Luring a wayward guard with the sound of an innocent flute, then slashing his throat with a hairpin, no less - it's moments like this that make Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun - Aiko's Choice an absolute thrill in a quiet, super stealthy, super deadly way. There are no loud explosions, no hack-and-slash mindless killing sprees, and no overpowered AOE end-game spells. All you really need is the art of deception - and sometimes a little help from a furry friend - and you can leave a trail of dead bodies in your wake without making a sound.
A standalone expansion to Shadow Tactics, Aiko's Choice features three full missions and three interlude missions with tons of replayability. You can take down opponents in various ways, proving just how exhilarating it is to come up with a million ways to kill a man. There are also various challenges you can try to accomplish to earn Badges, like using items a number of times or clearing stages without alerting any guards.
All you really need is the art of deception - and sometimes a little help from a furry friend - and you can leave a trail of dead bodies in your wake without making a sound.
Being a complete newbie to the whole franchise, I came into this preview build not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that it's a sneaky game - both literally and figuratively. It takes the simple mechanic of avoiding enemy vision cones and makes that the whole purpose of the game, and in doing so, it immediately gives you a sense of excitement despite the lack of any fast-paced action. That simple mechanic also makes the game immensely replayable, and each mission can take hours and hours to finish simply because you'll keep trying to experiment with different methods to reach your goal in one piece.
Of course, you can still burst into the scene with blades a-swinging if that's more your style. In particular, Mugen is an especially tanky character whose heavy armor prevents him from swimming but makes him a highly effective bruiser. The main strategy for players who prefer to use him is to make a ruckus, kill equally armored samurai foes, and lure unwitting guards to his position - and then kill them all in a stunning display of blood and gore. Yes, Mugen has a special skill that kills all enemies in a given radius in an old-school samurai movie style. All you'll have to do is watch the bad guys freeze in their position then slowly slump to the ground one by one.
Now, if you prefer going the stealthier route, you have tons of options at your disposal thanks to the varied characters available. Takuma, for instance, can send his little pet Tanuki "Kuma" to distract guards as he slinks away unnoticed. Aiko, Hayato, and Yuki have their own tricks up their sleeves as well and can swim from island to island killing bad guys then dumping their corpses into the sea. I particularly loved using Aiko herself, but that's the thing - each character is so compelling and so unique that you'll want to repeat levels just to try them all out.
Another really cool feature here is the Shadow Mode, where you can assign actions to each member of your team and then activate them for a synchronized attack. In my opinion, Mimimi Games has done a fantastic job optimizing the controls for the mouse and keyboard, as switching between characters and organizing their actions is simply easy-peasy.
I did also try out the controller option and was impressed with how the controls were effectively migrated from the keyboard to the controller. It does take a while to get used to pressing and holding and memorizing movements, but it's something you can get the hang of eventually if you keep at it.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun - Aiko's Choice | Final Thoughts
Overall, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun - Aiko's Choice is an addicting experience that'll make you feel like a diabolical genius after besting unwitting foes in Japan's early Edo period. Oftentimes, I was too focused on killing enemies that I constantly forgot to marvel at the stunning visuals around me. The environments are absolutely gorgeous, and the soundtrack is all kinds of stirring. I wasn't able to experience the full narrative in this preview build, but if it's anything as entertaining as the banter between characters, then I'm pretty sure it'll be a blast.
TechRaptor previewed Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun - Aiko's Choice on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.