Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice is a standalone expansion to the 2016 original game. Developed by Mimimi Games and published by Daedalic Entertainment, this expansion is set for release on the game’s 5th anniversary, December 6, 2021 on Steam. Unfortunately Mac and console fans miss out this time around after having been able to play the base game. Mimimi Games explains their reasoning in full here: “The technical effort that it would take to develop this standalone expansion for all platforms is more complex than you might initially think. In order to support non-PC platforms we would have to update the engine. This would require an immense amount of additional work for the team as they would have to edit the code and partly switch to other engine features. This also means that we cannot update Shadow Tactics to a Mac 64-bit version.”
Having spent many hours in both the base game and this expansion, these real-time tactics games can be super frustrating when your best thought out plans get foiled by a nosy guard, but the sense of accomplishment is super high when you complete a mission. Some characters from the base game make a return like Hayato, Yuki and Tanaka, with Aiko being the centre of this story over three full main missions and three shorter interlude missions.
Both games are set in Edo period Japan, though Aiko’s choice is set somewhere in the middle of the base game’s story, without giving away spoilers. The isometric view showcases some awesome detail in the environment art, and the sounds and music give you an authentic Japanese experience. You can choose to have Japanese voice acting with English subtitles to make the experience even better which I appreciated. Those that have played the base game can expect more of the same stealth action scenarios but on some lengthier missions. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice is a standalone game so newcomers can start their adventure here. There is a short recap of some events from the base game in the intro, so you won’t feel as if you’ve missed any important details by starting Aiko’s adventures having not played the original.
I don’t normally have too much fun in these real-time tactics games. I often don’t have the patience and found other games in the genre extremely difficult and punishing, such as Commandos 2 HD and Desperados III. Mimimi Games developed Desperados III so Aiko’s Choice is the evolution of their tactical showcase. I went back and played a few of the original Shadow Tactics missions and I’m so glad I did as the first mission in this expansion took me several hours of getting frustrated at the density of some areas with bad guys covering most angles, though persistence and re-evaluating your position eventually pays off.
Like in the base game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice has you take control of a team of lethal specialists including the kunoichi adept Aiko. She is a master of camouflage and distracts enemies disguised as a geisha. Takuma has a little pet called Kuma to distract guards as he makes a quick getaway. Aiko, Hayato, and Yuki are agile characters that can jump up onto roofs and across to the next building, and each has their own unique killing and distraction abilities. Some can also swim in water, able to kill bad guys and dump their corpses into the water. Where possible, you will want to hide the bodies otherwise any roaming guards will alert others, and then you’ll have to face more enemies than you had planned to.
Missions in the base game usually took me anywhere from 45 minutes up to 1.5 hours, depending on the density of foes. In fact, I looked back over my playthrough of the base game’s first mission and my completion time was 47:57, however in reality, that was played out over an hour of actual gameplay. I was shocked to see the speed run badge for that mission is to complete it in under 11 minutes! No doubt, once you complete a mission for the first time, you would save a heap of time knowing the path you took to get through it, so there’s definitely an appeal for speed runners. The first mission for Aiko’s Choice is much larger than any I played in the base game, taking me over 4 real hours to finally complete. The mission summary shows the in-game completion time of 3:11:02 with so many saves and reloads. It was an arduous mission and I was just glad to have finished it, but to speed run it in 20 minutes? Far bloody out, and some of those other badges I could have done hardcore would be too involved for my patience.
Enemy fields of view can be seen by right clicking an enemy unit. You can be spotted by the enemy and still get away, so long as their field of vision doesn’t completely fill up once they spot you. If you get in their vision and quickly dart away, they will go back to their business and not investigate. However, if you kill an enemy and leave their body in plain sight, enemy units will come to investigate and sound the alarm. If they do sound the alarm, you can expect the number of enemies you need to deal with to double. It may seem quick and easy to just shoot someone from your stealthed position, but then you are going to have to deal with way more soldiers than you originally had planned.
Still, sometimes I had no choice but to shoot one of the enemies, let the troops investigate, find nothing, and then disperse, as I had spent far too long pondering what the heck to do next and getting caught so many times. Occasionally the rough and tumble method worked, but often there would always be a soldier just off screen that I hadn’t factored into my plans. One of the biggest hurdles I faced in Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice was the character limitations. I was very thankful to have played a few hours of the base game to get used to the character abilities. Had I not, then I think I really would have struggled to get enjoyment out of this first mission.
One of the characters is heavily built with full armour and so cannot jump, only climb ladders. This was fine for the first third of the map which took me 1.5 hours to get through. The next phase though only had one exit point for this character meaning I had to go through a section that had almost every angle covered. I spent another hour on this next section alone, giving up on the first night I tried it. I woke up early the next morning thinking I had worked out better tactics. Those failed too, but I did finally make it through that bit. However, the trail of destruction behind me was not pretty. I didn’t care though, far out was that tough. If this is the first taste of the Shadow Tactics experience for a new player, I fear the less patient gamers may just quit and not look back. I highly recommend playing the first few missions of the base game to unlock characters and learn their abilities and mechanics of enemies.
Another great aspect of these games is that, despite spending hours getting through some tough missions, they are memorable experiences and the story content of the missions stayed with me long after finishing play for that day. In other games like first-person shooters, sure they have some awesome cinematics that give you a briefing and completion of that mission, but I go back to that game the next day and I barely remember what happened, other than shooting a lot of bad guys in the face. I remember so many of the mini battles that took place across several of the missions in Shadow Tactics. It’s likely because they took me 20+ saves and reloads to get through them, but the point is I retained and concentrated on the story with lasting memories.
Overall, I give this standalone expansion an 8/10. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice is one of the better real time tactics games I’ve played despite it being frustratingly hard at times. I love the Japanese setting and music in this isometric view which helped keep me calm while spending hours on the same mission. Once you finally do work out the solution, it’s an awesome feeling giving you some great gaming memories. If this is your first experience with Shadow Tactics or real time tactics games, I highly recommend playing the base game Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun first.
This review utilised a key provided by Renaissance PR. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice will release on Steam on December 6, 2021.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis