Aragami is an upcoming third person stealth game that casts you as an undead assassin with the power to control the shadows. Its features, its gameplay and its mechanics, grouped with its strong reception on other platforms, promises a solid experience. We fired a few questions over to Lince Works, with David Leon – Studio Director, taking some time out to respond to each.
Xt: For our readers, can you sum-up what Aragami: Shadow Edition is all about?
DL: Aragami is a stealth game in which you play as an undead assassin with the power to control the shadows! The base game came out in 2016, and since then we’ve received plenty of requests to bring Aragami to Xbox One. Porting the game as it is wouldn’t cut it for us, so we went the extra mile and spent the last year working on a full story expansion, Aragami: Nightfall, which will be included in the Shadow Edition.
Xt: Not only does Aragami: Shadow Edition include the base game and previously released DLC, but it includes the nightfall expansion. Can you tell us more about that?
DL: Aragami Nightfall is a prequel story that fills in some key story points that quite a few players were asking us about after they finished the original game. You can choose between 2 new playable characters, Shadow Assassins Hyo and Shinobu as they go after the mysterious ‘Alchemist’ in one last mission to bring back a long-lost companion.
Both new characters have the same Shadow Techniques they but differ from those that you get in the base game. These powers are made available right from start, so you can get stuck in right away, but because of this, the difficulty is a ramped up a bit more through level design. The expansion is built more around players who played the base game but now want a bit of a different take on the Aragami formula.
Xt: Aragami received one hell of a positive user reception on other platforms. What was your team’s biggest takeaway from that?
DL: Honestly, it surprised us. We were a really young team with no previous experience releasing commercial games, and after spending 3 years of your life working on a videogame, you can no longer be objective about ‘what is fun’ and what’s not fun regarding your game. So, when we released the game we just hoped for it to do well enough to survive as a studio for a while. The biggest surprise came when the game stayed at the Top Sellers on Steam for a week or two, making the game a financial success for us.
Although we know it’s not a perfect game, and we know our limitations, we truly believe we achieved what we wanted, and that is to create a really good and different stealth game. Different in the sense that Aragami is a stealth game for people who get bored at stealth games! When in other games you must wait for an enemy patrol to turn around, in Aragami you can teleport through the environment to flank the guy and get him. There’s no waiting, it’s a more fast paced and tactical take on stealth gameplay, and players have told us that they really like it.
Xt: Aragami’s most alluring aspect – for me at least – is how unique the experience appears to be. In recent memory, at least, it doesn’t look like anything I’ve played before. How did the overall concept come together?
DL: Oh man. Where to even start? The game’s initial birth and purpose was actually as a student project for a Master’s Degree me and the studio co-founders submitted just to get our degrees. But we felt that maybe we had something worth build a full game out of so we did.
The very basic concept for Aragami was inspired by our love of old school stealth games from back in the day. Tecnhu, Thief, the first Metal Gear Solid etc. Those games did stealth in a way that we feel has been sadly missing in the last few years. In many modern stealth games, you are often so overpowered that there is little consequence of you being spotted and attacked. You can just kill your away out of the situation as if you were playing an FPS game. We wanted to bring back the tension of being spotted, the consequence of fighting head-on and the suspense of needing to plan and outsmart your enemies. It’s from that core idea that we then built up our gameplay and mechanics.
And then finally visually, we knew we needed a style that was eye-catching but also within our means as a team. There was no way we’d be able to go the route of photo-realism, so we settled on a colourful yet stylistic cel shaded look that is all hand drawn and coloured. We looked quite a lot at games like Journey, Okami and even Sly Cooper when our style was a bit more “cartoony”. Eventually though the art design was iterated to the point that we went away from the cartoonish look (think Zelda Windwaker) to something more realistic but still stylized, so something closer to say Overwatch or even Breath of the Wild.
Xt: It’s important for any stealth-focused game to house multiple pathways to any given objective. Does Aragami support that?
DL: Absolutely. Over and above many of the levels being designed to have multiple approach options, we also designed the game around 2 different playstyles that often come up in stealth games, something we ended up calling Demons and Ghosts. Demons are the types of players who go in and slay every enemy before proceeding, while the Ghosts prefer to stay invisible, beating the level without being detected. Since both are valid, we wanted to encourage both playstyles in our level and gameplay design.
