Aragami, shades summoned to wreak vengeance upon the enemies of their master. They used to be legends, but now you’re playing as one!
Developer: Lince Works
Release Date: Oct 2016
Played: Full campaign.
Purchase At: Steam
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
Aragami opens with your character literally manifesting into the world. The ghost of a silver-haired girl guides you and explains as much as she can. You are in the lands that once belonged to the clan of Shadow-wielding people, but that was before the Kaiho, the army of the light, obliterated them. They’re still around, made their home where yours once stood, and that can’t go unpunished. As a spirit of vengeance, bound to the person who summoned it, the Aragami has to destroy the invaders.
To do so, you must help the girl escape from her captors. It appears not everyone’s dead. The girl survived, as did the Empress, but the Kaiho have them trapped, sealed away. To break the seal, she guides you, the Aragami, to find the different relics that govern the seal, objects containing the memories of the young girl and of the war that happened between the Shadow and Light bearers.
I like the concept of the world, two major powers at war, each with opposite elemental abilities and claiming the other is evil. It becomes clear as you complete levels and learn more of the world that no one’s really nice here and good and evil are subjective—which is very strong point in favour of Aragami. Rarely do you see fantasy where things are this ambiguous. I can dig it!
What I can’t is how predictable the plot is. Maybe I’m growing too jaded, but I could tell where the story was going from chapter 1. I knew what the Aragami was before anyone even hinted at it. I knew who the little silver-haired girl was, and what the hell it was I was doing all over the place. The care that went into the lovely ambiguity of good versus evil in the overall setting didn’t go into making the plot a bit more interesting. It’s not a bad story, mind you, but it follows too many familiar beats for me.
Aragami is a stealth game with a bit of a twist. Instead of hiding in the shadows, waiting to figure out patrol patterns and sneak in through the gaps, you are a darkness demon, and you can leap from shadow to shadow. The downside is that you step into the light and your usefulness takes a nosedive. The brighter the light, the more useless you become, to the point that standing within the lighting radius of a bonfire strips you of all your abilities—basically, it drains your shadow-power meter.
Your shadow jumping abilities change the traditional dynamics of stealth games, making it less about exploiting big gaps in security or creating them and more about looking at the big picture, not the guard that’s walking in front of you, but the other three after him and the space between, so you know where to create an artificial shadow to step into, and where to step to next, which guard to stealth kill and where to set a trap for the rest of them.
It’s another form of strategy, a pretty fun one at that, and while you can still wait for openings or create them, the pacing is different. You don’t have to wait as long and throwing enemy forces into disarray can cause much more harm than good. Predictability is an asset in Aragami, and alarms throw that out the window and make the enemies instantly attack you with their lightsabers—they’re light-infused sword that shoot out beams, but lightsaber sounds cooler—and it only takes a single hit for you to die.
Killing is optional mind you and depending on your play style, you may want to avoid it entirely, especially if you’re going for the level-end bonuses. There’s one for not hurting even a tiny fly, one for going Jason Voorhees on their light-infused butts, and another for being a ghost, unseen.
There are flaws of course, such as how easily archers can pinpoint your location and how unfair their light-bombs are. At first you think they’re just making things light around you, but the intense light not only kills your powers, but also makes it so you have to run out in the open to be far enough away not to die when it pops.
Boss fights are incredibly annoying as they break the rules. The bosses you fight always know where you are. The second boss has a sniping line, literally, on your position and starts firing the moment you come into view. The first boss is even worse, as the guy beelines to where you are no matter what, even if he hasn’t seen you.
On the other hand, the boss AI is stupid as hell, and you can often use their incredible Aragami-detector skills against them, to force them to climb up and down the same stairs so you can air-assassinate their cheating buttocks!
If, like me, you enjoy exploring levels to find every hidden item you can find, Aragami has hidden scrolls strewn around the levels and collecting them not only fills the blanks in the world’s background but also grant you a skill point to the obligatory upgrades—call me a cynic, but it seems like every game needs them these days.
I would love to say all skills are useful or that most of them add tons of flavour to the game but the truth is that aside from a handful, most skills are worthless. It’s not that they don’t give you interesting abilities or cool effects, but their use causes more issues than it’s worth. For example, one creates a clone of yourself that distracts guards, but that breaks their patters and has a chance of sounding an alarm which is exactly what you don’t want happening.
By the end of Aragami, collecting a ton of scrolls, I had a big pool of skill points and no skill I even wanted to dump point into save for those that boost your core skills and the two useful kill-powers, the shuriken and the body-swallowing trap. Nothing else seemed good enough to waste points on.
I love the visual style, cel-shaded with deep shadows and very bright lights. It makes noticing things and planning your moves much easier. The Aragami’s cape has some clipping and fluttering issues, which is a shame considering it’s your HUD, showing you how much shadow power you have left before you need to jump into a shadow and recharge and how many uses of your skills before you need to restock. It looks really cool, but at times, it seems to have a mind of its own.
The overall level design sometimes feel a bit samey, but it’s wonderfully colourful, something I appreciate and one of the many reasons I simply love cel-shading.
Sound wise the music is really cool, particularly once the alarm sounds, which might tell you how many times I wasn’t as stealthy as I should have, but the more subdued melodies you hear while hidden are also pretty neat. Voice acting is hard to measure considering you only hear garbled noise as speech.
Aragami is a fun take on the stealth genre, much faster than what is common in this kind of game and in a pretty interesting setting. I would have loved for the plot to have more meat to it, and boss fights that really felt like stealth challenges and not AI ones.
4/5 – Exceptional