In today’s gaming culture there is a term: “git gud.” It refers to getting better at a task or skill in a game. Usually, it means taking the time and mastering a game that is particularly difficult. Many gamers will see this phrase pop up when trying to conquer their favourite Soulsborne title. This is where I first came into contact with “git gud,” as I slowly and painfully conquered FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. After finishing the game, I looked back and delved deeper into the production and lore of Sekiro. This is where I learned that there was a title that heavily inspired Sekiro, and it was a game I hold in high regards: Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on PlayStation 1 is, in my opinion, the first title that the term “git gud” was created for. The first Tenchu title was teaching gamers many skills they would need to conquer Soulsborne adventures way back in the late ‘90s.
The lessons in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins began with item management. Before heading into each mission you had to choose your arsenal. A simple task, you might think, but it was far from it. You had limited space within your inventory, whether you were playing as Rikimaru or Ayame. You could try the stealthy approach with each mission, going unseen until the final boss encounter occurred, jumping from rooftop to rooftop staying hidden from the enemies below. Or you could (like me) find as many delightfully depraved ways to kill and lower the number of combatants you may have to deal with later on in the mission.
The game offered a generous number of tools to dish out death, but it was equally unforgiving when it came to dealing with your mistakes. There were not just enemies but civilians to take into account, and you had to be wary of where you left your victims. If you or a body was discovered, the enemies would immediately go on alert. This would fundamentally change everything about your environment.
Then came one of the most significant challenges, the different play styles of the two protagonists. With Rikimaru you had strength and durability. Ayame, on the other hand, was nimble and had access to far more combinations of attacks. On top of this, the various enemies would face the two characters differently and offer unique challenges. This came down to the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen character coming into play.
Git gud or stay a thug
Looking at Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and its spiritual siblings, you can see much of the Tenchu DNA is woven into their core. Even down to the graphical choices and movements of the characters. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is blocky, slow and methodical.
Even though you are a shinobi, you aren’t some anime hero or heroine using godlike magical jutsu. You are a human facing high-stakes scenarios, and you had to get better or you would fail, not unlike the protagonists from Soulsborne titles. You had to choose each block, each jump carefully, or you would find yourself on the wrong end of any number of sharp blades. It wasn’t just from fear that players found themselves trying to “git gud” in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. There was also a rather unforgiving ranking system in place.
If you were seen too often or killed too many civilians, you would be deemed a shameful thug. However, if you masterfully dealt with all opposition and fulfilled your mission, you were given the honourable title of Grand Master. This came with tangible rewards, meaning there was an incentive to try and become the best.
Gitting gud never felt so good
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is a fascinating game when seen through the eyes of the “git gud” culture. Between its distinct difficulty and an addictive ranking system that beckons you back to become a better shinobi, it is fair to say Tenchu: Stealth Assassins taught us much before Demon’s Souls reared its terrifying face.
I hope you enjoyed my Tenchu appreciation. I’m thinking I may continue this on other titles I’ve adored over my lifetime as a gamer.