Aragami Shadow Edition PC Review
Aragami is a 3D stealth action game and the name of its protagonist – a kind of demon ninja who is summoned by Yamiko, a prisoner of the Light army. Using his dark powers to teleport through shadows and even create them when needed, he must search for artifacts to break Yamiko’s seal and free her people all before the sun rises and he’s banished from whence he came. Really, it can only be compared to the likes of Tenchu or Mark of the Ninja, but it’s still considerably removed from those titles, too. Whilst it does share many elements with Mark of the Ninja, which is widely considered one of (if not the best) stealth game out there, Aragami challenges the player with large, open expanses littered with guards and archers in the way only a 3D game can, as well as having the much more claustrophobic trials that Mark of the Ninja represents so well. On the other hand, it blows Tenchu out of the water simply by being newer – the shadow mechanics alone are something that would have been difficult to accomplish back in the early 2000s, when Tenchu games were good.
Even something that might seem tame but is actually a serious necessity in a stealth game, like the draw distance, is way beyond what Tenchu had, and the agility of the teleportation removes the need for platforming – there isn’t even a jump button, trimming the fat and instead focussing entirely on the stealth, the way it should be. Couple this modernised maneuverability with the multitude of skills that can be unlocked by finding scrolls throughout the levels, such as the kunai; for hitting long-distance targets, or the passive ability to permanently mark targets, and it’s clear to see that Aragami is a labour of love. The developers clearly have a deep understanding of what makes this genre fun – the speed and action necessary, but also the patience required and the need to be acutely aware of one’s surroundings. The player is given, not just a bunch of tools, but also a lot of secretive pathways and advantageous platforms to really tackle Aragami however they see best, whether it be with risky violence, graceful speed, or even taking it slow with a watchful patience.
It’s not too ludicrous to say that Aragami is actually a bit of a puzzle game when it comes to working out which order the surrounding targets should be eliminated. After taking some sort of high ground and assessing the area, it’s often the best course of action to try and take out the archers fist as their huge view distance often caught me unawares, especially with multiple archers covering the same area, making it hard to time even just a quick kill or two without at least drawing some attention, even if it’s not a full alert. Normal guards make things difficult by moving around a lot more – many times in groups or by bonfires whose light makes it easy to be seen and drains Aragami’s energy, stopping the player from quickly teleporting away. Instead, they should be lured away into the shadows that empower Aragami and refill his meter, which is minimalistically shown on his hooded cape, as well as which ability is currently equipped and the number of uses it has left. As the game progresses there are more curve balls thrown in – orbs that must be destroyed to lower light fields that can’t be passed and even a couple of actual bosses, which I never expected.
Mostly, though, the game is laid out for the player pretty early and the only real change between each new level is the deeper and more interesting scenarios. However, I never felt like I was repeating myself or going through the motions when starting a new area, even with the same two enemy types over and over. Rather, each map posed new threats and more scrolls to find which, in turn, provided me with more powers to try and master. It wasn’t until I went back to play some of the earlier stages on hard mode that I realised how much I had improved at the game. Of course, exploring and knowing the map layout is a huge help but I found myself effortlessly manipulating guards and acknowledging high-priority targets. In fact, without playing the original game first I don’t think I would have been able to realistically tackle the Nightfall maps, even though the first mission has a built in tutorial, most likely to refresh returning players. The entire core game is but a warm-up exercise for the complex and significantly larger environments the DLC chapters threaten.
Nightfall starts the player off with a more limited set of abilities and everything is already unlocked from the start, such as twin shadow, that has allows the player to instantly teleport to the their teammate in multiplayer mode, or calls in the alternate character to take down an enemy in single player, allowing for double takedowns of guards that might be watching each others’ backs. And not only does its larger and more intricate level design significantly increase the difficulty, but there are also stimulating new types of levels; with one of them having a time-limit and another requiring the player to closely follow an unsuspecting victim through a set of light gates. There are even new traps in the form of floating lights that guards can control to protect themselves or check out mysterious sounds and sights without moving too far out of position.
The downside, however, is that by adding more factors, the inconsistency of the original game is greatly exacerbated and ‘inconsistency’ is the key problem of Aragami as a whole. It often feels like whether a guard is simply disturbed or just outright detects the player is completely down to luck, especially when it comes to the archers. If an archer is aroused it’s common for them to fire a burning arrow at whatever has caught their attention. If this light causes the player or a corpse to be seen then the whole area is alerted. That’s fair enough, but it was too often the case that even when I had flitted across the entire map before the archer took his shot the whole area was still alerted to my presence. Even the shadows can feel inconsistent as there seems to be some lighter shadows that can’t be used to recover energy. These are hard to differentiate at a distance and I fail to see the need for this confusion honestly.
Don’t get me wrong though – Aragami is a great game and one I highly recommend, but I know from experience how aggravating it can be to try and quickly teleport to some high ground only the have the target shimmy around not really knowing what I’m trying to leap at. A problem that is highlighted greatly in one of the Steam Workshop levels I tried that was all about hiding in bushes, which can seriously mess with the teleporting aim due to their oddly shaped hitboxes. There were a couple of pretty neat Workshop levels though, although sadly none that match the great design of the actual game. And it is greatly designed – yes, it has its flaws, but it’s built around a fantastic and incredibly fun core that is unlike anything else out there and I hope to see more DLC, or even a sequel, in the future. It hooked me pretty badly – I just couldn’t get enough. I loved waiting for my moment to strike, then pulling off the perfect execution of teleports and takedowns, only to fade back into the shadows before anybody saw, or even fixing a mistake swiftly by taking out any alerted guards with precise ferocity.
It’s funny actually – I was trying to think of what the soundtrack is like for the review but I can’t hum or even recall a single piece what with being so into the game, so focussed on the task at hand when playing. Whether it was keeping track of the order in which I should be taking down enemies for the ‘All threats killed’ mark at the end of the level or trying to quickly forge a path through the shadows, darting straight to the objective for the ‘No threats killed’ stamp in a second playthrough. Still, it wasn’t enough, so I’ll no doubt be finishing off the later chapters that I’ve yet to beat in hard mode as I wait to hear about where Aragami will go next. Even though the main game wraps up the story nicely, albeit with a fairly predictable ending, now that we’ve seen it’s possible to both add depth to the characters and their lore, and push the gameplay to the next level with the Nightfalls DLC, we want more.