Review – Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice

Originally released more than five years ago, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is still one of the best stealth games out there right now. It’s hard not to fall for its premise: a tactical hardcore stealth strategy game in which a small team of shogun set out completing tons of missions across the Edo period of Japan. Shadow Tactics is currently celebrating its fifth anniversary in a big way with the release of the standalone expansion, Aiko’s Choice

Aiko’s Choice picks up some way through the campaign of Blades of the Shogun. Aiko and the Shogun set off on an adventure to help stop Aiko’s former mentor, delving deeper into her past until she is ready to confront it. It’s a decent enough story and it was nice to see these characters return but the story was never Shadow Tactics strongpoint. It’s just there for giving you a reason to do what you are set out to do. The real deal lies in the game’s phenomenal stealth gameplay. 

Save scumming is encouraged.

Shadow Tactics is an isometric stealth strategy game that has you controlling a small band of heroes. Hayato is your general shinobi class, hiding in shadows and able to take enemies down with a shuriken at a range . Aiko is a Kunoichi (a female ninja) who plays in a somewhat similar style to Hayato, but specialises in disguises. Mugen is your tank-like Samurai, he’s not effective at stealth due to his bulking armour, but easily able to take down other fellow Samurai and multiple enemies at once. We also have Yuki, who can lay traps and attract enemies towards her position. Then we have Takuma and his trusty pet Kuma, who act like a sniper and distraction respectively.

Each character serves an important gameplay purpose and success relies on combining each of their abilities. For example, using Yuki’s whistle can distract enemies for Hayato to go in for a takedown; or using Aiko’s disguise can help Mugen slip into a more suitable position to takedown the deadly samurai enemies. It’s a standard fare seen in other isometric stealth games, such as Desperados III, and it works brilliantly.

By right clicking on an enemy, you will be able to see their vision cone which allows you to plan your moves in advance. Shadow Tactics gives you the necessary tools to progress and it’s up to you how to proceed, rewarding creative strategies and use of all the characters. Shadow mode allows you queue each character’s actions to perform at the same time or sequentially. That same gameplay loop of quicksaving, trying something only for it to fail and reloading is back. The game doesn’t punish save scumming; instead, it actively encourages it. Even the slightest issue with your plan could end in disaster so finally overcoming the challenge is all the more rewarding. 

Perfect planning.

Aiko’s Choice is split into multiple chapters. There are main missions which are the more traditional Shadow Tactics design, and three mini chapters which are the equivalent of a single encounter. The large missions are obviously the main attraction, and are wonderfully designed and provide unique challenges that put your stealth skills to the test. They take a couple of hours each to complete. Though these smaller missions do provide a solid 20 minute challenge to solve. All in all, there’s an impressive 8-15 hours of replayable content to be seen here. Once you are done with a chapter, certain challenges open up that require further planning and higher difficulties are brutal but fun. Not shabby for a standalone expansion. 

As for the visuals and sound this is pretty much exactly the same as before. And no, this is not a bad thing. On the contrary. The gorgeous painted look of the original Shadow Tactics game returns, bringing life to the Edo period of Japan. The same applies to the sound design. It’s nice to hear these character voices again, with a great amount banter that quickly develops the bond between them. 

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – Aiko’s Choice is a surprising release five years after the original’s debut, but I’m glad it exists. Whilst it doesn’t tread any new ground, it doesn’t need to, thanks to its excellent level design and gameplay that still fresh and rewarding. Granted, if you weren’t a fan before, this won’t do anything to convince you otherwis; if you’ve never played Shadow Tactics before I’d highly recommend starting with the original. But once you fall for it, Aiko’s Choice is an excellent expansion to what made the original game so appealing.

Graphics: 9.0

It retains the visual style from the original game. The hand drawn visuals are a sight to behold.

Gameplay: 9.0

The gameplay from the original Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is basically retained intact in this expansion. Given how good it was back then, and it still is now, there’s little to complain.

Sound: 9.0

Much like the original game,  the soundtrack is great, and the banter-filled voice acting is a joy to listen to.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Aiko’s Choice doesn’t tread any new grounds, but still provides an excellent hardcore stealth experience for fans of the original game..

Final Verdict: 9.0

Shadow Tactics: Aiko’s Choice is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. 

A copy of Shadow Tactics: Aiko’s Choice was provided by the publisher.