Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice Review
Aiko’s Choice is stand-alone DLC for 2015’s Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun. Mimimi Games specializes in hardcore tactical games with a stealth element. Boy howdy, Aiko’s Choice is pretty hardcore and challenging. But it’s also a lot of fun, once you vibe with its mechanics.
From what I understand, financial troubles got in the way of Aiko’s Choice appearing sooner. The developer had to move on to its next project, Desperados 3, so they made a choice for Aiko (get it?) to wait. As a result, consoles and their fancy tech have moved on. The DLC is PC only.
If you haven’t played the base game, you might struggle. It took me some time to warm up Aiko’s Choice and its controls and tactics, and a bit of gameplay video-watching as well. There’s a tutorial but it’s pretty brief. I think that the game expects you to know what you’re doing. Not knowing the characters and their stories is also a bit of a bummer, though the game has a decent intro video.
Puzzles and Tactics
Aiko’s Choice consists of three, substantial missions and three shorter interludes. The game takes place during Japan’s Edo period, and the story focuses on the relationship between Aiko and her former mentor, Lady Chiyo. You control the same five characters from the base game. Each naturally has a particular strength. Aiko, for example, is good at stealthy takedowns with blades. Other characters use ranged weapons, are tanks, or are masters of swordplay.
Aiko’s Choice definitely has a diabolically difficult puzzle element, as you figure out the best way to move your team through each level. Enemies have immense cones of awareness, and creating a ruckus and bringing a swarm of guards means certain failure. The game takes place in real time, but you can use Shadow Mode to queue up one action per character, which they execute in concert. When it works, it’s very satisfying. When it doesn’t, well, that’s on you.
The game’s levels look simple, but they’re really complex systems of paths, hiding places, secret passages and alternate routes. Add to this a large number of traps, weapons and your character’s abilities, and it’s clear just how layered Aiko’s Choice can be. Some games boast multiple ways to achieve success. Aiko’s Choice delivers it. It’s also a game that builds in the use of specific characters to solve particular situations.
Aiko’s Choice looks exactly the same as the base game. It’s an isometric, third person view and the art style is lovely and hand-painted. Because it is painterly and stylized, the six year gap is less a problem than it might be if the game had a more realistic approach. Still, it does feel just a bit behind the curve, and sometimes the design gets in the way of reading level details. The camera can be less than friendly, too.
The game’s voice acting is excellent, as is its music. Both are used sparingly. Although Aiko’s Choice is a tactical stealth game first, there are genuine emotional beats in the story, and a few surprises. Without having played the main game, I can only guess at some of the relationship complications at play. But it’s a satisfying story on its own.
I suspect that even players familiar with Blade of the Shogun will be challenged by Aiko’s Choice. It’s simply part of the game’s DNA. Those who haven’t played the original should brace themselves for a steep learning curve and some frustration. Aiko’s Choice assumes — probably with good reason — that players will know the characters and mechanics.
Both new and returning players will be challenged by Aiko’s Choice, but the rewards are worth the effort. Effectively completing the game’s missions is satisfying in the same way as solving a tough puzzle. Added to that are the game’s lovely art and music, a cast of engaging characters, and an interesting story. I suggest playing the base game first, though, if for no other reason than to get up to speed on the mechanics. It’s a shame that Aiko’s Choice doesn’t welcome new players a little more, but those who persevere will be rewarded. For fans of the original, the expansion has been worth the wait.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Challenging tactical gameplay
- Interesting characters
- Beautiful art and level design
- Assumes experience with base game
- Poor tutorial
- Very difficult
- Camera sometimes gets in the way