When an old friend last came to visit, he shoved something into my hands almost immediately. “You love stealth games,” he chirped, “So I thought of you when I saw this!” I looked down. A shadowy ninja glared up at me, lit only by the backdrop of an enormous moon. Overhead, the title: Aragami.
Oh, this! I’ve seen gameplay of this, I thought. It looked pretty cool.
It became quickly apparent after installing the thing I’d actually been thinking of Mark of the Ninja – who knew brooding ninja dressed in black and red were so common? So I entered this title with exactly zero knowledge about it besides the fact it had ‘ninja’ and ‘stealth’.
Aragami is indeed a stealth-based action game, in a similar vein to Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu, or Dishonored. Set in a pseudo-Medieval Japanese world filled with magic, you play as an undead assassin – a spirit known as an Aragami – who has been conjured into existence by a young woman, Yamiko, who is currently being held hostage and hoping you’ll be her salvation. Aragami was originally released in 2016, and is the first project of Spanish indie studio, Lince Works, who spent three years building the title up from a project they completed for their game dev course. For music and sound design, the company worked with Two Feathers, who have also worked on Hammerwatch and Angry Birds 2. The game was released on PS4 and PC; I’ll be reviewing the latter version.
Let’s get right into the meat of it – if you’re a fan of stealth games like me, you want to know one thing more than anything else: Is the stealth actually good? And I am proud to report that yes, yes it is. The levels of Aragami – of which there are thirteen – are about the size of, say, some of Hitman: Blood Money’s, but smooshed into wide corridors with lumps of more open area here and there. But those levels are built to create a world that makes logical sense, whilst still providing plenty of opportunities for sneakery from Entrance A to Objective B to Exit C (which is how most are structured; there’s a few fights here and there). Guards patrol their paths in a routine manner, opening and closing various blindspots that Aragami can take advantage of, and in shadow (so long as he’s still and not too close to the enemy), he is completely invisible. That might sound a bit OP, and perhaps on easier difficulties, it is – but on Hard (the difficulty I pretty much always pick), guards are everywhere, and if you are spotted, escape is almost impossible; expect to be met with a one-hit-KO, regardless if the attack is from a lowly guardsman or the game’s end boss. This game does NOT want you to be spotted, and encourages you to be careful about your movements – there’s no hay piles or closets to hide in on this journey, and every misstep will be on you. Well. Almost every misstep – there’s some trap sections, of course. And whilst there are definitely a few ‘Oh, fuck off‘ areas, they aren’t excessive.
But should those areas prove almost impossible to sneak through, you do have an alternative: The game does not punish you for killing your way through a level, so long as you’re quiet about it. That’s right, no alternate routes, no bad endings – just the ability to slit, stab, and dispatch as you so please. A bit refreshing in this day and age, even if I prefer the clean method: It’s always good to give your players choices that feel valid. And regardless of which style you plan to utilise, Aragami has plenty of skills that cater to both.
Most skills are locked at the beginning: Aragami starts off with the basic ability to be invisible if still inside a shadow, the ability to create temporary ‘puddles’ of shadow, and the ability to teleport to any shadow within a dozen or so metres. Useful, but still somewhat basic. But skill points gained from finding lore-unlocking scrolls will give you a wider array to choose from. Using F1 to access the Upgrade and Lore menu (because the otherwise competent tutorial will neglect to tell you that), you can unlock abilities that will allow you to create decoys, blind foes, turn invisible and silent when moving, throw kunai, and even summon an otherwordly dragon to silently snatch an enemy away. You can only use these skills a limited number of times, though: The number of times you may use a skill is indicated by the number of symbols on the back of Aragami’s cloak. You refresh the abilities by activating a one-use fox shrine, of which one or two may be located in a level. (And you access the ability wheel with Q, and use an ability with E – Again, the tutorial oddly doesn’t mention these things from what I saw).