So, for example there are multiple shadow techniques designed around killing, but equal amount of counter abilities for sneaking, stealth and remaining undetected. Whichever playstyle and abilities you choose, you will not be punished by the game for your choice. You can even mix and switch between the two on the go with no consequence.
Regarding scenario traversal, the Shadow Leap ability (a sort of teleport mechanic) opens up the level for the player, letting you climb anything or move between covers instantly, so there’s always different pathways available to you.
Xt: What tools will players be able to utilise throughout the adventure?
DL: So, the main powers you unlock are called Shadow Techniques. In Aragami you have 6 in total, plus a quite big skill tree that adds additional abilities to your character. The Nightfall expansion adds 3 more Shadow Techniques. To keep our design philosophy of thinking about different play styles, you’ve got Shadow Techniques focused on stealth, like the Sakkaku, which creates a Shadow Decoy that explodes blinding enemies, or the Kage, which turns the player invisible for a few seconds.
Then you’ve got a whole set of powers for more aggressive players, like the Shinen, a remotely triggered black hole trap, or the Kunai, a ranged thrown weapon to bring down troublesome enemies like archers. The player has only a few usages of each power through a scenario, so you really need to think when to spend them.
Xt: The entire game can be played in online co-op with cross-play support. Does this apply to the Xbox One as well?
DL: Yeah, we’ve been able to get cross-platform co-op working between Xbox One and all PC versions, so you can play with your friends on PC, Mac, Linux, playing from Steam, GOG… you name it. The co-op process is painless, just create a public multiplayer game and ask your friend to join a public game. That’s all, you are now playing together, no account-linking shenanigans. On Xbox One, you’ve got voice chat and every other Xbox Live feature you are used to.
Xt: How does co-op play alter the experience in comparison to solo-play?
DL: It depends on you and your partner’s play style, but the thing is that the co-op mode is not a separate mode, it’s not just a few co-op levels, it’s the full game. That means the full story can be experienced with a friend from start to end, and radically changes the experience. Each player can focus on a set of abilities, so we’ve seen people that play as a stealthy duo, ghosting the level, or with both of them methodically eliminating every guard in the level, covering their tracks. It’s really interesting to watch the dynamics that come out organically from cooperative play.
Xt: In regards to the difficulty of the game. How tough would you say that it is?
DL: It’s not a game to be played by rushing it, you really need to pace yourself, and think about your plan of action before executing it. The game features 3 difficulty levels, but with no way to overpower your enemies in combat, even on Easy you’ll find yourself dying quite quickly if you are not paying attention to your surroundings and being stealthy.
Although Aragami: Nightfall is a separate story that you can dive right into, we suggest that you should give the base game a go first. Although there is a tutorial showing you the basics and how the new powers work, it will put you straight into the action from the get go. So, any new players joining us, give Aragami a shot first – get to know the game, the powers, and your capabilities first, and then give Aragami: Nightfall a go. You will then be prepared for the challenges that lay ahead.
Xt: Taking the base game and previously released DLC into account, how much longevity does Aragami: Shadow Edition offer?
DL: It really depends on your play style, but the base game usually takes around 8 to 10 hours to beat, without taking into account different difficulty levels and collectibles. You can also choose to replay missions to get the completionist achievements like ghost (never being detected), oni (kill everyone), or pacifist (kill no one). And then the co-op adds a whole extra side to the game.
Xt: Aragami has not only been very well received but has sold considerably well too. Do you plan to continue to build upon this universe with more post-launch support, possibly a sequel somewhere down the road?
DL: We’ve definitely now got a lot of freedom to explore and tinker around with different ideas or try build on our existing universe. Nothing is set in stone yet, so we’re just looking at it all as it comes. The success of the game came as quite a surprise to us as well so even much of the support and post-launch content we’re creating now is just us adapting to what we can all of sudden do.
Xt: Thank you for all of your time, do you have any closing words to share?
DL: To anyone who decides to support us or even just takes the time to look at our game, thank you so much! We’ve been wanting to Xbox for quite a while now so we hope to see a few you in our world when the game comes out in the next few days.
David, it’s been a pleasure. Readers, if, like me, you enjoy a good looking stealth-action experience, Aragami: Shadow Edition should certainly be on your radar. Standby for our review in due course.