Tenchū (天誅?) is a innovative series of stealth ninja games where the player assumes the role of a pair of Azuma Ninja. The title is a Japanese term whose English translation is heaven's punishment or Divine Punishment; with 天 (ten) meaning heaven and 誅 (chū) meaning death penalty. Tenchu was created by Takuma Endo, prisdent of the Acquire studio.
Aside from its stealth gameplay, the series is known for its setting of feudal Japan, which incorporates Japanese mythology and other fantasy elements to varying degrees. Magical elements are usually kept to a minimum, with a stronger focus on more grounded battle tactics. The first Tenchu game was the first 3D stealth video game ever released. Likewise, the series was the first mainstream ninja game series to be based around stealth, a crucial aspect of ninjutsu, historical ninjas, and the ninja mythos.
To date there are only four console entries in the mainline series. Numerous spinoffs across several home and portable game consoles, two for mobile phones, with 14 titles in total when including ports and re-releases. Tenchu games were published for the Playstation, Playstation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, and DS gamings systems.
The plots of the games mostly revolve around two ninjas: Rikimaru and Ayame. Rikimaru is a tall, white-haired shinobi armed with a single ninjato, named Izayoi and a scar over his right eye. Ayame is a kunoichi, wearing standard ninja clothes with her midriff exposed. She carries a pair of Kodachi. Both have been members of the Azuma Ninja Clan since childhood.
The two ninja serve the noble Lord Gohda, and work for him as his secret spies to root out corruption and gather intelligence in his province. However, the evil demonic sorcerer Lord Mei-Oh seeks to destroy Lord Gohda and using his demon warrior Onikage, (as well as other servants such as Tenrai) wreaks havoc throughout Lord Gohda's province. Although Lord Mei-Oh died in the first game, Onikage appeared in many subsequent games as the archenemy of the two ninjas, especially Rikimaru. Princess Kiku, Lord Gohda's daughter, is frequently involved in the story due to being kidnapped by Lord Gohda's enemies.
- Rikimaru - The current head of the Azuma Ninja Clan, under the service of Lord Gohda. He wields the sword Izayoi, which passed from generation to generation of successive leaders of the Azuma Clan. His master and predecessor as head of the clan was Shiunsai, who was killed by another member of the clan, Tatsumaru. Dedicated, honorable, and withdrawn, Rikimaru would sacrifice his life without hesitation, something he does at the end of Stealth Assassins only to reappear in Wrath of Heaven/Return from Darkness. However, he is not to be underestimated and shows no mercy to his opponents, something he always reminded himself of each time he thinks about the scar left over his eye by Tatsumaru. His ability to retain his composure and sense of destiny allows him to undertake missions others would consider suicidal.
- Ayame - The only other surviving member of the Azuma Ninja Clan, also under the service of Lord Gohda. She was the last student chosen by the previous leader of the clan, Shiunsai, who discovered that she was talented and adept at learning whatever she was taught (unlike Rikimaru), but never had the patience to master it. She is tough and kills with a cold-hearted efficiency and without hesitation. However, she has been known to show a softer side to Princess Kiku, the daughter of Lord Gohda, whom Ayame loves like a sister. Ayame's caustic tongue is as infamously sharp as her blades. She is bold and quick, yet silent and cunning.
- Lord Gohda Matsunoshin - The Lord whom the Azuma Ninja Clan serve.
- Princess Kiku - Lord Gohda's daughter. Her mother, Lady Kei, was murdered when Kiku was a child. She is like a younger sister to Ayame.
- Naotada Sekiya - Lord Gohda's most trusted advisor. Sekiya has also closely associated with the Azuma.
- Semimaru - The Azuma Ninja Clan's dog. Appears in almost all the games in the form of a Dog Bone item which summons him, following which he attacks the enemy.
- Onikage - A mysterious ninja who served Lord Mei-Oh. He has fought against Rikimaru several times, and he considers Rikimaru to be his ultimate rival. He first crossed paths with Azuma Ninja during the Burning Dawn incident, under the title of "Suzaku, the Red Sparrow." He is the only recurring enemy in the series.
Other Recurring Characters
- Tatsumaru - A former member of the Azuma Ninja Clan, whom Rikimaru looked up to and Ayame loved. He was the original wielder of Izayoi, and leader of the clan until he lost his memory and became an enemy of the Azuma. After killing most of the clan, including Master Shiunsai, he eventually regained his memory. After a battle with Ayame, he killed himself as punishment for his crimes. However, he would be resurrected years later and enslaved by Tenrai to become one of his Lords of Darkness. Tatsumaru managed to break free of Tenrai's influence and aided Rikimaru and Ayame in defeating him, though it cost Tatsumaru his life.
