Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
The third person stealth genre hasn’t been revitalised since the days of the PS1 and PS2, where titles like Tenchu, Metal Gear Solid and Thief challenged us to observe enemy paths, plan a route through the shadows and progress through the game without altercation. Aragami arrives with a clear goal to bring back those stealth game staples, inviting players to strap on their sneaking ninja shoes and take to the shadows once more; and while it does allow the player to feel like a badass stealth ninja, there are a few stumbles that unfortunately don’t allow this game to stand with the other greats of the genre.
Aragami takes place in a distant realm inspired by feudal Japan. The setting and art style is well presented and both the characters and the setting merge seamlessly with the gameplay. The main character Aragami is instantly iconic, his cloak and colour displaying mechanics and information crucial to the game’s systems. All the characters, from the enemies to Aragami’s companion, are vibrant and well made; the environments however don’t quite match the same level of detail with some areas looking slapdash and bland. Certain paths and corners are filled with ugly bushes and blockades which can be jarring when compared with some of the views and vistas the player will come across. As for the game’s story, it’s a tale that’s thin but to the point. You’ve been resurrected by a young girl who seeks revenge on a clan that killed her family. It’s up to you as a reincarnated shadow ninja to take down those wrongdoers.
Where Aragami particularly excels is with its main mechanic; teleporting around the shadows of the environment. This ability is fundamentally enjoyable, teleporting to any shadow (within a certain distance) is fun and makes the player feel empowered, indulging them with many options. Anyone who has played around with Dishonored’s Blink ability will feel right at home with fluidly shifting between the shadows. Aragami also has the ability to temporarily create shadows to teleport into which adds extra depth to navigating around the environment. You’ll have plenty of teleporting to do too, since the levels are filled with enemies who will easily put an end to your ninja exploits should you be spotted. The enemy AI is functional but limited and quickly becomes predictable. The recent Metal Gear Solid titles included AI that was smart and promoted trial and error gameplay to see how the AI would react. That kind of depth is not apparent in this game with the only options you have being kill or avoid.
How you play Aragami is split into 2 styles, described in the game as Demon (kill enemies) and Ghost (avoid detection and kill no one). You can of course mix and match but the game rewards you for completing each level in a particular ‘style.’ On top of teleporting and slicing and dicing your enemies there are a few extra abilities you can unlock through an ability tree. This progression system is integrated in an odd way. You gain ability points by finding scrolls throughout the levels and using them on the tree unlocks things like throwing deadly kunai or making bodies disappear. While these abilities are not essential they do make the game more enjoyable and slightly easier. It may have been a better idea to have earned some of these points simply by completing levels rather than having to traipse through them multiple times, and promoting the process of wiping out all of the enemies in the area just so you can freely move around the environment looking for these scrolls. What’s also occasionally frustrating is the level design which can be hit or miss. Navigating around the environments is sometimes confusing with no clear landmarks identifying your objectives.
There are many elements of Aragami that have been designed with care and cohesion. Minimal HUD and UI allows for greater immersion with Aragami’s cloak displaying the amount of shadow essence currently available. This shadow essence allows the player to teleport and will recharge when in shadows, decreasing if Aragami is lit up and visible. The way Aragami lights up and turns black in shadow is reminiscent of Splinter Cell’s visible/not visible mechanic, and works very well for immediately identifying your current state of visibility. Another particular highlight is the game’s audio. Produced by Two Feathers, the soundtrack and effects enhance the atmosphere and setting, delivering multiple scores and jingles that really get you in the mood. The game boasts a solid 8-10 hour campaign with a number of reasons to replay the missions, and there is also an online co-op mode for those who want to sneak and strike together. In fact if you do have a buddy I’d recommend playing the campaign together through co-op. It’s a lot more fun and satisfying to take out enemies together, and having a second pair of eyes is sure to help you in your efforts to sneak around.
Aragami is a title that has the features and playability to please the stealth game fan, it’s just unfortunate that the gameplay is lacking in certain important aspects. For all its shortfallings the game is fun, and does make the player feel like a ninja hunting from the shadows, able to pounce and strike with speed and then just as quickly disappear again. If you’re a big fan of stealth games or enjoy feudal Japanese-styled games, then this could be for you, and heck if you like ninjas pick it up too. Which is most people, right?