Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: April 22, 2003
Released a mere month before Konami’s Metal Gear Solid, the original Tenchu, while quite popular, was still denied much of the attention and critical acclaim it rightfully deserved. In some ways, Activision’s hidden gem executed even better than Hideo Kojima’s blockbuster, and that ensured it a loyal fan base. Fast-forward more than four years, and this under-appreciated series has spawned two sequels, the latest for Sony’s PlayStation 2. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven blends stealth and action elements just as its predecessor did, but also looks to improve upon past mistakes.
While Tenchu II: Birth of the Assassins was a prequel to the original game, Wrath of Heaven finally answers the questions raised more than four years ago, as it takes place after the first two titles. The sinister Lord Mei-Oh, incorrectly believed to have been defeated, has returned to rain terror upon the world. Inevitably, the virtuous Lord Gohda sends the supposedly fallen hero of the first installment, Rikimaru, and his beautiful but deadly companion, Ayame, to fight the forces of evil. There’s also a third character named Tesshu, who remains unavailable until he’s unlocked later in the game. Tesshu is a doctor by day, lethal martial artist by night, and his side story sheds more light on the main quest.
Ten missions each for Rikimaru and Ayame, plus an additional six for Tesshu, tell the story of Wrath of Heaven. Most of the tale is revealed through narration at the start of each level, though an occasional cutscene helps further the plot. The story loosely ties the assignments together, but each one is more of an independent quest than part of a larger whole. For this reason, the locales feature great variety, ranging from elegant castles to Buddhist temples. Naturally, all contain inhospitable tenants as varied as the environments, and are determined to stop the heroes in their tracks. Fellow ninjas, spirits and even zombies all help to make your adventure more interesting.
Wrath of Heaven received a “Mature” rating from the ESRB, not so much for an abundance of violent material, but rather the highly graphical nature of the game’s carnage. Tenchu turns killing into a calculated science, even an art form, and while there’s nothing any seasoned player would find offensive or disturbing, you’re likely to cringe a few times before it’s over.