The group of assassins returns in a solid standalone expansion.
Developer: Mimimi Games
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release date: 6 December, 2021
5 years ago a spectacular stealth and tactical game was published: set in feudal Japan, the title followed the story of a group of assassins working for the Shogun to discover and eliminate an internal threat. The title, named Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun was really nothing new in the stealth genre, but it brought the feel of old games on the lines of Commandos and it was simply very well executed. Now, exactly 5 years later, a standalone expansion for the same game has been published: Aiko’s choice is a shorter adventure that uses the same characters from the base game, while telling a completely new story set in between the events of the main one.
The events of Aiko’s choice begin when the group is ambushed in its own safehouse: Lady Chiyo, cunning spymaster and Aiko’s former sensei, separates the group using the force when her men storm into the safehouse. Yuki and Takuma get carried away, while the rest of the group is able to free itself before getting executed. From there, the story starts: you are to reunite the group, understand the obscure plans of Lady Chiyo and, possibly, stop it. Aiko’s Choice plays exactly like the previous game: a tactical-stealth title where precision and silence are our biggest allies. In particular, this standalone expansion can almost be seen as a bunch of new levels linked by a new story, as the gameplay, mechanics and playable characters are exactly the same as in the main title.
Aiko’s Choice is thus just a “more of the same” expansion that doesn’t bring anything new to the table. However, it brings more gameplay for those that appreciate the main title and also for those people (including me) that didn’t really like the wild west setting of Desperados 3, which was a great game on its own, but the setting here is much more entertaining in my opinion.
This expansion is focused in particular on Aiko, a character that, while playable on the main game, was often overlooked in favour of the others. This was caused by various reasons, first of all her abilities: Aiko’s main function within the group is the one of a distracter: she is, in fact, able to use disguises in order to not attract attention or to distract guards thanks to her beauty. Gameplay-wise, this means that you have to pick up a disguise that is usually placed in some well-guarded place on the map, something that you can do with any character, and then press a button for Aiko to distract a guard. The latter is what makes Aiko kind of underplayed and forgettable in the main game: you just leave her chatting with guards, as she can do it indefinitely, while the other members of the group kill the enemies and complete the objectives.
This means that Aiko is not useless (although she is very lacking when she doesn’t have access to a disguise) nor underplayed, but she is played very passively throughout the whole mission. Aiko’s Choice doesn’t really try to fix this, as the characters are played exactly as in the main title: the expansion tries to make her a more central character through various mechanisms (sometimes, for example, the scarcity of squad members forces you to use her even without disguise), but ultimately fails to make Aiko a more central character. Not in terms of story, as she plays a big part, being the ex-adept of Lady Chiyo and all, but in terms of gameplay, as we could say that Hayato can do everything she does, and more, when she’s not wearing a disguise.
This to me was particularly clear in the third mission: here the group doesn’t have access to any disguise, as the mission is set in a series of small islands where we have to blow up a series of crates. Here I started using Aiko only at the fourth island, freeing up the first three without even moving her, and only resorting to her presence in the fourth because I had to take out three enemies at once. Aiko’s Choice is thus an expansion centered on Aiko, but not really: it allows the player to get more information about the character’s past and makes her stand out a little more, but gameplay-wise, she’s still overshadowed by the other’s more powerful kits.
Overall Aiko’s Choice is a solid entry in Minimi Game’s portfolio. While it doesn’t add anything new, the additional content is more than welcome for the main game’s fans. If you still have to play Blades of the Shogun, I strongly encourage you to do so. Otherwise, the very well crafted levels of Aiko’s Choice will make for some great extra hours of content.