Games that largely consist of stealth gameplay can be damn near perfect if the formula is brewed correctly. It takes a particular level of skill to not only succeed through the use of stealth, but to enjoy it at the same time too. Aragami initially released some two years ago on other platforms, but has now come back bigger, more refined and better than ever via Aragami: Shadow Edition. Shadow Edition offers the base game and its sizable Nightfall expansion in one neat and affordable package. The question is, is it worth your time?
Aragami throws players into the role of an undead assassin that has the power to utilize and control the shadows; a fitting tool considering its genre. The game takes place in feudal Japan and tells the story of the desolation of an ancient clan, one that was wiped out and other-thrown by their light-wielding rival counterparts. Summoned by the mysterious Yamiko in an attempt to enlist you to free her from her captors, it now falls to you, Aragami, to step on up and fight back against the Kaiho, one prowling deadly shadow-kill at a time.
The kicker here is that you only have until daybreak to do it, seeing as though Aragami will dissolve if the sunlight touches him. It’s an interesting plot that finds itself sat within a very intriguing time. The game does an excellent job at teaching you the basics of play, one mechanic after the other. I was pleasantly surprised by how freely the game allows you to play. You cant really go in all guns blazing, as such, due to its insta-death but you’re free to take whichever route you like alongside utilizing your growing use of powers and traits.
Each level in Aragami is more than open enough to take this approach, with a wide variation of enemies to suss out and take down. When you’re out in the open you’re at your most vulnerable, which is why the shadows play such an important role. You see, when you’re hiding in the shadows, you’re free from detection and the enemy will pay very little attention to your presence. That’s not to say that you can draw some attention and then jump into the nearest shadow, because the game is far too intelligent for cheap play.
Enemies will patrol a wide portion of each map and if you allow them to be alerted to your presence, they’ll break formation and start hunting you down. This increases their awareness dramatically and if you meet their line of sight, you’re more than likely going to meet their pinpoint combat accuracy too. One hit. That’s all it takes to wipe and restart at a checkpoint. It makes the game feel that much more tense and as a result, you truly feel rewarded for each and every level that you manage to skillfully, or carefully, overcome.
The trick, however, isn’t so much about killing and hiding, but breaking down the routes of each patrol or stealing the attention of a static guard. Most encounters can be exploited with some trial and error or common sense. This typically amounts to studying your opponents and seeking out a break in their movement or behavioral patterns, ever so carefully weighing up your choices and calculating when and where you need to execute them. That being said, Aragami doesn’t require total restraint, on the contrary, in fact.
You can indeed go in and “make some noise” if that’s how you like to play, but it’s clear that Aragami is more focused on the quieter, more sneakier approach. Want to charge in head-first and swiftly take out two or three guards in rapid succession? You can do that, but you’ll run the risk of alerting nearby stations as a result. The opposition isn’t stupid. They’ll be on the lookout constantly and will be made to be very curious if they see, hear or witness something that doesn’t add up. It’s truly tense throughout and never loses its footing.
Aragami’s level design helps to uphold this even more, with each level crafted in such a way that it bolsters the theme of the game magnificently well. Shadows are not just there to aid you in hiding, but can be used as a tool too. There’s a nice band of abilities that Aragami can work towards and unlock, such as being able to create your own shadows at will. These powers only climb in complexity and capability as you move through the gaming. Each new addition that you add to your range of abilities doesn’t make the game any easier, though.
That was one of my favorite aspects of the game. The difficulty is quite dynamic, meaning that even when you’re at your most deadly, the game can kick your ass if you get too cocky. To begin with, you’re a shadow-teleporting ninja of the night that can bounce from A to B at the drop of a hat. Before long, you’ll start obtaining new and more lethal powers that you would think will make you a force to be reckoned with. Think again. Aragami doesn’t allow you to overpower its well developed AI just because you can shadow-kill like a boss.
Even at your most deadly, you’ll still need to play the game carefully and judge when and how you should utilize your growing list of powers. Powers can be unlocked and upgraded via points that are obtained through seeking out scrolls on each level. Scrolls, for the most part, are very tricky to locate due to how well they’ve been tucked away. Though, I would certainly advise that you try and seek them out from the get-go nevertheless. Aragami plays at its absolute best when you’re playing with all of those aforementioned handy powers.
Gameplay typically consists of moving from your starting point to the end point of each level, shifting from shadow to shadow and murdering guards along the way. There’s no pre-determined path, so to speak, so you’re free to go at each level at your own pace and preference. There’s no shortage of structures throughout, many of which can be cleared of guards and used as a handy building to suss out where to go next. The game also has a tendency of throwing new and interesting hurdles at you at decent pace from start to end.
This, by and large, is part of the game’s allure. Levels will offer larger maps, enemies will become much more capable and will often grow in numbers. It’s also worth noting that you cant simply spam your attacks or capabilities at will. Aragami’s powers will deplete whenever he’s close to a source of light, which will see you go from being a deadly ninja to a deer in the headlights if you’re not too careful. Stepping back into the darkness will negate this by restoring your meter, made apparent by the cool effects seen on Aragami’s cloak.
Some interesting boss encounters adds some padding to the mix, but in all honesty, the meat of the matter sits with everything outlined above. One notable inclusion is that of its co-op implementation. The entire game, plus the Nightfall expansion (more on that in a moment), can be enjoyed through two-player online co-op. It doesn’t make the game any easier, mind, but it’s certainly a heap of fun and throws in another layer of tactical play. Now, I cant really go into too much about the Nightfall expansion without spoiling the story.
What I will say, on the other hand, is that it does a brilliant job at putting more meat on the bones of the core game. This expansion takes place before the events of Aragami and centers around two new characters; Hyo and Shinobu. Nightfall is arguably a bit tougher than Aragami, simply due to its faster pace and its emphasis on action. Alongside the fresh narrative, the inclusion of new shadow abilities rounds this expansion off nicely. Safe to say, those coming into the world of Aragami for the first time, have a lot to look forward to.
Sadly, I cant say that my time with the game has been perfect. There’s been the occasional bug, such as being sighted for no good reason or being stuck in a rock, on top of some minor annoyances with the movement at times. Do note, that if you witness screen tearing in Aragami, there’s an option in the menu that toggles v-sync, which should help – if not totally remedy – that issue. With these issues to the side, Aragami is a wonderful stealth game that’s diverse, looks great, sounds amazing, plays well and comes with heaps of content.
Aragami: Shadow Edition builds upon the initial release with its inclusion of the Nightfall expansion. There’s no shortage of content to enjoy, all of which is served up as a wonderful open-stealth adventure that supports online co-op play. The game’s visuals are gorgeous and well detailed and its mechanics remain fluid and well rounded throughout. Despite some minor issues, this is one hell of a good game.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.