Shadow Tactics — Aiko's Choice Preview: A Puzzle Within a Puzzle
The 10th time I deployed my tanuki decoy, I actually managed to squeeze little, old Takuma past the guards to mark one of the mission’s target items. It was a short-lived success. I misjudged how distracted one of the straw-hat guards would be while speaking with a comrade. It didn’t take long for them both to strike down poor, defenseless Takuma, and it was time to try again.
Shadow Tactics: Aiko’s Choice takes what you knew about Shadow Tactics and turns it on its head, even if some of the same mechanics are still present. These missions might seem familiar on the surface, but Aiko's Choice is a different take on Shadow Tactics' strategy, for better or worse.
Aiko’s Choice takes place roughly in the middle of the Shadow Tactics campaign and explores some of its characters in more depth than the original story. It revolves around the mysterious reappearance of Aiko’s old sensei. The preview build I played dropped me in the second chapter, though, so there wasn’t much chance to get a full idea of the expansion’s story.
What I did get was a different way to play. Takuma, normally a competent sniper, was stripped of everything but his tanuki and thrown in prison aboard a cramped ship. This first mission tasked me with marking five crates carrying dangerous weapons, so Takuma’s companions could find and deal with the threat once they rescued him. The trouble was actually reaching the crates.
The overview for the preview said the mission should take roughly 10 minutes to complete, though that doesn’t take into account the process of figuring out how everything in it works. It certainly took me longer than that to navigate through the guards and find the right path.
Mimimi wasn’t kidding when they said Aiko’s Choice drastically increases the challenge compared to the main campaign. Granted, the preview skipped the tutorial and first mission, dropping me in the second challenge, but this is definitely meant for those familiar with strategy and Shadow Tactics’ particular brand of it.
Fortunately, save-scumming — reloading if your plan fails — is easy, and Aiko’s Choice actually encourages you to do it. It’s a small touch, but a welcome one that keeps frustration at bay.
I appreciate the approach, even if it also gives me slight cause for concern with the final version. On the one hand, this is Shadow Tactics unrestrained and at its most imaginative. The ship level might have given me serious cause to doubt my strategic ability, but it’s still brilliantly designed, not least because it makes you use a familiar character in a completely new way.
The follow-up level is even better, trading tight spaces for freedom of movement and forcing you to divide your strategy between two different islands.
On the other hand, Aiko’s Choice has a bit of Valkyria Chronicles syndrome, at least in the first half of the preview build I played. There’s strategy involved, but it starts to feel more like you're experimenting until you find the one tactic that works. Takuma’s first mission requires exact timing and placement, for example. There’s some wiggle room in how you approach it, but less free-thinking and planning than I expected.
Still, this is only two of Aiko’s Choice’s six total missions — three primary challenges and three interlude stages — so it’s tough to say whether the remainder will follow the same trend. While I might have hoped for a bit more strategic option so far, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the expansion and can’t wait to experience the full thing when it releases in December for PC. Stay tuned for more.