Lince Works’ Aragami looks to stealth ninja games of the past for inspiration while also piecing together RPG, open level design, and third-person combat elements from popular AAA titles. The game really looks the part as well; both the pristine graphics and diverse soundtrack go a long way to creating an immersive Japanese setting.
Aragami’s main attraction, and what makes this game a can’t-miss title, is the variety in the combat and the fluid way in which you can experience it. The upgrades and special abilities do a great job of keeping the game fresh as you progress. However, the game does appear to spread itself a little too thin, with some abilities failing to work effectively and the enemy A.I often not responding as expected.
The story revolves around a reincarnated shadow warrior named Aragami, who is brought back by a cheerful yet mysterious young girl named Yamiko. She intends for you to free herself, the enigmatic Empress, and defeat the Kaiho clan. Aragami is tasked with collecting six talismans from Yamiko’s past in order to break the spell that keeps her imprisoned. Along the way, Aragami begins to question his purpose and his past. Chapters are interspersed with anime-style cut scenes that give clues as to what went on before and suggest that everything is possibly not as it seems. Overall, the narrative is simple and enjoyable, introducing the player to just the tip of the iceberg of the game’s lore to create mystery and intrigue.
Gameplay in Aragami hits both ends of the spectrum in terms of positive and negative experiences. The premise starts off relatively simple: using teleportation through the shadows allows you to either stealthily approach your enemies and dispatch them with your sword or sneakily make your way past them. Frequent teleportation can’t be abused, however. The game uses clever UI via the color and design on Aragami’s cape to indicate whether he is in the shadows and his level of shadow essence.
This shadow essence is vital and must be constantly monitored, as it is needed to be able to teleport. It can be restored by returning to the shadows, but decreases when near a bright light. Furthermore, stealth is additionally enhanced further by crouching, and teleportation isn’t limited to just static shadows on the ground. You can use teleportation to scale vertical obstacles, and you also have the ability to temporarily create shadows in lit areas to traverse more open spaces. All these elements make the sneaking around in Aragami heaps of fun.
The game also provides you with a good number of upgradeable abilities. To unlock, these gameplay elements require points; these are gained through acquiring scrolls. The scrolls are hidden throughout the map, meaning that the game really rewards in-depth exploration on the part of the player. The abilities you can unlock range from more typical offensive and defensive abilities to elaborate special abilities. This format really makes a game that is tailored to each player’s individual experience; if you are someone who is more inclined to explore, then you may acquire more scrolls and, consequently, enhanced abilities. On the other hand, the player who indulges in a more linear play style will likely miss out on experiencing all of the upgrades.
Aragami contains some amazing open levels. These areas are often vast and varied with an array of enemies and obstacles scattered in among them. This gives the player many routes to take and allows for complete stealth (referred to as Ghost), a more aggressive approach (referred to as Demon), as well as everything in between. The openness of the map means there are often hidden routes to discover that may lead to a shortcut or the coveted hidden scrolls.
The enemies really play their part too. There aren’t tons of variations (ranging from the standard enemy, archers, light orbs, and enemies with trailing light orbs) but they are introduced slowly enough to add good variation to the combat as your abilities develop concurrently. They provide a tough challenge as they will immediately seek you out upon discovering your presence and one hit from them will see you returning the last checkpoint. These can often be a long way back, making for a frustrating yet addicting experience.
The combination of teleportation, special abilities, the enemies, and the open levels make for an enthralling and unique experience. The game really does shine when you are faced with a large area that is full of enemies and varied structures which you are invited to navigate with flare and speed to create fluid and extremely entertaining gameplay. A great example of this is the largest level, where you are tasked with visiting four different rooms that represent fire, water, earth and wind in order to disable a barrier. It is masterfully crafted and provides widely different options and experiences as you progress.
Unfortunately, Aragami is not free from issues. Whilst the game does excel when its varied gameplay mechanics work in tandem, sometimes they just aren’t on the same page. This appears to be primarily down to the enemy AI and how gameplay elements interact with these NPCs. One of your key tools in the game is the ability to lure enemies around the map in order to separate them from other foes or trap multiple enemies. Frequently, this simply does not work. Enemies would not approach you when you rang a bell to bring them closer or they would nonchalantly walk through a trap you had set despite it being there to dispose of them. Enemies would also fail to react when a comrade would sound a horn after your presence had been discovered, failing to pursue you at all in some cases. These problems were reoccurring and it really does deter from the flowing experience that this game strives for.
A particularly interesting part of Aragami is the boss battles. Early on, I wondered how this would be done, as fighting a large enemy or some variation of that nature seemed like it wouldn’t fit in this game. For the most part, I found great solutions. The fight with a warrior named Hikaru who is surrounded by shields (previously only utilized in the game to restrict movement to certain locations) is a real handful and provides an interesting shift from what has gone before. Furthermore, the battle with the archer named Sora is also a great gameplay shake-up.
You are required to work your way up a large mountain from shadow to shadow without being struck before further difficulty is added with the addition of shields and additional enemies. The final boss is very much a hit and a miss. Initially, it seemed that gameplay had actually been saved for this grand culmination to the story but the challenge was somewhat lacking. One area in which all the boss battles succeeded was in the cut scenes that closed out each confrontation. They each provide particularly tense and thrilling action sequences.
The graphics and soundtrack play a significant role in creating a great mysterious and authentic Japanese-style experience. The characters and setting all look stunning with great attention to detail. This is matched by the soundtrack that accurately distinguishes moments of excitement from periods of fear and tension.
Aragami masterfully brings somewhat forgotten classic stealth gameplay into a thoroughly modern and unique experience. It takes tried and true mechanics from successful titles and twists them into a game that allows the player to combine them all within seconds of gameplay. Despite some AI and gameplay inconsistencies that moderately hamper the experience, the Aragami thrill ride when the game is in full flow is something that cannot be missed.
Aragami was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: Lince Works | Publisher: Lince Works | Genre: Stealth, Action | Platform: PC/PS4 | PEGI/ESRB: 16+/M | Release Date: October 4, 2016