myself to believe it was possible. “Not getting hit” is the baseline standard of the game; I never used the one-time-heal ability, and there was no need to because the quicksave/quickload really was really quick. But even then you have to think. There aren’t an infinite number of ways to play the game willy-nilly, there are a handful of ways which all require a lot thought about placements, timings, and surroundings. And boy does it feel good when you finally figure out where to start the break any particular system of guard vision cones and patrols.

And there’s usually more than one way to do it – including ways to avoid the guards entirely, if the badges of “Don’t kill anyone (except mission targets)” are to be believed. I find it hard to believe. I count two sections in the final mission only where I’m pretty certain there’s only one way to do it. But even then I’m not sure. In all but the first two missions, every level has two fair-sized chunks which you can basically ignore entirely in fulfilling the primary objectives, and for most of them I saw one of them as significantly more “reasonable” than the other. I didn’t use heal, and with a few painful exceptions I refrained from using the pistol, but there were a few times where I was using certain abilities quite a lot and I thought, “for people I think are noobs, the devs put in health kits, but since the speedrun badge is 20 minutes and I took 2 hours, this was probably the dev’s noob-friendly thing for me”.

The story is and ends as distinctly Japanese. The hijinks and wildy different and dorky characters portrayed by the official trailer and game description are, I am very, very happy to say, not anywhere to be found in the actual game. I had expected to have to put up with Borderlands / Big Bang Theory tier nonsense as a cost for a decent game at a decent price, but no, Mimimi did it all. They actually did it all. No Early Access, no Season Pass, no misleading gameplay trailers, free demo… except for maybe a hand of minor bugs (i.e. 5 or less), the trailer which actually doesn’t look as good as the game itself, and the same trailer’s portrayal of the characters as silly, they actually did it all. There’s a lot of games with fundamental problems which people defend as “but the publisher was meddling!”; this is one time where I think it’s legitimate. The story’s feel at any and every given minute is so vastly different from

“About This Game” on the store page::

The group is composed of very different personalities. Working together as a team seems impossible at first. Yet over the course of many missions, trust is won and friendships are made. The characters develop their own dynamic and each member will have to face their own personal demons.

that I can’t write it up as anything but meddling from sales and marketing thinking their pet focus groups know better. I won’t say the story isn’t generic, it’s not anything particularly special, but it’s good generic, and more importantly, it’s not Gearbox / Bioware generic.

I won’t go into the visuals or music, but suffice to say if they released an artbook and an OST and both were the same as the price of the game, I’d get both.

There’s a lot of care put into the game, from the big to the small. Yuki hums a catchy and endearing tune while she places her trap, which itself has a very satisfying sound when it clicks into place. When enemies fire their guns or call for help, there’s a split-second wave showing the radius of their sound and all the red exclamation points pop in at the same time. I didn’t like it when civilians pointed at me when they found me, but their whole package really made them feel like civilians. Roofs shine just the right amount at certain angles, the weather makes everything opaque just a little bit, and every color feels like it was chosen for its proper place. I have to wonder what I missed out on by not using health packs and not failing and alerting the guards more.

When the credits rolled I let it go while I checked my phone for a bit, until I realized I actually did want to know some names this time, at which point I thought “what if I could scroll up during the credits? why does it feel like, if anyone, it’d be these guys who’d have considered something like that?” And sure enough, they did. They ♥♥♥♥ing did. After 40 hours of suffering, quicksaving, thinking, and finally getting through, they just had to put a final smile on my face.

I can’t recommend this game enough.

Mimimi Production’s Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is outstanding in every respect.

Originally written December 13, 2016 in Steam

One thought on “[Review] Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

  1. Pingback: Trust, and the nature of reviews – All Else Is Halation

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