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    dkirschner's Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (PC)

    [December 21, 2021 08:01:49 PM]
    This gets really difficult! As I had hoped, you get to play with all the characters and put to use all their abilities to get through missions. I actually gave up on the final mission and watched on YouTube. I tried for an hour, restarted because I'd raised too many alarms (which brings additional enemies to patrol and makes things even harder), tried for another hour, and had gotten nowhere. Although I am sure I could have beaten it on my own with more patience, I'd rather just start Desperados III since it's more of the same.

    As I expected, you can set up some seriously elaborate traps for enemies and take out groups (even groups with samurais) in really clever ways. You feel like a genius when you figure out a solution to a particularly hard part. In the end, this is what the game felt like: a series of hard puzzles strung together in elaborate maps. Enemies are positioned so purposefully by the designers. You might think you have a clear kill or route, but chances are someone's vision cone will swing your way. Enemies are often standing juuuust at the edge of another's vision cone, and you curse the designers for putting that enemy right there instead of one foot to the left! I was consistently impressed by how meticulous each mission was set up.

    Some of my big wins were accidental, or caused by bugs (maybe). Occasionally, an enemy will magically not respond to seeing your character, or will let them sneak up when they shouldn't, or will not properly investigate a dead body, or your spamming the run button will get you from A to B within a hair's breadth of being caught and you think, "There is no way I was supposed to be able to do that." The relief and lucky feelings from these moments were great, almost as if I'd legitimately earned them! Of course, legitimately pulling off something clever is better, and it happens all the time.

    My favorite characters by far wound up being Yuki and Aiko. Yuki's trap-and-whistle combo is super fun to use. I eventually figured out how to use the tanuki to pull similar ambushes, and that critter can be quite a powerful ally. Aiko is similarly satisfying to use with a disguise. I loved donning the disguise and just waltzing through enemy lines, talking to an enemy, and assassinating him when no one was looking. Drag the body away, put the disguise back on, and repeat to clear the area. This, of course, is far too simple a strategy to work later in the game, but it's fun in the couple levels that you can basically decimate like this!

    One of the most memorable missions I played was when I had to gather intel on the whereabouts of an enemy in a crowded city. I think this was the level that introduced (or shortly thereafter) light sources, which you can extinguish. You can also lure enemies to light sources if they notice one has been put out. This was memorable for killing a lot of civilians and the hundred attempts I made to eavesdrop on a conversation at the end. Eventually, it like bugged out. I killed someone and all the enemies in the courtyard where I needed to eavesdrop cleared out as everyone went on alert looking for me. I was hiding in the courtyard's bushes and just killed enemies one by one as they returned, hid them, and then was able to eavesdrop on the conversation without anyone else around. Another memorable level also involved killing a lot of civilians (initially I thought I wasn't supposed to do this, but nothing deters you from doing it). This was the level where you have to abduct the shogun's nephew and carry his body to a boat. This is one of those levels where I felt like a genius for making it through, but I also felt like a butcher for killing so many civilians. I learned in both of these levels how to strategically raise an alarm.

    I really enjoyed this. Going to immediately start Desperados III for similar tactics action but in the Wild West! Maybe I'll get better at the game and be able to finish this time.
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    [December 17, 2021 08:36:00 AM]
    Really enjoying this so far. I was pretty sure I would since this is always held up as a phenomenal modern tactics game. It's set sometime in Edo period Japan after the shogunate unified the country and created a period of isolationist peace. Well, it's peaceful because your happy band of "blades" (one character doesn't use a blade at all, but I'll let it slide...) is putting down threats.

    The game's style feels very authentic, from color palettes to music to environments. I feel transported to these locations. It's easy to feel immersed because both story and gameplay are highly engaging too. Characters are well written, and their abilities reflect their personalities. The game plays from an isometric top-down perspective like a classic CRPG. In each mission, you control pre-set (so far) combinations of your five characters and are (usually so far) given a couple different ways to meet objectives.

    The five characters all have some similar and some different abilities. One type of passive abilities define movement. Hayato, Yuki, and Aiko are the three agile, really sneaky ones. They can all climb ivy vines, grapple up and down rooftops, and enter water. They can all carry bodies, though the two girls (Yuki and Aiko) drag them, while Hayato carries them. This is interesting because it means that Yuki and Aiko are crouched while moving bodies, which means they are invisible in the "shaded" part of an enemy's vision cone while doing so. Hayato, on the other hand, stands and carries bodies over his shoulder. He can move a little faster while carrying a body, but is visible in the shaded part of an enemy's vision cone. These three can also swim, while the other two characters can't. Mugen is a big, beefy samurai. He can't grapple, climb ivy, or enter water, but he can carry two bodies, which is useful because one of his main attacks is an AoE that can kill three enemies at once. The last character, Takuma, is an old man with a cane and a wooden leg. His movement abilities are obviously the most limited. In fact, he makes noise while walking unless he's crouching.

