Sheeeeeesh that title’s a mouthful. Reason being, this is a standalone expansion to Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. So fun fact: I have never played a game in the series, but I’m a huge fan of tactics style gameplay. Color me shocked when I found that the game is NOT turn based, but rather a heavily stealth oriented squad based RTS with micromanaging three characters.
At first I was completely lost, but the tutorial does a pretty decent job reviewing mechanics and catching you up. I enjoyed how there seems to be multiple approaches to level design, in terms of mapping out escape routes, picking your fights, and managing your resources. I wish I had known sooner that your inventory is very precious, as I wasted a lot of my tools thinking that everything would refresh after I completed a major task.
Levels are made up of multi-branch missions, but overall, the game is a relatively short mini-story campaign from what I’ve seen. Your characters have unique abilities and kits, and it was really fun capitalizing on each of their strengths, such as the powerful grapeshot that one-shots majority of enemies, or Aiko’s disguises that help you infiltrate enemy lines. This is one of those games that seems to just lean into save scumming wholesale, encouraging you to quick save constantly to trial-and-error and rapidly return to the drawing board.
I think for newer players, the game may seem unfair at times, with the breadth of enemies clumped together and the inherent squishy-ness of your team. Some may be frustrated by how the game expects you to fail several times until you stumble on a working solution, but I found that the downtime between restarts was minimal enough to not be a nuisance overall. I had a lot of fun laughs thinking I was safe, only to get mauled by the very outer cone of an enemies’ vision cone. But those instances where you JUUUUUST squeak by into a new hidey-hole can lead to some incredibly hype gamer moments.
The AI is… weird to say the least. Sometimes it seems incredibly incompetent; other times I was baffled at the range of detection and how rigorous their patrols could be. You will likely need to wait a good amount of time to find your moments to strike or sneak on by. Admittedly, there were many times where I lost my patience, but the availability to quick save at all points really alleviates the feel of losing progress. Although there are times where the AI feels TOO diligent, to the point that your save file can be rendered nigh obsolete when the game suddenly goes on high alert and the position you THOUGHT was safe is suddenly not. There are times where the vision cones feel a tad too wide, but at the same time, you are able to quickly run past them to safety for a quick escape at times. I think it might just be a matter of my novice exposure to the series. The game is nice enough to give you several quicksave points to access in case your most recent one goes tits up for whatever reason. I understand to a certain degree rewarding prudency and quickly moving from position to position, but when you’re juggling the viewpoints of three separate characters, I feel like it’s already enough pressure without that. I enjoyed how each set piece is strung together, and how the objectives feel interwoven as you are taught new maneuvers.
I honestly lost patience with this one and wasn’t really willing to complete the game. It showed a lot of promise with multiple solutions and approaches to each encounter. Honestly, part of me wishes the levels didn’t feel so sprawling because I never felt safe, and yeah I get it you’re not supposed to. However, compared to other stealth games, I felt like the game kept dinging me on technicalities every fucking second. Just when I thought I understood the rules, the game would say “nope this action actually reveals your position, fuck you, try again”. “Oh hey, you did the same thing three milliseconds sooner? OK, the AI will be a complete dumbass for no reason and let you go”. I think it’s just the salt, but honestly most interactions felt entirely contrived in that way. I enjoyed the full voice acting and the characterization of Aiko is great as a compassionate, yet relentless assassin. Perhaps if I forced myself to play on a lower difficulty, I would have had a better experience, but I suppose rage quitting means something. I think I’ll end up still giving the game the seal because I feel bad, and I think it comes down to personal preference.
Overall, seems challenging to get into for newcomers, but I’m sure veterans of the series will feel right at home. I enjoyed parts of it, but some of the mechanics felt too finicky for my tastes. I hated the feeling that I was constantly on the verge of fully resetting my run from scratch. When things click though, you truly feel like a badass shinobi. It just didn’t fully click for me.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice was developed by Mimimi Productions.
Available on Steam for $19.99.
A review copy was provided by the publisher, Daedalic.
Hellfirebam has awarded Aiko’s Choice the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval.