Aragami – Light at the end of the tunnel – Review

Gare – Tuesday, October 25, 2016 12:50 PM
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Aragami is a solid example of a pleasant surprise – when I first discovered it, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but after an hour or two of playing, it become quite apparent that I was dealing with a lovingly-crafted indie project that is very much aware of the recipe for a good stealth game, and gets the basics down just right. But before we dive into discussing the details, one final thing to note is that the present review is based on our experiences from playing through the game’s campaign in co-op multiplayer, which will be reflected in our final evaluation of the title.

From shadow to shadow

Aragami undeniably belongs in the stealth genre, and one thing you sort of have to know about stealth elements in video games is that they can either be pulled off really well, or… they can be sort of a disaster. Thankfully, Aragami is not the latter – it positions itself somewhere in the middle. In the game, you take on the role of a ninja (or two ninjas, if you play in 2-player co-op) capable of instantly teleporting between shadows in a fairly Dishonored-esque way, while also being able to temporarily create shadows of his own, adding a bit of tactical depth to your stealthy, sneaky adventures. Part of the enjoyment, consequently, comes from figuring out the perfect path to approach each situation, getting from shadow to shadow at lightning speed, and the game certainly had a bit of that power trip feel to it when you could just blink around the map and act like the absolute predator. All of this is realized on stylishly designed maps oozing with an exotic, eastern atmosphere, so if you’re looking for locales and a general mood highly reminiscent of ancient Japan, you’ll get it here. The same thing is reflected in Aragami’s graphical presentation – while its visuals are somewhat minimalistic and light on polygons, exploring its neatly-designed levels and various alternate pathways has been more than enjoyable. I felt similarly pleased with the game’s tight controls, which make controlling your shadow ninja a very easy and overall rewarding experience. A good example for this would be our first session with the game – we had originally planned to play for a mere 2 hours, which soon fattened to about 4 or 5 because both me and my co-op partner were having too much fun to quit prematurely.

A hardcore approach

It’s also worth noting that the game takes its stealth elements quite seriously – as in, if you’re ever discovered by multiple guards, you can pretty much kiss your life goodbye, which can feel like a breath of fresh air compared to other, overly lenient games. There are certain exceptions if you act quickly enough or manage to run into only a lone guard, but as a general rule of thumb, getting discovered and setting off alarms in Aragami is more or less a death sentence, especially when you consider that your character dies from a single hit. Indeed, this feature may very well make the hardcore gamer salivate, but might also lead to some level of frustration for stealth beginners. Additionally, if the connection was somehow lost or interrupted in a co-op multiplayer session, the entire chapter had to be restarted from the beginning, regardless of checkpoints, which once again led to having to retread old ground a few times. The multiplayer mode of Aragami also presented us with a few perplexing bugs, such as when guards turned completely invisible to one player, but not the other, making co-operation quite a difficult task on a select few occasions – luckily, though, this didn’t happen often enough to become a severe problem.

To hunt in company

Pure stealth, however, is not the only way to get ahead, and indeed, much of Aragami consisted of carefully hunting down and eliminating enemies, whether it’s from behind, below, or above, leaping at your unsuspecting victim like a well-trained assassin. The game also chucks a number of skills in your direction, many of which help you in becoming an unstoppable killing machine – there’s a trap capable of summoning a black hole that devours all enemies in the vicinity, throwing knives called kunai, as well a special ability that allows you to sense enemies even across walls, just to mention a few. Oh, and you can turn invisible, too. I found great enjoyment in successfully setting off a black hole trap to instantly take out two or three guards, or utilizing my throwing knives to eliminate pesky archers from a distance, but in general, I felt like Aragami didn’t quite provide enough opportunities for these abilities to truly shine. Much of the game will be spent methodically hunting down enemies one by one, and these skills often only came into play once in a while. Nonetheless, Aragami is still a solid example of well-executed co-op gameplay, and players can expect to experience a number of memorable “alright, I distract him while you take him down, let’s do this on the count of three” sort of moments, provided they can synch up their actions with their partner’s. This, I believe, is definitely deserving of praise, and can be considered one of the game’s primary strengths.

“Sword dudes on the ground, archers high up, now go”

What I found somewhat disappointing, however, is the striking lack of variety in terms of enemies: we get about two types of guards, one with a sword, another with a bow that can snipe you from afar, and that’s about it. There are no unique enemy types that would require a different approach or out-of-the-box thinking, which – towards the end of the campaign – sort of plunges the game into a swamp of repetition as you tackle the nth area that’s just another retread of “sword dudes on the ground, archers high up, now go”. Admittedly, you face about two or three boss fights, but none of them felt particularly memorable. I similarly would’ve preferred to see the kind of environmental manipulation we’ve encountered in certain other titles, such as creating distractions by breaking a few vases in the distance, or extinguishing torches a la Thief – sadly, things like this don’t really make an appearance during the campaign.

You might be wondering if Aragami – after all that sneaking and stabbing – has a storyline. It certainly does: you start the tale as an aragami, a spirit of vengeance summoned by Yamiko, a girl the player is then tasked with rescuing. Sadly, the plot didn’t quite manage to hold my interest, and I wasn’t even surprised when the big ending twist ended up being exactly what I had predicted it to be right at the beginning. This aspect of the game is definitely its weakest element, and for those primarily looking for a deep and engrossing plot, Aragami might not be the best choice. This, thankfully, is not particularly that big of a deal, as Aragami’s tight gameplay and co-op features more than make up for its lackluster storyline.

In conclusion

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel, and I do overall consider Aragami to have been a pleasant, competently-crafted experience, despite certain gripes. It is a game I feel could’ve been much more, one that could’ve cooked for a bit longer in the metaphorical stew pot. But its repetition only began to affect my enjoyment towards the very end, and the rest of the campaign – that is, its majority – was a highly enjoyable co-op romp I can easily recommend to fans of stealth titles. Whether or not I would’ve gained the same amount of enjoyment from the title as a single player experience, I’m not entirely sure, which is why I must stress once again that Aragami’s strongest asset seems to be its co-op campaign. So if you’re at all interested in embarking upon this journey, do so with a friend – you won’t regret it. And you’ll definitely have plenty of fun along the way.

Gameplay – Our first few hours with the game (with Hungarian commentary)

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