    Each character has a unique combat strength. They all have some version of a main attack (which is killing one enemy with their respective blade, except Takuma, who is a marksman and has a long-range rifle), a more powerful/situational secondary attack (Hayato can throw a shuriken, Mugen has his powerful AoE attack, Yuki can set a deadly trap, Aiko can...I forget what hers is..., and Takuma has a couple grenades), a distraction (Hayato throws a stone to divert enemies' attention, Mugen can lure guards with a flask of sake, Yuki similarly lures guards with a bird whistle [luring them into her trap is fun], Aiko can actually pick up disguises and distract enemies with conversation, and Takuma has a pet tanuki that he can order around to make noise), a flintlock pistol (Takuma has something more powerful), and a healing ability (each can heal three HP one time).

    In each level I have played so far (5 or 6) I've had two or three characters. You can immediately see how their movement abilities and skills work together to tackle different potential challenges in a level. For example, in one memorable level, I had Mugen and Yuki. We had to steal documents from an official without killing them. Yuki is more stealthy, being able to clamber around on rooftops, so she took the high route and cleared the way for Mugen to follow on the ground. This is a common thing that you can do with Hayato and Yuki especially, take the high route to thin out enemies for the characters on the ground. Mugen, for his part, being a big beefy guy, had to destroy a wooden tower to lure a bunch of guards away from the official. So, you have to get Mugen to the tower, and then get Yuki to the official. Since there are like 5 guards around the tower after Mugen destroys it, he's stuck there hiding in the bushes. You have to figure out how to get the official alone with Yuki with no help.

    Enemies all have vision cones, which you can see by clicking on the enemy. Vision cones have two parts, a dark part (they can see you unless you are hidden, like in a bush) and a shaded part (they can see you if you are standing but not if you are crouching, and unless you are hidden, like in a bush). Enemies are usually scanning side to side as they stand or patrol, so you can't just come at them from the side; they'll look that way. Also, enemies don't just magically spot you. If you are in their vision cone, it fills yellow, and when the yellow reaches you, that's when they actually spot you, yell, attack, and sometimes call for reinforcements. This creates fun risk/reward situations where you can like sprint through their vision cone and try to make it to a bush before the yellow reaches you. There is a useful marker you can place that lets you know when and which enemies can see it. You can use this marker (it's a non-diagetic UI feature) for planning purposes.

    One thing about Shadow Tactics that I didn't know is that it's real-time. I definitely assumed it was turn-based. But, there is one turn-based-ish mechanic called Shadow Mode (I think that's what it's called), where you can queue up one action per character. So, imagine that there are two guards facing each other. You have gotten a character positioned hidden in a bush behind each guard. If you kill one guard with one character, well, the other guard will see you (the yellow is irrelevant if you're murdering a guard; they just see you). So the trick is to queue up both characters to kill their respective guard simultaneously. When you push Enter after setting this up, it activates whatever you have queued in Shadow Mode. This has already gotten really tricky to play with! For example, imagine there are three guards who are blocking your path forward. They are all looking in your general direction, so you can't just run past and you can't just kill them. You might queue Yuki to do her bird whistle to make one guard walk away to the right, queue Hayato to throw a rock to the left to distract the second guard, and then time Mugen to sneak past while the first two guards are turned away and while the third guard's view cone is swinging to one side. Then with Mugen behind all three, when they reconvene to their positions, he can use his special attack to kill all three, thus clearing the way for Hayato and Yuki to proceed.

    I am sure this is going to get exceedingly more complex and I'm loving it. One thing I'm looking forward to are some even bigger levels with even more objectives where I get to use four or even all five characters. It would be great if there were different objectives for each character. I've played one level where there were two ways of completing it, one that involved Yuki poisoning some tea, and another that involved Takuma shooting someone with a rifle. Each way of completing the mission necessitates different approaches. I completed it with Yuki and used her and Hayato to infiltrate this island where the tea ceremony was happening, and used Takuma to shoot some annoying guards on towers so they wouldn't be spotted. If I'd done it the other way, actually, I think it would have been similar. I would have used Hayato and Yuki to get to the target's dog, do something to it (free it? take its food?). I would have gotten Takuma in a marksman's position somewhere to get a clear shot at the dog area. Then when the target came to check on his dog, Takuma would have shot him dead.

    Anyway, I wasn't going to play this morning, buuuuuuut writing this has got me thinking about it. I chose to play this now because Desperados III is free on Game Pass and I wanted to play Mimimi's earlier game before their later one, since I'm sure the gameplay has been tweaked for the better. The only issue I have with Shadow Tactics right now is that sometimes it's hard to click on exactly what you mean to click on when there is some clutter of interactable objects. I've grappled up buildings when I meant to jump down. I've picked up/put down bodies when I was trying to do something else. I've crouch-walked up to enemies and not attacked them because I was accidentally clicking on something right next to them. The game encourages quicksaving (there's even a timer showing when the last time you quicksaved was, and it flashes every minute!), so these missteps are never punishing. You're meant to fail a lot and retry and experiment. That's what I mean though, I expect Desperados III to be more polished and I didn't want to be in any way disappointed if I went back and played Shadow Tactics second. So I'm doing them in the proper order!
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    dkirschner's Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 14 December, 2021

    GameLog closed on: Tuesday 21 December, 2021

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Looking forward to some stealth puzzle boxes. ------- Tons of tense fun.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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