Aragami, a passion project from Lince Works, is a real stealth experience that won’t baby you. It rewards players for careful, intelligent thinking and flawless execution of its unique mechanics, and that’s what makes it so likable.
Mysterious beginnINGS & dangerous enemies
You’re awakened in a cemetery by a mysterious white-robed woman named Yamiko. According to her, you’re an Aragami – a spirit summoned once again to life through an ancient, powerful ritual – and she needs your help. You’re given the usual bad people are doing bad things speech, and then you’re thrust forward into the action.
Early on, it feels just like any other damsel-in-distress tale. By the end of the first few chapters, bit and pieces do start to come together, and it does eventually stray from this path. For the most part, the story of Aragami is thoughtful and engaging, and it unwinds at a pleasant pace. There should be enough enjoyable twists and turns to hold your interest, but it is a touch too predictable. And, for better or worse, it’s mostly overshadowed by the other aspects of the game.
Your quest takes place over the span of a single night and will see you through 13 diverse chapters, all of which are a dream to play through due in large part to the pretty cel-shaded visuals and environments reminiscent of feudal Japan. The world feels alive and vibrant, and it’s worth setting aside a moment to relax on a high perch and take it all in, despite your precarious situation.
When you descend back into reality, you’ll remember that there are enemies out there – dangerous warriors of light known as the Kaiho – who will stop at nothing to prevent you from reaching Yamiko. Enemy variety is somewhat limited, but later in the game you’ll encounter tense boss fights that force you to make use of every skill at your disposal. Each mission requires a similar level of focus, as levels in Aragami aren’t linear and there’s truly more than one path to the finish. Additionally, enemy AI is reasonably intelligent, and placement and pathing feel just right – difficult at times, but never impossibly so. Thorough exploration of each level is also rewarded – it’s up to you to locate skill books that will unlock your powerful shadow abilities.
Perfectionists will appreciate the end-of-chapter scoresheet that slaps you with a number and letter score based on your performance, plus relevant stats like how many collectables you found and how many times you were detected. It’s a welcome addition that extends the replayability of the game, especially for players who enjoy score chasing. You also have the chance to acquire seals, special achievements awarded for accomplishing difficult tasks, like completing a level without killing a single enemy.
SHADOWS ARE LOVE, SHADOWS ARE LIFE
I need to get something off my chest: I’m not particularly good at stealth games. It’s not that I don’t have the coordination or skill, but rather it’s a complete and utter lack of patience that plagues me. In Aragami, players without patience don’t last long, and I learned that lesson quickly.
If you’re spotted, you have a split second to act before you’re slashed down with a blazing sword (or arrow) of light. It’s actually quite terrifying, and one-hit death forces you to exercise extreme caution as you approach each situation. But, being an undead assassin, you’re armed with unique abilities that let you use and shape shadows to your will. These shadow mechanics are the defining factor of Aragami. They lay the foundation for combinations that feel masterful to execute and allow for myriad ways to achieve a goal. Leaping into a shadow right behind an enemy and immediately scoring a sweet stealth kill is supremely satisfying, and it’s available right from the start. As you venture through the game you’ll unlock additional shadow abilities that are equally enjoyable to use. The feeling you get watching your vortex of shadows swallow an enemy whole for the first time…words just don’t do it justice.
You won’t only use your abilities to kill, though. Missions frequently required me to be quick-thinking with my ability use and to plan my shadow leaps ahead of time. Once you get the hang of it, there’s so much freedom of movement that it’s hard not to smile as you make your way through each level, especially since everything generally feels fluid. I did experience occasional frame rate drops and minor lag time transitioning into and out of cutscenes, but it never impacted the gameplay in a meaningful way.
It may sound like you’re nearly invincible, but being a creature of the shadows does have a drawback – sources of bright light almost immediately drain your power, rendering your abilities useless. This is compounded by two restrictions on your more powerful abilities: they’re limited in use and must be recharged via shrines located across the map. I appreciated this limitation, as it encourages you to think twice before throwing your last kunai.
Maybe you don’t even bother unlocking the kunai ability because it’s not your style. That’s okay, too. Varied skill trees allow you to build a shadowy killer specific to what you enjoy. While you’re certainly free to spec into purely defensive abilities like the rather handy temporary invisibility, you’re not locked into a purely avoidance role. If leaving enemies alive makes you feel antsy, you can become an offensive powerhouse who shows no mercy.
For fans of multiplayer, there’s also an online co-op mode that lets you play through the entire campaign with a friend. Don’t worry if that friend isn’t playing on the same system as you – there’s crossplay between PS4 and PC. I personally didn’t experience this aspect of the game, however, and it’s not factored into this review. But come on, two vengeful spirits are better than one, right?
Aragami is a beautifully-crafted stealth experience that introduces a genuinely fun way to traverse levels and fight – or avoid – your enemies. Non-linear level design and varied character abilities create a sizable amount of player choice and lend great replayability to the game. You will encounter plenty of challenging situations over the course of your 8 to 12 hour adventure, but it always feels like you’re in control of your fate. Plus, there are plenty of hidden goodies to collect and milestones to achieve for the completionist gamer. Aragami is absolutely worth a buy, even for those who don’t think they like stealth games, but you have to understand that all-out melee isn’t an option. This game rewards patience and cunning, and it feels oh so good when you come out on top.