If you still find yourself wanting more of the multi-layered tactical action of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun from 2016, then you are now in luck, as the developer Mimimi Games has indeed decided to grace you with more of it with the standalone expansion Aiko’s Choice. As with most expansions of already existing titles, Aiko’s Choice doesn’t do much to address the handful of minor annoyances that accompanied the original game, but it does lean into what worked best, and in this case, with such a solid foundation to stand on, this expansion ends up scratching that “more of the same” itch in all the right ways.
If you’re already somewhat familiar with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun from playing it, then stepping into Aiko’s Choice should immediately fill you with a sense of familiarity, much like returning to a childhood home. While you’ll notice that the UI has a slightly different look and a few other small visual cues have been tweaked, this is structurally the same set-up. Several different characters, all with their own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities. Also, the feudal Japan setting that honors the complexity and muddiness that enveloped that era much better than most games with that setting do; it’s all here. So those that felt that nostalgia from the Commandos games once they played Blades of the Shogun, should get a little taste of the same with Aiko’s Choice after enjoying its predecessor. The story takes place before the climactic events of the base game and focuses on three main missions that are every bit as big as any mission from the base game, and arguably even more challenging.
"Aiko’s Choice doesn’t do much to address the handful of minor annoyances that accompanied the original game, but it does lean into what worked best, and in this case, with such a solid foundation to stand on, this expansion ends up scratching that “more of the same” itch in all the right ways."
The game is of course focused narratively on the titular Aiko, but of course you are still joined by the brutally strong but slow Mugan and the much more tactically flexible Hayato. Between those two, you can generally get through most situations, but the bag of tricks Aiko brings to the table round out the cast very well – both narratively and functionally. Mugan, as you might expect, is most useful in a face-to-face scuffle. He can easily dispatch multiple foes at once and take quite a beating before going down. But his movement is limited to dry land, flat surfaces, and can only climb to a rooftop with the help of a ladder – many of which need to be unfurled by one of the other characters before they’re usable. Alternatively, Hayato and to a lesser extent Aiko are a bit more versatile with the ability to scale rooftops with grappling hooks. They move more nimbly and can dish out hot plates of death in multiple ways. Aiko is a bit more close range and support focused than Hayato though, so it’s not like these two don’t have their own lanes. Between the three of them, you really can set just about any plan into motion. Whether you want to keep Mugan hiding in some bushes near an enemy patrol route so he can jump out and slay everyone after blinding them with one of Aiko’s concoctions – like I often did – or mixing things up further by picking off samurai with Mugan’s canon then tearing through the rest of them with Hayato’s blade and/or shuriken; it’s up to you.
But the one common thread that underlines every approach is that impulsivity or callousness will almost always lead to death sooner rather than later, which makes the game’s UI constantly reminding you to save quite appropriate. The bottom line is, there is no easy answer to the many predicaments you’ll find yourself in throughout Aiko’s Choice – and that is really the entire point. Guiding these lethal assassins through the game’s many stealth puzzles feels like an exercise in extreme patience at first, which it is, but once you settle into it and start taking out groups of enemies with deliberate planning and systematic attention to detail, the satisfaction is of an intensity that few experiences out there can rival. Basically, nothing about Blades of the Shogun was ever simple or fast, and that remains true here. Perhaps even more so, as this game logically expects those who play it to be at least somewhat familiar with the original. As such, after a very brief refresher, it pretty much throws you to the wolves with multiple enemy types, alternate paths, and countless ways to screw up. It’s a game that rewards slow, methodical calculation and makes zero apology for it.
This undoubtedly limits the appeal of the series but should just as assuredly make fans of the genre feel particularly catered to. Of course, with the extra spice of “Shadow Mode” returning here, where you can orchestrate a series of actions from multiple characters in order and trigger them with the press of a button, Aiko’s Choice wisely retains the special sauce the base game is most known for on top of everything else. All that said, the lion’s share of the gripes and groans many had with the base game are just as present here. Namely, the camera control system can still lead to lots of accidental shifts of perspective in tense moments where you’re clicking around a lot, and some areas are so obnoxiously fortified that the already slow deliberation that you’re expecting can sometimes feel downright stagnant. Not because the game needs you to do things in any one particular way, but rather, because every single approach you will likely ever think of is studiously countered in some form. Some will find this additional challenge to be too much, as I would argue it can be, but I also think those gluttons for punishment that really reveled in the tougher moments of the base game will get what they want here.
"Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice is basically a love letter to fans of the base game, just as it is an extra level of challenge. While it could flippantly be said that “if you liked the original, you’ll love this”, and that is technically true about most standalone expansions, it’s particularly true here."
The visual style of Blades of the Shogun makes a triumphant return in Aiko’s Choice. The graphics are clearly not meant to be looked at too closely, but taking in the different locations is still a breath of fresh air for the genre, which usually sees most of its shortcomings in this area. Characters and points of interest pop off the backgrounds nicely, but don’t distract from the larger tapestry. Animations are fluid and believable, but not overdone to the point of being preoccupied with excessive nuance. While a more muted or down-to-earth color palette might seem like a more logical choice for the subject matter, there is something about this more vibrant, romanticized look that just can’t escape your eyes. Aside from that, the finer details on little things like the gently floating rowboats in the background all contribute to the larger depiction of the time and setting in a rather convincing way, even though you might not overtly notice many of these things at a glance. The visuals are tastefully complimented by a garnish of appropriate but still somewhat understated music that pretty much hits the bullseye for what a game like this needs. Appropriate mixing and instrumentation in the soundtrack for games like this is a bit of a rarity, so that makes Blades of the Shogun and its new counterpart stand out that much more.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice is basically a love letter to fans of the base game, just as it is an extra level of challenge. While it could flippantly be said that “if you liked the original, you’ll love this”, and that is technically true about most standalone expansions, it’s particularly true here. Where the original game narrowly focused on a particular subgenre with its diehard focus on stealth and strategy, Aiko’s Choice, narrows the focus even more, on the hardcore of the hardcore. Despite not putting as much effort into evolving the experience as it probably should’ve – especially considering how long it’s been since Blades of the Shogun was released – it’s hard to not appreciate an expansion so clearly made for fans of the original game.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Retains basically everything good about the base game but sprinkles in more challenge.
Retains most of the original game’s flaws with little evolution of its main ideas.