If you were to amalgamate elements of games like Tenchu and Dishonoured, you wouldn’t have an idea too dissimilar to that of Aragami. Essentially a stealth assassin game with a fantastical concept, and a set of powers that help you along with your sneaking and murdering – neither of which are compulsory throughout most of the game.
We play as the titular Aragami. An undead warrior brought back by Yamiko, a young girl who wants to use him and his powers to release her from prison and take revenge on those responsible for her being there. Of course, Aragami is missing the memory of his own life (video game narrative 101 – amnesia) and so hopes to regain that along the way, and while not knowing exactly what will happen after his task is completed, hopes that he can find peace afterwards.
Initially we set out experiencing visions of what appear to be memories from Yamiko’s past. These are triggered mainly by objects Yamiko guides us towards, and are suspiciously heavily guarded, so it’s thought there must be some importance to them. With that goal in mind, we must sneak, stab and dash around the painterly levels to help our retained friend.
As already mentioned, the game holds a bearing to stealth classic Tenchu, as well as the more modern Dishonored. Basically that means it’s an amalgamation of shadowy stealthing, assassination and mystical powers.
In Aragami, shadows are your essential ally, and light an actively harmful enemy. By that I don’t mean exposure to light will kill you (unless that light is blasted at you from an enemy’s sword – that’s not even a joke, enemy weapons are all light based), but it will drain your power and obviously expose you to anyone in range. So keeping in shadows and behind cover is the best way to go about not dying. Unlike Dishonored, open violence is not a viable option and will almost certainly result in your death, so by ‘essential’ I really mean it.
Thankfully among Aragami’s list of powers, creating shadows is one of them. In order to use a power Aragami must have some energy to do so. It’s essentially a mana system, nothing we haven’t seen before, though it being displayed on our hero’s cape is much more interesting than the usual blue bar. Creating a shadow will use up some of this energy, though in a pinch it will allow you to hide from sight for a short time.
Creating shadows is also useful for setting up quick escapes and getting yourself closer to enemies to assassinate them. In rather Dishonored fashion, Aragami can teleport himself (basically a ‘blink’) a short distance. This, however, can only be performed into shadows and when you have enough mana – so, for example, an enemy is positioned in a light area, there’s no way of teleporting next to him or walking up without being seen, so you create a shadow behind him, teleport in and kill him. It sounds like it might be a bit of a cop-out of the challenge that comes with stealth, however it’s the quick thinking and management of energy that creates the challenge – especially when you consider these shadows you create will rapidly disappear.
Your teleport ability can also be used to get to higher areas which is great for scouting ahead or getting a good kill vantage point – dropping down on heads ala Assassin’s Creed. It’s a bit of a task to get used to initially, particularly when you factor in the limited range of the teleport, however when you get to grips with it, it’s essential for mastering the game.
There is no open combat, so to speak – violence is very much a sneak up and stab affair, and running towards enemies will almost certainly result in your death – however the range of other abilities offer a variety of options, both violent and non.
You have three areas that you can spec into. Defensive powers, aggressive powers, and more passive ones. Defensive powers entail things like invisibility, dissolving bodies so they don’t get discovered and creating a distracting hologram of yourself; aggressive powers offer throwing knives, a vortex trap that when activated sucks nearby foes into oblivion, and the power to temporarily blind enemies in front of you; and the more passive abilities enable you to scan the area for enemies, obtain additional mana and so on. Depending on your playstyle, you’ll use one of these areas of powers more than the other, but they are all viable options going forward. Using a power uses up one of three points for each one. You can refill these at shrines, but if you’re a bit heavy with the powers early on you might find you’ve run out when you really need them. There is, however, an ability where you can summon dark beasts to kill foes by holding down the attack button behind them which will give you back one point in whatever power you have selected – you have to be careful that other foes don’t hear you, though, as killing in this way produces noise.
