Aragami is good, but could have been way better
Aragami is a third-person stealth game set in ancient Japan where you play as a vengeful spirit aka. Aragami with the power to manipulate the shadows. It’s a good game, but it kinda overstays its welcome.
The setting and story are interesting enough even though I didn’t understand who was good and who was bad. See there’s a lot of name dropping like the Kaiho, the Light army, Kyuryu, the Shadow Empress, Kensho(?), Ryagi(maybe?) and a ton of other Japanese names that did nothing other than confuse me even more. However, the end kinda cleared everything up and delivered quite a nice “new” twist as I was expecting something altogether.
Summoned by Yumiko, a young girl who has been imprisoned by the Light army cause… reasons, your task is simple; collect six talismans or artifact to break the spell and free Yumiko. And how you achieve that is all up to you. You can become the ultimate demon and kill everything in your path or outsmart your enemies as the unseen ghost that leaves no trace of his presence. Now being a stealth game, like everyone else, I start by being the most silent assassin ever. I try to kill everything without being heard or seen and when that fails then I go Rambo, but here I couldn’t really go full on Rambo, at first, and that’s for a couple of reasons.
The combat system well, there isn’t one. The only way to kill an enemy is getting really close to him and press a button and let the same 3-4 animations play out. If someone spots you, the enemies go on alert and try to “chase” you or they just fire an instakill light beam that always got me and you have to try it all over again from the beginning of the encounter or level.
That’s really annoying since you are a god damn vengeful spirit able to control the fricking shadows! Crouching in the shadows, you become invisible to the enemies and from there you can blink or teleport anywhere as long as they are in the shadow. Everything sounds great, right? Well, no and here’s why it doesn’t feel right to me. Take another game that has done the whole teleport blink stuff right, Dishonored. There you could teleport anywhere at any time as long as the game allowed it or you saw the blue circle indicator thingy. And the best and smartest thing about it was the slowing of time so you could blink to safety. In Aragami, there’s no slowing time so when the enemies spot and they will spot you, you have to be extremely quick or extremely lucky spamming the blink button to reach a shadow part. That doesn’t always work or better say it just doesn’t work most of the times. Shadows in stealth games are always kinda weird and here that
Shadow mechanics in stealth games are always kinda weird. For example, here you can hide in the shadow of a small branch but not in that of a bush or a tombstone? Since the geometry and shapes of the objects that populate the world are weird, the shadows are weird so rushing to blink to a safe shadowy area fails 9/10 times. But the weirdest part (and I’ll stop using weird) is that you have the ability to cast shadows nearly anywhere in the level which kinda undermines the whole “blinking only to shadows” deal now, doesn’t it?! So instead of just blinking wherever you want, light or shadow using just one button, you have to use two buttons taking your time to center the indicator while the enemies just vaporize you instantaneously… that’s just weird (oh, sorry!)
Also, the enemy AI doesn’t really help. At the beginning, since you have no other abilities, you’re weak and vulnerable and I really liked that feel. But the more you play and the more hidden scrolls you find, the more abilities you unlock such as throwing shadow kunai, blind enemies by throwing shadow, set black hole traps, see through walls etc. the usual stuff you find in stealth games nowadays. And once you get some of these abilities especially the “disappear bodies” one, the game becomes a walk in the park. Cast shadow, blink, kill, disappear body, repeat. That’s what you’ll spend doing for 8 hours since there’s only two types of enemies, the patrolling grunt how shoots the light beam and the patrolling eagle-eyed archer who can spot you from miles away even when you stay in the shadow. But it doesn’t matter now, does it? Blink, kill, disappear body, kill the archer with a kunai, set a trap whistle and kill 3-4 guys and so on.
Then you get to the close to the end and the game throws boss fights at you which I found to be extremely annoying and nerve racking. If they see you and they see you shadow or not, they will shoot a light beam and that’s it for you. Again, it’s the overall clunkiness of the shadow blink mechanic combined with the rush in order to survive and the sh*tty frame rate that suck all the joy that you can have.
Yeah, the frame rate sucks as it dips very frequently and dampens the whole flow of the game. It’s strange and well, it pains me to see this type of performance from a game in 2016 running on a pretty powerful console as the PS4. The art style is a japanese inspired cel-shaded minimalist look with a particular color palette that looks quite nice on the big screen. So seeing the frame rate dip, that hard, when you got visual masterpieces like Uncharted 4 or Battlefront running at a steady frame rate, it pains me. Maybe since I played pre-release, there’s a day-one patch that fixes it, but I don’t know that at the time of writing this “review”.
So to sum up, should you get Aragami? It’s a tough sell, but there’s a good game underneath it all. Maybe if you play on the hardest difficulty and decide to not use some of the abilities, there’s fun to be had. Or if you want a stealth game you can play with your buddy via online co-op and demolish the enemies since there would be two Aragamis instead of one, then this is the game for you. Aragami is now available for PS4 and PC. Thanks for reading!