Preview: Shadow Tactics - Aiko's Choice

3 Nov 2021

I always have an interest in rare genres, things new or resurrected. It’s for this reason that I leapt at the chance to preview Shadow Tactics: Aiko’s Choice, despite not being familiar with the original Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. A strategy stealth game, it combines isometric control of a squad of characters with unique actions and a reliance on stealth, each genre complementing and challenging the other in a harmonious blend.

Aiko’s Choice is a followup to the earlier Blades of the Shogun, and even here it defies convention a bit. Rather than being a true sequel, this is a standalone expansion. That is, it’s a complement to the base game that doesn’t change enough to be a full sequel, but rather than release it as DLC it’s instead a separate product that doesn’t need Blades of the Shogun in any way… though it may be a good idea to play the original first to have a better idea of the story and ease yourself into the mechanics.

Still, for those who wish to do so, it’s perfectly viable to just hop right in. Due to my own unfamiliarity with the base game and assumption that most of our readers may be as well, consider this an opinion on the original title as well.

Shadow Tactics takes place in Edo period Japan, and deals with five characters loyal to the shogun as they attempt to stop an upstart warlord known as Kage-sama from ruining the country’s stability. Aiko’s Choice begins about halfway through the story of Blades of the Shogun, and centers on Aiko, resident master of disguise, and her former sensei Lady Chiyo, now a loyal aide of Kage-sama and the antagonist for this expansion.

While I sadly did not get to see much of the story in the demo, what I did experience focused on foiling a plot to arm Kage-sama’s army with Portuguese firearms and gunpowder, with both the guards and the heroes questioning why the goods were scattered across a series of islands. The demo ended before I could see if there was some kind of scheme behind Lady Chiyo’s peculiar orders, but along the way we got to know each of the main characters and their relation to each other quite well simply through their banter throughout the stage.

Gameplay appears to be exactly the same as in Blades of the Shogun, with Aiko’s Choice only adding new story and levels. Said gameplay involves controlling five different characters in a tactical manner, giving them orders in real time. Each character has a hotbar of unique skills, as well as certain characteristics that affect their movement. The skills are probably the most noticeable difference between the characters, with options to lure guards, force them to look a certain way, blind them, etc, but I found their characteristics were often just as important, if not moreso. More agile characters have more routes available to them, and the simple difference of how they carried corpses played a significant role in who I chose to attack so I could either book it out of there or drag it below line of sight.

By far the most notable aspect of gameplay is the “shadow mode” feature that allows you to queue up an action from each character to activate all at once with the push of a button. Uses range from simple simultaneous takedowns to eliminate multiple guards looking at each other, to more elaborate plans such as blinding a lookout to conduct murder right under their nose. Heck, sometimes it was handy simply to have one character queue an action so I can have them act while maintaining control of another character.

Lastly, the game encourages you to quick-save early and often, with a timer displaying how long it’s been since your last save to serve as a reminder. The difficulty can be brutally hard and save scumming is actively encouraged. While you do have avenues of escape and ways to heal, they really only help with the most minor of blunders. Alert a swarm of riflemen and you’ll be glad the load times are fast.

Overall, I really enjoyed this demo. The strategic gameplay leans more on planning due to the need to avoid detection rather than overpowering your target, and controlling a squad of characters opens up plenty of options otherwise unavailable in typical stealth games. Really my only concern is that it doesn’t seem to change anything from their previous title, but is that really such a bad thing? At the end of the day you’re still getting more of a rare gem.

Preview copy provided by Daedalic Entertainment. Screenshots taken by writer.