Over two decades later, many PlayStation 1 players have probably forgotten about the game that started the stealth genre. Looking at popular stealth games such as Dishonored, the Hitman franchise, the Metal Gear Solid series, the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Deathloop, it is hard to imagine what came before. However, on 26 February 1998, the game that would inadvertently start the Stealth genre was launched in Japan. By August of the same year, the game had reached the United States and exploded in popularity. And what is this game, you may wonder? Well, none other than Acquired Corp.’s Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.
Having been founded in 1994, Acquire Corp. was just a small start-up video game developer and publisher in Japan. And by 1998, they had their first game ready, which was none other than Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. Launched as a title for Sony’s PlayStation 1 console, the company did not know the reach their game would have. With a feudal Japan setting and 3-D graphics, the game was unique in many aspects, which grew in popularity for many U.S. players at the time. Now, the game stands forgotten despite it being such a gem. But that ends now. If you have not heard of this game before, then stay tuned.
What Made Tenchu: Stealth Assassins so Unique?
Takuma Endo, the founder of Acquire Corp., stated that his mission with the game was to create a sim. He wanted players to understand that ninjas were also human, and if you were not careful, you would die. So, despite working in uncharted waters, Endo and his team transported players back to 16th-century Japan, where samurai factions were at war to take control of their proud island nation. Despite having competition from Hideo Kojima, who was creating Metal Gear Solid at the time, they succeeded in delivering something never seen before in the gaming industry.
The first and most exciting thing about the game is how the creators wanted a unique gaming experience and cut some corners to do so. This resulted in a campy feel as the game takes place at night, meaning it’s dark throughout the gameplay. Acquire Corp.’s reasoning behind this was their technical limitations. Setting the game up this way would eliminate the need for more complex lighting, and players had little complaint about this. This adds to the next unique feature: how the night atmosphere added to players’ (specifically from the U.S.) immersion in the game and in this brand-new Japanese setting. And then, there were the ahead-of-its-time 3D graphics that further elevated the game to iconic status.
However, the game’s most prominent feature is how it emphasizes the stealthy experience. Instead of following the classic trope of rewarding players for their high body count, the game instead did the exact opposite. Yes, the game had a rewards system based on how few bodies the player left behind, as the primary goal of the narrative is to stay hidden and leave little to no trace behind. This would result in unlocking a Grandmaster rating and gaining access to new equipment in your arsenal.
Was Tenchu: Stealth Assassins an Action-Packed Gaming Experience?
The short answer to this is yes; it definitely did not hold back on the action. However, as with most stealth games, the fun came from the stress of having to stay hidden and perfectly timing your attacks. The weapons you were presented with elevated the gaming experience that much more. For example, the grappling hook allowed players to hang from roofs and land a successful kill. Then there is just the fact that scaling ledges made for an immensely fun time in 3D.
Other fun weapons included a long-distance weapon such as the blowgun, which doubles as a snorkel so you could hide underwater (how cool is that?). And then there were poisoned rice balls, a quick and effective way to bait and kill lurking guards. However, if you had no choice but to go for a direct attack, you could decapitate or disembowel your victim. What made this better was the graphic and gory display of blood that would splatter everywhere on on-screen objects. So not only were you flying and sneaking around like a real ninja, but the graphic nature of the kills made the game much more fun.
Unfortunately, after Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Acquire Corp.’s follow-up titles did not reach the same level of popularity. Therefore, it is improbable that a remake of the game will ever grace our screens. Furthermore, and even more unfortunate, the original game will be extremely difficult to play without a PS 1 console.