Sony's recent Japan-only release Tenchu: Shinobi Hyakusen is to Tenchu: Stealth Assassins what Konami's Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions was to Metal Gear Solid. That is, instead of being a standard game with a plot, a clear beginning, and a definite ending, it's simply a collection of levels with no coherent connection to each other, delivering little sense of progress as you work your way through. In this case the title is made up of 100 stages created by Japanese gamers using the level editor in the last version of Tenchu (accessible only through a code in the US edition). While this may certainly sound good on paper, it ends up extremely disappointing in practice.
As before, you play as either the ice-cold ninja Rikimaru or the La Femme Nikita-ish Ayame - both of whom are entrusted with accomplishing a variety of missions for their master, such as assassinating an evil local lord or collecting a well-guarded magical flower to save an ailing princess. Besides achieving each level's main goal, you also must try your best to keep from being spotted, by hiding behind corners and springing on enemies as they walk by. Or you can use a grappling hook to ascend to rooftops and drop down on your enemies as well. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins possessed surprising replay value because you could return to each level and try to win it without being seen at all. While doing so for each character within each level didn't exactly open up any big extras or bonuses, it made you feel action-movie cool, letting you bear the title Grand Master. Lying in wait for sentry after sentry to turn his back on you made for a lot of hair-pulling moments, but becoming a Grand Master was no small feat to pull off and getting there was a great deal of fun.T:SH loses that element of enjoyment by instituting a time limit within each level. Gone is the sense of roaming free in the environment and carefully, quietly plotting your moves because now you have to complete every level before the clock runs out. If you defeat the first batch of stages under the time limit, you open up the second grouping, and so on. So instead of being able to take the time to master each level, you have the remedial chore of beating the clock that is prodding you along. Even though for every instance you're spotted, ten seconds are subtracted from the overall, continuously reducing time limit, in most cases you can just run through to the end goal, letting yourself be seen several times, and still finish a winner. The motivation for you to use skill over treachery is severely lacking in T:SH because you're not only not rewarded for your proficiency, you're penalized for it.
With 100 levels, it's tempting to assume the game at least has value. But what really detracts from the overall depth is that the game doesn't furnish 100 good levels. In fact, only a handful of levels really stand out, such as the few wherein you must escort Princess Kiku to her father or wipe out every enemy in the level. Still, the most die-hard of Tenchu fans will grow tired of this game within the span of a few hours. The graphics suffer from the same pop-up the original did, and at this time the title appears even more dated. The fantastic soundtrack lacks any new songs, and it is repeated now across 100 levels instead of just ten. Those who had hoped that importing T:SH would lessen the anxiety of the wait for the Tenchu sequel are well advised to sit tight for a while longer. It's no wonder Activision decided not to bring this game out in the States.