- Tesshu Fujioka - A doctor by day and an assassin by night. He is not a trained ninja, nor under the employ of Lord Gohda, unlike Rikimaru and Ayame. Tesshu works as a mercenary for an underground vigilante organization known as Muzen, that murders only if it serves justice.
- Rin - A young kunoichi whose hidden village was burned to the ground and its inhabitants murdered. When she comes across Ayame, who was in the village in search of the then missing Rikimaru, she initially believes Ayame took part in the destruction of her village. Rin wields a sword called Natsume, but prefers to fight in unarmed combat, like Tesshu and Tatsumaru. She seeks to avenge her slain kin.
Being a stealth series, the game revolves around accomplishing specific objectives without being detected by guards. All of the games employ a third-person perspective. Earlier games in the series had the camera locked behind the main character's back, while later games adopted a more maneuverable camera that can fully rotate around the character. Once the player has engaged in story mode, they choose from 2-3 characters to play as. From there they choose a mission, with missions unlocked through a linear progression as each previous mission cleared. Once a task is selected, the player is taken to an item screen, to choose which items they want to take with them on the mission. Generic items like health potions and shuriken are available from the start, with other more advanced things like disguises unlocked by completing missions with higher scores.
After that, the mission loads and the player drops into the level. The goal of most missions is to assassinate a specific character, such as corrupt merchants, but some missions have simpler goals such as crossing checkpoints to deliver a message or rescuing people that have been captured or kidnapped by the enemy. While going through the level, the player has the option of eliminating guards through "stealth kills", which are one hit kills that activate by attacking enemies while they are unaware of the player. Avoiding enemies is possible by scaling buildings using the Grappling Hook. Enemies are detectable by using the Ki Meter.
The Ki Meter (気配メーター Kehai Mētā) is a colored circle in the lower left corner of the screen, that changes color based on the level on awareness of nearby guards, indicating if they are unaware (? 気 -green-), suspicious (! 視 -yellow-), aware (!? 殺 -blue-) or aware and in pursuit (!! 殺 -red-). It also reports a number, ranging for 1-99 based on the guard nearest to you. If there are no nearby guards, the number won't appear at all, and if you are as close to an enemy as possible, it will indicate 99.
Once the mission is complete, players go to a ranking screen. Points are awarded just for completing the mission, as well for eliminating enemies through stealth kills, with more points for more kills. Likewise, points deduct for being detected, with more and more points deducted each time the player is spotted. The highest ranking is Grand Master (忍術皆伝 Ninjutsu Kaiden), and if achieved, an exceptional item is given to the player as a reward, with each mission giving a unique item. These unique items tend to be particularly helpful things like invisibility scrolls or explosive arrows.
The music of Tenchu is grounded in a fusion of traditional Japanese instruments blended with electronic synthesizers. Examples of these devices include, but are not limited to plucked reed and flutes, percussion, and Buddhist and "traditional" chanting.
Noriyuki Asakura does most of the compositions and arrangements. The only console game that didn't receive a "real" soundtrack is Tenchu 2: Birth of the Assassins, which only used music pieces for the opening, ending, and boss battles. The rest of the game incorporated atmosphere or mood effects.
The first Tenchu game started out as something of an indie game. Sony Music Entertainment Japan was holding a contest for independent game developers. Whoever could make the best game of all the entries they received would have their game published by Sony Music. As it turned out, Tenchu won the contest, leading to newfound fame for its development team, Acquire.
Activision noticed the game and purchased the ownership rights to the series when they chose to publish it in North America and Europe. After the second installation, Activision handed development from Acquire to another studio, K2. K2 has developed all the main entries in the series since then.
However, in 2004, Activision sold ownership of the series to the Japanese studio From Software, although they retained ownership of the older titles they had already published. The first Tenchu game released after From Software took over the series was Fatal Shadows.
Since then From Software handed over publishing duties in countries outside of Japan to Sega. It seemingly caused Time of the Assassins to remain unreleased in North America, as Sega chose not to release it in the North American market. The same thing almost happened with Tenchu Z, the latest entry in the series, but Microsoft stepped in and published it themselves.
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