Aragami: Shadow Edition is here; the original game along with all the DLC and its new expansion, Nightfall. The game was received well generally when it was released in 2016 though I have to confess that I was not aware of it. It seemed to pass by the mainstream markets and became a game that its fans would rave about but seemingly be unable to transfer that enthusiasm to others. I was genuinely curious to understand why.
In the game you take on the role of Aragami, a vengeful shadow warrior, who is summoned by an astral projection of a young girl named Yamiko. She requests his assistance in rescuing her and removing the oppressive Kaiho; light warriors. The game’s story is intriguing and provides plenty of plot twists and turns along the way. As ever I will endeavour not to give much away in terms of the storyline but suffice it to say that the final boss battle is both surprising and brilliant.
On the face of it Aragami looks like your average ‘sneak and stab’ game where the key lies in remaining unseen as you pass through various obstacles. Though I have enjoyed this kind of game in the past, the stealth concept for me personally was perfected in the Metal Gear series. However, Aragami is an entirely different type of game than first impressions or reviews would lead you to believe.
Watch the Aragami: Shadow Edition release date trailer below:
The mechanics of the game focus around light and dark. Aragami has his energy drained by being in the light and has it restored by remaining in shadow. Thankfully, Imperial Japan provides plenty of sheltered areas for you to recharge. I really liked this element initially, even enjoying the visuals of the recharging process whereby the patterns on the back of Aragami’s clothing gradually fill up with light as he himself fills up on shadow. However as the game progressed and the settings became more and more restrictive it began to feel like I was trapped at the edges of each stage; rather than being able to act effectively and creatively, at times it felt a bit like being railroaded onto a particular path.
Getting around the maps is obviously an important part of any such game but Aragami has innovation in abundance in this area. Aside from the usual walking, running and crouching, you have the option to use shadow power to warp yourself to other areas of shadow using the trigger buttons. In areas where there is no shadow you can project one using your energy reserves and then warp into that. This really does allow you freedom to strategise and move undetected. There is little more satisfying in this game than utilising these powers to appear immediately behind an enemy and pull off the perfect stealth kill.
The kills themselves are easy to accomplish and use only one button. Once you are in position, press or hold one button (in the case of the PS4 version I was playing; square) and dispatch the enemy. This was actually a touch disappointing for me as I had hoped for more options and challenge in what is one of the key elements of the game. This was rectified in Nightfall but I will come to that soon. I should also say here that at all times during gameplay there is a small dot in the centre of the screen, this is your aim and will dictate where you either stab or warp to. This is a useful feature particularly in this kind of game. Having a static point which alters with your viewpoint rather than with an arbitrary camera angle means that it is possible to be both swift and accurate.
I have touched on the graphics of the game when discussing Aragami’s clothing but the overall look of the game is wonderful. It looks somewhere between anime and watercolour and really does enhance the experience of sneaking around. It makes you feel as though you are taking part in some great adventure brought to you through the mists of the past. By going for this style in place of something more realistic it actually makes the game feel more like an adventure, a story that you could have read with excitement when you were younger, rather than a hack and slash video game. That is not to say that the Aragami is without its adult quality; the effects during the kills are suitably graphic. As blood spills forth from your now slashed and impaled enemies the contrast of the bright red intrusion brings into stark focus how dark and almost monotone the surroundings are. Both to look at and to experience, I thought this game was one of the best examples of tailored visuals I have ever seen.
The same unfortunately cannot be said for the sound which I found lacking. I get that in a game based on stealth it would be wrong to have loud music pounding over your actions, but something a bit more reactive to situations would have been nice. I wanted to hear the music rise fully as I approached; I already felt like a ninja Jaws so a similar sense of musical foreboding would have helped the game retain and improve its engagement.
There are issues with the gameplay however, notably with the enemies. I know that it is not possible to have truly cognizant enemies on this scale in such a game, but I was really disappointed that they are so robotic. They move up and down a pre-set path without any thought or ability to actively seek you out. Even during missions where they are supposed to be looking for you they do not deviate from their set patterns. This means that it is incredibly easy to avoid them and to downgrade their alerts simply by remaining in shadow a step or two away from where they always stop. I had hoped for something a bit more challenging, something where the game made you consider your position more carefully and where you could genuinely revel in outsmarting the opponent. Instead this can become little more than a computerised game of Mousetrap; you know where the obstacles are, how they will move and can plot a clear path through them all. It becomes fairly monotonous.
Aragami is a really good game with plenty of replay value thanks to the points system, different objectives (kill everyone, kill no one and never trigger an alert) with a gripping storyline, fantastic graphics and innovative ways of playing. Though the AI is a disappointment it is certainly a valiant effort.
Now, onto Nightfall. Nightfall is the expansion that has just been released. It promises new developments, characters and storylines. Though the basic gameplay is the same you take on the role of two new characters with different skillsets, though the basic shadow powers remain unchanged.
One of the best new features in Nightfall is the immediate ability to dispose of your victims by summoning a shadow dragon to rise from the floor and devour the corpse. This makes it far easier to remain undetected from the improved AI and has a really impressive graphical quality.
On that note, the enemies are now more able to sense when something is amiss in their ranks. They will spot the dead from a greater distance and come to investigate, triggering an alarm which will in turn change the patterns in which they move. This is a feature straight out of the Metal Gear handbook and works extremely well, bringing an added dimension when it comes to dispatching them and completing your mission.
View some screenshots from Aragami: Nightfall in our gallery:
Nightfall also adds an element of cooperative one player play. This is not as anathema as it sounds. In Nightfall you are able to call on your colleague to assist with the kills when there are large groups of enemies, you are also able to utilise a greater variety of shadow weapons such as grenades and timed bombs to create distractions through the use of a really excellent weapon selection system which utilises the joystick in an intuitive and innovative way. They really have improved the game and worked out most of the issues in this update and it really could have elevated the game to new heights.
That is were it not for the fact that in doing this they have inadvertently added one of the most irritating choices I have ever experienced; snow. During the game you will find that there is what appears to be snow (it could be blossom but the point remains) which falls throughout the mission, this makes it nearly impossible to see at a glance where your aiming point is. This is not such an issue when you are working through a map where enemies are spaced out but when it comes to a group this becomes really irritating. It seems that in fixing 3 issues they have inadvertently added another, more problematic one, in.
Overall, Aragami: Shadow Edition is a great little game that innovates on the stealth genre and brings real quality. I loved the artistic style and the ways in which you can adapt and change your strategy and surroundings to suit the objectives. The original game had a few issues which were worked out in the main in Nightfall. Were it not for the repetitive AI in the first and the issues around sighting on the second I would have given this game a near perfect score. As it stands, and as a package, Aragami is a great addition to my gaming library and one which I will, I’m sure, spend many more hours enjoying, I just can’t love it and I guess that is the answer to my initial question. The game hasn’t become a phenomenon because there are just too many little things that detract from it.
It comes so close to being brilliant but just falls at the final hurdle.
Aragami: Shadow Edition was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Publisher/Developer: Lince Works Release Date: June 5th, 2018 Reviewed On: PS4 Also Available On: PC, Xbox One