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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Lince Works
Release Date: Oct. 4, 2016


PS4 Review - 'Aragami'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 1, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Aragami is a 3D stealth game in which you control a warrior with the power of Shadow Control.

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Stealth games come in many shapes and sizes, but they all share mechanics and concepts, regardless of whether you're a legendary super soldier or a scared child. Aragami wears its influences on its sleeve, borrowing inspiration from stealth games ranging from Dishonored to Tenchu: Shadow Assassins. The result is a title that feels very familiar, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Aragami is very fun, but it doesn't break the mold in any way.

Aragami follows the story of the titular character, a mysterious being of shadow who is summoned by Princess Yamiko. Her lands have been taken by the cruel Kaiho, the Clan of Light. Her only hope for rescue and revenge lies in the Aragami, but he's plagued by memories of another time — something that shouldn't happen to a being without a past. Aragami must find his way to the prison where Yamiko is being held while piecing together his destiny. Along the way, the forces of the Kaiho will stop at nothing to prevent him from reaching his goal.

The story is pretty forgettable but is generally there to provide context for your stab-ventures. The characters are paper-thin, and the setting is too generic to stand out. It does its job well enough, but stories of tragedy and revenge are a dime a dozen in this genre. There's a late-game twist that is fun but predictable, so it doesn't change things, and it relies too much on the player caring about the weak characters.

At its heart, Aragami is a stealth game built upon the genre foundations. Aragami himself is not very agile. He has all of the traditional ninja tricks, including a deadly sword, throwing kunai, a raven who scouts ahead for him, dangerous decoys, and other tricks of the trade. They're all rather standard, and stealth games fans and newcomers should be able to pick them up right away. There's a leveling system where you unlock new abilities as you progress. You're no combat monster, and most enemies can kill you with a single blow from almost any distance.

Your most important power — and the game's most distinctive mechanic — is Aragami's ability to manipulate shadows. He can't jump, and he isn't a super-speedy ninja who clambers buildings with ease. Instead, he relies on shadows for protection and movement. As long as there's a shadow nearby, he can instantly teleport to that shadow. The range isn't that long, but it can be used to climb vertical surfaces to reach new vantage points. Early on in the game, you unlock the power to "stretch" shadows to temporarily create patches of shadow where none had existed before.

A major factor in success in Aragami is the use of light and shadow. He's a being of shadow, so he thrives in darkness and weakens in light. This is effectively how your powers are governed. As long as you are in the shadows, you recharge your powers in a few seconds, but any source of light destroys the safety the shadows provide and actually ends up draining your energy to prevent you from teleporting or manipulating shadows. You're safe if you leap from shadow to shadow, but if you get lazy or careless, you can wind up out in the open. This isn't as punishing as it sounds, since there are almost always shadows to retreat to, and crouching to hide in the shadows is an important technique for any sneaky assassin.

While thepower usage is cool, it suffers from some awkward controls. In particular, it's tough to not compare Aragami's teleportation ability to the identical ability in Dishonored and see how much more awkward and fidgety this cursor is. What should be a simple press-and-click sometimes involves fidgeting around to get the cursor to detect the shadows. This is especially true when using the ability to stretch shadows, which is also an awkward and uncomfortable mechanic. Combining the two never feels particularly natural, especially when the game almost demands it.

Aragami is a stealth title from start to finish, and that means a fair bit of trial and error. Your powers are exceptionally strong and can be easily abused, but a single misstep can lead you back to a previous checkpoint. This could be fun or frustrating, depending on your preferences. This is basically Dishonored or Metal Gear, but being discovered means fighting your way out is a valid option. If you're caught, you need to get out of the area in a few seconds or get killed and sent back to your last checkpoint. This may be the thing that makes or breaks the game. Checkpoints are relatively few and far between, and death comes so quickly that it can be annoying rather than fun.

Nowhere is this proven more than with the boss battles, which are absolutely the worst part of the game. The bosses are aware of you, so true stealth is never an option. Instead, you have to focus on getting through as quickly as possible, and the bosses are not designed well enough to make this fun. They suffer from unclear mechanics, awkward hit boxes, and in at least one case, a boss killed me through a wall. The rest of the game is pretty fun, but the boss fights are a huge misstep that really drag down the rest of the experience.

Another big problem with Aragami is the guard AI, which is not very good. It's the bare minimum for a stealth game. They pay attention to obvious noises and notice bodies, and they'll spot you if you're in their view cone. Beyond that, they stick to specific routes, have a tough time noticing you, and are dull and unobservant. This isn't a game-breaker, but it means it will seem pretty unimpressive compared to its brethren with bigger budgets. It works well enough for the game's purposes, but it's pretty disappointing when you discover how easy it is to exploit.

Fortunately, despite these flaws, the game is still a lot of fun to play. There's a solid puzzle atmosphere and some flexibility. As with many stealth games, you can finish most levels without hurting a single person or clear the place out. The game supports both sets of mechanics and will give you a bonus at the end of a level if you finish it without a single kill or by killing every enemy in your way. You're also graded on how well you do. Stealth kills and successfully avoiding detection raise your score, while getting caught, leaving bodies around, or raising alarms will hurt it. You're graded on your score at the end of the stage, which offers a little extra replay value.

Aragami also supports a cooperative online mode, where two Aragamis can team up to take on stages together. Both players work together and share the same power set, so it effectively lets you kill folks with a friend. It's a neat concept, but unfortunately, as of this writing, it's already difficult to find anyone to play with, and that will only get worse as time goes on. If you can get a friend to play with you, it's a nice selling point, but I wouldn't expect to pick up Aragami for its multiplayer. It's a nice bonus at best.

Aragami has a charming animated art style that naturally makes strong use of light and darkness to emphasize itself. The character models are simple and stylish, and the animations are quite nice. The biggest flaw is that the game doesn't run very well. The frame rate drops seemingly randomly at times, which is a disappointment, especially when it ruins what could've been some very nice visuals. The soundtrack is well done but unexceptional, and it relies on traditional Japanese-style music to set the tone and atmosphere.

Aragami is a satisfactory stealth game. It's not exceptional, but it has its high points. The shadow-dancing teleport mechanic is the centerpiece of the game, and it is at its best when you have large, open areas to sneak through. It's at its worst when cheap deaths or unenjoyable boss fights dominate the experience. It's a fun budget stealth game that will probably tickle the fancy of anyone who's looking for one. It might not break new ground, but sometimes, it's just fun to be a ninja, and Aragami deliveries that in spades.

Score: 7.0/10

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