In order to obtain these powers you need to find scrolls that are dotted throughout the levels (you’ll find them guarded in houses, behind bars, underneath passages, etc) – there’s no XP from killing enemies, and while there is a points and ratings system this is more for personal use (beating your high score on each level, playing them in different ways and so on). It adds a bit more to the levelling process as you have to explore in order to get them, and it’s entirely likely that if you don’t pay much attention to looking for them, that by the end of the game you won’t have all the skills and upgrades. I’m not quite sure what to think about this, as on the one hand the game isn’t making things too easy for you, which is a positive trait for a stealth game, but on the other, as a result it takes a while for the game to really get off its feet. When you’re over half way through the game and you unlock a skill and think “this would have been useful a few levels ago”. It really does depend on what you spec into first, which I suppose encourages repeat playthroughs, though it would have been nice to maybe have the base version of each power available from early on, so you can fully enjoy them.
Having said that, the game allows you to take on the levels in a number of ways, so perhaps you will find yourself upgrading only into the skills you will use anyway. For example, you can go through levels killing everyone, or attempt to ghost them and remain passive. It’s a really nice feature, and one that I think is important for most stealth games. Giving the player the choice of whether they want to murder their way through levels, or go completely unseen and undetected. This isn’t the case for every level however, as bosses will need to be dealt with in the manner the game dictates (more on this in a bit), but there’s much more depth to Aragami for recognising these different playstyles, and as the game opened up, my initial ambivalence for it turned to enthusiasm.
Which brings me on to the actual stealth and gameplay. As I already mentioned, it takes a little bit for the game to get going. And, in fact, the opening few levels of Aragami I didn’t enjoy that much at all. It’s a very slow paced game and a little clunky as well. It’s not a good sign when you’re sneaking towards an enemy to go in for the kill, but he’s walking at roughly the same pace as you so it takes a good few seconds to catch up – or when you get stuck on a step and the enemy you were stalking turns around and sees you. Aragami can run, however it’s mostly best not to as this creates noise, which leaves your only option of moving faster than a snail’s pace as your teleport ability, which as mentioned uses up mana and has small range of use. Combine this with occasionally getting stuck on pieces of the environment, some really bad frame rate issues, and truly unforgiving enemy strength (one hit and you die) and there can be some really frustrating moments.
Mostly, however, if you can get past these frustrations, the stealth and action that Aragami offers is very enjoyable and does some credit to the games that inspired it. The level design offers multiple ways of approaching objectives and avoiding/taking out enemies. Whether that’s multiple paths, hidden areas, high ground, low ground, underground, there’s a good amount you can do to adapt to what the levels throw at you. In combination with the various skills you unlock this allows for some creative stealthing. I quite liked to combine the two abilities of trap and distraction, so I throw down a trap, then produce a hologram above it luring enemies closer, then set off the trap and watch a whole group get taken out in one go. The objectives the game offers are also reasonably apt and enjoyable (if in a simplistic way) – infiltrate this building, reach this object, disable this barrier and so on.
The only way the game really lets itself down with regards to this is with its boss encounters. Basically this is where everything positive about the game folds to restrictive and frankly silly design. I can get past not being allowed to ghost the boss encounters – after all, Aragami is out for revenge, so it kind of defeats the point to let them live – but the levels become much smaller, with fewer ways of approaching your target, and for some utterly bizarre reason, bosses always know where you are….yeah, in a stealth game, your enemy is perpetually looking at you if not walking towards you. I don’t know why the developers thought this would be anything but annoying. This means you need to be constantly on the move and all semblance of subtlety is thrown out of the window. They contradict what makes the rest of the game a worthwhile stealth experience.
The bosses, poor frame rate and clunky elements of gameplay aren’t small black marks, and they reduce Aragami below what it could have been. However, I was happy with how the game handled its stealth generally speaking. Mixing a range of interesting powers, and making the player rely on shadows for safety created an interesting and, at times, quite challenging experience. More could have been done to hone it, but it’s not bad. And the pleasing visuals, music and interesting story certainly don’t hurt. It doesn’t match up to its inspirations, but there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had with the game, and I’m sure if you’re looking for a third person stealth title to get stuck into straight away Aragami could provide some good time, especially for the reasonable price tag. The game is currently available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Like our review? Want to play the game for yourself? Well you are in luck, we have a competition live right now to win a copy of Aragami for the PS4.
+ Powers result in creative stealth and action
+ Pleasing art and soundtrack
- Frame rate issues
- Some clunky design, and slow pacing