Back in 2016, Mimimi games released a tactical stealth game called Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun. It is hard but satisfying once you figure out ways to take down enemies silently and efficiently, making it a good stealth tactics game in the veins of the old Commando games.
Aiko’s Choice, the standalone expansion to Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun, is more of what they introduced in the original game, in a more literal sense. Not much has been expanded on the gameplay front, apart from new missions and levels. But sometimes less is better than more, and Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun - Aiko’s Choice does what the game is meant to do pretty darn well, being a great tactical stealth game.
Strategize and take down enemies in Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun - Aiko’s Choice
Aiko's Choice is set between the events of Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun, during the Edo period of Japan, and centers around the titular character Aiko, the Kunoichi. The story is set between two main game missions, The Attack on Kanazawa and The Death of Kage-Sama.
For people who have not played the main game, a very well-made cutscene is shown to the player explaining the game's main story in the gist and properly introducing the plot backdrop of Aiko's Choice. It helped jog my memory with the main storyline as I played Blades of Shogun a long while back.
I cannot say the same for newcomers because as much as the storyline is a self-contained standalone tale, the opening cutscene does the bare minimum to explain who the cast is and what is happening. I would highly suggest players at least give Blades of Shogun a try because it is a great game and would also help understand the backdrops and how to play the game much quicker.
Since it is an extension of Blades of Shogun, Aiko’s Choice features the same voice cast as the main game, with some new characters created explicitly for the plot of this game. Each voice cast is voiced in both English and Japanese and is pretty well acted. You’d think some corners would be cut here and there, but throughout the experience, the voice acting left me impressed, and I actively switched between both languages for a change.
As far as environment and characters go, the whole main playable cast of Blades of Shogun is present in Aiko’s Choice. Depending on the situation in the missions, which you control is decided by the player. The levels are presented top-down and have this very faint shading effect to it to make it look like an old painting in some instances, and Feudal Japan’s intricacies and beauty from the main game carry forward. Aiko’s Choice brings quite a few varieties in terms of level, a very unexpected one, and is a welcome addition to the series.
The Shurikens hurt, so does the Katana
The gameplay of Aiko’s Choice follows the same style of Blades of Shogun, as in it is a top-down tactical stealth game where strategizing and silently taking down enemies will ensure success. For people who have played the main game, Aiko’s Choice will be a familiar playground as all the features from Blades of Shogun are present in this game. The first big level doubles down as a tutorial section for the game for newcomers.
Just like the previous entry, players get to control a group of ragtags, each of which has pros and cons and has to be used in specific situations.
For example, Aiko is a shinobi who can scale rooftops and is pretty nimble. Aiko can also distract the guards by wearing disguises. The same cannot be said for Mugan, as he is an armor-clad samurai, who is heavy on the walk and cannot scale rooftops without assistance, but can carry multiple bodies simultaneously for hiding and taking down numerous enemies.
Each team-mate has a variety of arsenals which are situational, and depending on how the player strategies and place each of the characters around particular sections of the map will ensure how easy or hard the game is for them. Aiko’s Choice, just like its predecessor, involves a lot of trial-and-error, and to make that process a bit forgiving, a very convenient quicksave option is there.
As for making mistakes, enemy alert will pretty much one-shot you, so stealth is the way to go. Clicking on the enemy allows you to look at their vision cone, and at a time, two enemies can be tagged to check their vision cone.
In certain cases, usage of all the team members is necessary at one time, and simultaneously switching to each of them quickly issuing them their order is nigh impossible. Hence, the “Shadow Mode” feature comes into play.
Shadow Mode allows players to pre-issue orders to their team members and triggers them at their will. This tool comes very handily when things need to get done simultaneously without alerting the enemies.
The only flaw I can find with this expansion, which somewhat acts as its strong point, is that it is the same Blades of Shogun gameplay. New gameplay or even an expansion-specific character for players to control is something natural to expect, but that is not the case. Players do get new levels, and depending on how you strategize, the game can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to finish. But, since I struggled quite a bit in this game, it took me longer than that.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun - Aiko’s Choice came out of nowhere. While the original game is a complete tale of Edo period Japanese goodness, Aiko’s Choice expands on the lore and delivers a solid storyline.
However, the game literally does not bring anything new into the expansion, which is not inherently bad, but given it is a standalone expansion, I wanted a little bit more extra into it. Apart from that, it does everything that Shadow Tactics did perfectly and did not disappoint. Hence, from my side, this is a recommended game for players to try.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of Shogun - Aiko’s Choice
Reviewed on: PC (Review Code provided by Evolve PR)
Platforms: PC (Steam, Epic Games Store, GoG)
Developer: Mimimi Games
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: December 6, 2021