- Tenchu pioneered the Stealth genre alongside Metal Gear Solid in the late nineties. It was the definitive ninja experience.
- There hasn’t been a Tenchu game in over a decade. The last entry in the series was released in 2008.
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was initially a Tenchu project. However, it changed during development.
- FromSoftware’s wealth of experience amassed over the last decade makes it the only studio capable of successfully reviving a beloved IP.
In the late nineties, the video game industry saw the rise of a new genre that cemented its existence within the space. Until then, not many games went in that direction. With the advent of some notable titles, we saw the genre flourish as the years passed. This genre was Stealth.
1998 saw the release of two titles, now legends in their own right, that allowed the stealth genre to reach a new level of prominence. One of these titles was Konami‘s Metal Gear Solid directed by the famous Hideo Kojima. The game revolutionized the genre and set a standard for future titles of its kind.
Decades later, people still hold the original Metal Gear Solid in high regard and have fond memories of Shadow Moses Island. But, this game was not the only title that left its mark on the stealth genre. The second game that saw its launch that year was one about ninjas — Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.
The History of Tenchu
I want to emphasize that Tenchu is somewhat of a relic. Not many people today know of it and those who do were avid gamers back in the late nineties and early 2000s. Considering how much of an impact it had on stealth games along with Metal Gear Solid, it’s a bit disheartening seeing how the buzz around it has died down.
However, considering the trajectory that Tenchu took as a series, it’s quite natural that it died. The series started with the first game titled Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and was developed by Acquire. Its development history was pretty hectic but after going through many ups and downs, Acquire managed to complete the game.
At the time, games that allowed you to explore open 3D environments were not as common. This fact, along with the limitations of the PlayStation hardware posed a challenge for Acquire to overcome. The studio had to balance factors such as framerate and other performance-related elements to ensure quality.
To this end, Acquire tried its best to make the game’s design as efficient as possible going as far as to opt for a night-only setting.
I understand that in the last decade, every single game has been compared to Dark Souls for whatever reason. However, one thing that’s more of a fact is that Tenchu was the “Dark Souls” of that era. It may seem like an exaggeration but those who have played this game, especially back in the day, know this to be true.
It’s not that Tenchu was inherently as difficult as Dark Souls or had a similar game design, it was just way ahead of its time in a way. After the release of Tenchu Z on the Xbox 360 back in 2006, the series was on a fast track to its death. It arrived at that conclusion with the launch of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins in 2008.
This would be the last we’d see of Tenchu.
The Aftermath & FromSoftware’s Rise
Following the release of Shadow Assassins, Tenchu was effectively dead and it still is to this day. Shadow Assassins was the final nail in the coffin for a variety of reasons. It was the first game in the series that was released on the Wii console and took some risks.
The game’s clunky controls and departure from its core didn’t go in its favor. Reviews on Metacritic were mixed and user reception was far from positive. We must note that the rights to the Tenchu series were initially bought by Activision. They were then sold to FromSoftware in the early 2000s.
While FromSoftware had the rights to Tenchu back then, they weren’t on the level they’re at today. Demon’s Souls was released in 2009 which led to 2011’s Dark Souls. These two events started an entire arc where FromSoftware just kept on improving upon their formula and introduced a new genre.
It wouldn’t be until 2014 that Tenchu would step out from the shadows once again. FromSoftware revealed a stage play titled Tenchu Butai which involved the main cast in a new story. It was heartening to see that they hadn’t forgotten the IP but where were the games?
We wouldn’t get an answer to that until 2017. A world premiere at The Game Awards teased FromSoftware’s next project at the time.
FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
There were many reasons why people immediately called Tenchu after the teaser. FromSoftware had developed a title or two in the series. They had published some other ones and it was known that they had the rights to the IP but that’s not all.
The teaser showed Japanese Kanji, a device that could have been a variation of the grappling hook, and the words “Shadows Die Twice.” Those who played the Tenchu games know that this refers to the ninjas or specifically Rikimaru.
Rikimaru “dies” in the original Tenchu and returns in the third game. This was a direct reference to that plot beat. People speculated that it could be something else like Shadow Tower. However, there are some things that are just too obvious and this was one of them.
The project was then revealed to be Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. A game that instantly set itself apart from the Souls series due to the core differences. FromSoftware stated in an interview that the project was initially a Tenchu game but it evolved into its own thing during development.
Why FromSoftware Is The Right Choice
There is no one out there right now other than FromSoftware that can revive the Tenchu and elevate it to new heights. It’s not just about making the game, it’s about building a world and capturing the charm of Tenchu. It’s about capturing the charm of the characters.
Acquire may be the original developer but FromSoftware has accumulated experience. With the Souls series, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and now Elden Ring, they have proved their creative prowess. With their experience, they can create an authentic Tenchu experience for new and old players alike.
FromSoftware has proved that they are capable of delivering a solid action game with satisfying stealth mechanics. Their decade’s worth of knowledge and experience is exactly what Tenchu needs to thrive.
It’s true that Sekiro started off as Tenchu and evolved into what it is today. However, what Tenchu needs is not just a revival but a reboot. Keeping certain elements the same, they need to tell a fresh story with the original cast of characters.
Back Into The Shadows
The demand for ninja games is never going to fade away. The idea of playing as a covert character sneaking around, silently dispatching enemies, and fighting demonic bosses is just too good.
Not a lot of people today know about the Tenchu games. However, FromSoftware’s penchant for delivering a unique experience is a trump card. Such a project would spread like wildfire for various reasons and more people will be exposed to Tenchu.
Tenchu was brought up in a conversation with Takuma Endo in a 2021 Fatmitsu Magazine interview (via Gematsu). Acquire trademarked “Stealth Assassins” since it had expired and Takuma-san expressed his thoughts on the series in the context of modern hardware.
With where they are at now, FromSoftware is the only one that can perfectly revive the series. Here’s to hoping we’ll see a return from the shadows in the future.
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