Sometimes a game comes along that looks so interesting and original that you ask yourself why you have no knowledge of it’s existence in its previous iterations. That’s what has happened for me with Aragami. A stealth based, third person action adventure is a genre right up my alley, so I took the review duties with pleasure. Aragami is developed and published by Lince Works, and was originally available on PS4 and PC in 2016. The version reviewed today is the debut of the franchise on the Xbox One that has a release date of June 5th 2018 and releases as the Shadow Edition, which is the original story plus the new Nightfall DLC story expansion.
The player controls a shadow spirit, Aragami who is summoned into existence by an astral projection of Yamiko, a girl who has been imprisoned after a war has been fought between the Shadow aligned Nisshoku (Good) and the Light aligned Kaiho (Bad). She claims that after winning the war, they imprisoned the Empress and her people in the Nisshoku’s main temple. She requests Aragami’s help in freeing them, and needs six artefacts to unlock the prison which are located across the games thirteen levels.
The main skill that Aragami has at his disposal is the ability to teleport to any area of his immediate vicinity that is cast in shadow, called a Shadow Leap, but this uses up his Shadow Essence, which is cleverly displayed as a meter on his cape. Shadow Essence is replenished by standing in the shadows, and drained by standing in well-lit areas. The colour of the player changes between bright red and black/gold dependent on his current essence. Each level is patrolled by guards, who can and will kill you instantly if they spot you. Staying hidden and using stealth is the only way to progress. It is possible to complete the chapters by not killing anyone, but there is also a great deal of satisfaction by shadow leaping to different locations in order to take out the enemies using stealth kills. If one of the many guards hear an attack or find a body on the floor they will immediately alert all the other enemies and they will all start searching for Aragami.
Hidden around each level are scrolls to collect, which are used to unlock new powers and abilities for Aragami, such as brief invisibility, decoys and my personal favourite, the Shadow Kill, which is a stealth attack which also removes the corpse after the attack is completed. As usual in these games, these extra skills will make the later, harder chapters much more manageable. Some of these chapters are very long and to help you they are split into different sections to stop you getting too frustrated with the restarts when you die. It is frustrating to clear an area, except for one last enemy who takes you out and you find yourself right back at the start of an area again. But, in the most part, the autosave and restart is handled very well.
Graphically, Aragami is very nice, with a distinctive, cel-shaded approach to its visuals. There are probably not as crisp and detailed as they could be though, especially on the Xbox One X. I played on both the X and S and couldn’t notice any differences between the two. The loading screens are really beautiful, with different art styles depicting scenes from the game. However, I did have some concerns about the frame rate I was experiencing, as at times it appeared to really slow down and stutter, especially with the Shadow Kill animation. I am playing a pre-release version so perhaps the developers are planning a Day One patch to resolve this, however frame rate was a criticism of the 2016 versions of the game. The design and implementation of Aragami’s cape is wonderful though, as it depicts both the status of his shadow essence and the various abilities, meaning the game can run without a HUD.
I should point out that there is also a multiplayer co-op mode in Aragami, but I have been unable to test and play this mode at this point, but it’s another feature to an already pretty packed content list. And the planned sale price of £20 means that with all the content available this really is great value for money. Each chapter does have re-playability as the standard Japanese level score system has been implemented so completionist’s can play through in the different play styles for those elusive S rankings! The achievements have a unique appeal as well, as they eschew the standard of 10 or 20 gamerscore each and instead offer up 19 or 22, which is ideal for those OCD gamers who want to get their gamerscore back to ending in 5 or 0! We are out there!
As much as I enjoyed playing Aragami, as it really is a fantastic experience for fans of the stealth genre, it does have some niggles which will affect the score. Firstly, as a stealth game the animations do cause Aragami’s death far too often. Performing a Shadow Kill and seeing an enemy guard walk around the corner will usually result in your death as he will attack you whilst the animation is still progressing. There does seem to be little chance in putting together a combo move in order to shadow leap, kill and then shadow leap away again. In fact, kills are only available to you once a button prompt appears on screen, and if you press the button in preparation for this it will not register, and this can sometimes be the difference between a successful kill and your death. But you will find yourself playing with this in mind, and it doesn’t break the gameplay at all, but just breaks the flow of what could be a flowing combo manoeuvre. However, what is completely nonsensical is not being able to attack an opponent if they spot you unless you have that on-screen prompt, as it will result in your death.
I also found that unlocking a skill during a level did not work successfully, with the new skill not being available to me until I started the next level. This happened to me with the Kunai – where you get a throwing dart – and I spent ages trying to get it to work, before it seemed to unlock at the start of the next level. Again it doesn’t break the game, but this one did feel a bit odd. The camera is also restrictive, especially when crawling through small spaces or being in a small room. And finally, the Shadow Jump can be fiddly, especially when you are trying to jump up on a ledge or roof, as it needs to be precise enough or you’ll jump to the side and fall back down again, which again can cause your death.
So, overall Aragami is a really good stealth game that is just let down by a fiddly control system and a complete lack of an attack button (unless the game wants you to have it). There is plenty of joy to be had nipping in and out of shadows performing stealth kills, and as much pleasure in playing the complete opposite way and not killing a single guard. But you will feel aggrieved at some of Aragami’s death’s when they are caused by an animation or that lack of an attack button.