Using Aragami’s cloak to show information is a pretty nifty idea, to be honest. What power you have equipped, uses of it left, and amount of remaining shadow essence (the stuff that powers your teleporting ability; it recharges in shadow, ebbs in light) are all displayed there, leaving the screen free of any kind of HUD. It’s clear the team wanted you to pay attention to the world around you, and honestly, it is a beautiful one: It’s a style of cell shading that is reminiscent of the Legend of Korra or One Piece games, but with more texture to it. There’s also wonderful light work and an almost etherial quality at times has reminded me of Team Ico’s work more than once. Everything works together to create a consistent world for you to traverse, be it a ghost town’s graveyard, a forest, a mausoleum, or a city. The characters themselves are pleasant to look at: The main cast is well designed, and their appearance fits their personalities. Even the enemies are decent and diverse in texture, although sadly not shape; it’s clear that each enemy type uses the same base model, but at least the different textures changes it up.
The cutscenes are animated in a much different art style. Think if Legend of Korra was made into a cheap motion comic, complete with what little movement there is being motion tweened. It’s not horrible, but perhaps forgoing motion entirely would have worked better here.
And at least it sounds fantastic: The voice work of the cast is on-point, and although the language is Pseudo-Japanese nonsense, it sounds authentic and emotional in delivery. Indeed, the sound design throughout the game is pretty good; it’s quite clear that Two Feathers knows what they’re doing. The soundtrack is built around soulful string instruments, and is always appropriate to the moment, be it the calm of the title screen, being spotted, or an emotional reflection. Stabbing an enemy sounds satisfying, your movements are sufficiently quiet, the environments sound natural, and even traversing the menu just feels good. It’s clear why Two Feathers gets a fair bit of work in the industry.
Speaking of the menu, actually, expect a decent array of options: Key Configuration, FOV slider, FPS locking, various visual effects, what you expect to be here pretty much is. No complaints.
Infact, my complaints with the game are fairly few. My biggest would be to do with the animation. It’s…stiff. Awkwardly so at points – which is probably why there’s not many scenes with close ups of the characters speaking. Emotional expression in the face, in the body, does not exist in this world, and that’s a shame. The movement and attack animations are ok, but I suspect the swiftness of movement helps mask some of the issues. And not being able to jump in a game, where your main character is an agile ninja, is confusing – having to teleport over small fences you should be able to easily hop is simply frustrating.
Which brings us to the game’s plot. You’ve probably noticed I haven’t mentioned it til now, and starting to do so right after the part I talk about mistakes probably has you feeling a bit concerned. Well. It shouldn’t. Not really. The plot isn’t bad, but it’s not exactly deep, and you’ll be able to correctly predict some of the biggest ‘twists’ fairly early on. But it is a character driven tale, and the characterisation is nice despite that – you’ll kind of wish you had more time with some of these characters, or that they had a more obvious presence in the world around them – some things are just buried in those lore scrolls, which is unfortunate. This is a world that calls for a much larger title, in my opinion.
The final thing I’ll talk about is probably something you wouldn’t have even expected: The Multiplayer. That’s right, for some reason, this game has multi-player co-op, in which two Aragami try to sneak through a level at once. No, I don’t know why they bothered, but they even got regional servers for it (US, EU, Asia), so they must have been proud, I guess? Certainly more dedicated than some publishers. But this game really doesn’t seem like a title worth co-oping though, unless you like your friend causing you to die over and over. Guess it’s a good thing my friend didn’t grab two copies!
All in all, Aragami is a neat indie stealth title. The plot is alright, the stealth mechanics and abilities are decent, and the levels are just fine (though more verticality would have been nice). It’s a game that’s beautiful in presentation, sans some stiff animation, has great sound design, and is perfect to fill a day off, with a total gameplay time clocking in around 15 or so hours (if you take your time, and don’t co-op it).
I give Aragami a final score of 8.4/10.
My fellow Respawning colleague, Craig, reviewed this title when it first came out. You can consult his own review HERE if you’re interested in more opinions before committing yourself to a purchase.
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