Played on Windows
Also Available on Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4.
I picked up Aragami because I needed a short game for a review between two review copies I had, just something to play. Well, that’s not true, I have many games I could have picked. I actually picked Aragami because of the “ninja” on the cover. I wasn’t sure what the game was about but I wanted to see why there was a “ninja” on the cover. Simple selection criteria, let’s see how I did.
Well, the first thing the game does is tell you quite specifically you’re an Aragami, not a ninja. In fact, in Aragami, the game never uses the word Ninja and instead keeps talking about you as a vengeful spirit. “So wait, I use stealth attacks, attacks from above and fight with a katana like a sword. I also have throwing daggers and can disappear into the night. That is a Ninja! I like Ninjas,” “No you’re an Aragami!”
I wouldn’t make such a big deal about this, but it’s indicative of the issues with the story of Aragami. So much of Aragami’s story is about its words. You’re an Aragami. You are summoned by Yamiko to collect six talismans and free her. You fight again Kaiho a sect of warriors of light, who fought against a Shadow Empress, and the Nisshoku long ago. Your bird is named Kurosu and it will be called such for the rest of the game, never raven or bird.
The problem is the words are so forcefully used that the story has problems. These words didn’t stick in my head mostly because most of the times they used the name of something like Kaiho they don’t show it on the screen so you’re attaching the sound to just a spoken word. There’s also the fact I don’t care. I’m sorry writers, but I don’t have a reason to care about your terminology that you spent so much time trying to force on me, but it’s true.
As an Aragami, you’re summoned by a woman who is named Yamiko and she gets most of the character development but even there, there wasn’t much that stood out to me. She had a relatively normal life, and there were some people around her, and by the time there was a major twist, I wasn’t that interested in her backstory.
The other problem with the story is it pops up at random times. You spend between thirty minutes to an hour on a level and then suddenly the story pops its head in as if its number just was called out. You then get a two-minute vignette where the story says “Wait I have something to tell you, the Shadow Emperess’s sect was called Nisshoku, now you know.” The player nods politely and then plays another ten minutes or so to beat the level and you repeat the next level. Another thirty minutes into the next level, the game coughs and goes “I need to tell you about this unrelated event”. Again you nod and let it, and then play on.
The fact is there is so much game time between these points and it’s pure gameplay, not dialog, not casual conversation, not even a voice-over, but pure gameplay, that I just couldn’t find the energy to memorize the story. It didn’t help that I was playing a game with open level design and was going back to try out new abilities and collect items, so I wasn’t always playing the newest level.
With that said the ending comes entirely too fast and tries to surprise you with a rather dull twist, it doesn’t work for me because I didn’t care who a certain person was. The game kind of plays it as a big surprise but when I heard the term I shrugged and my reaction was between “Who was that?” and “ok so we’re almost done then?” It wasn’t important to me as a player, and really that’s the whole problem with the story, it never connected. I’m an Aragami who dies by sunrise, the rest of it was just reasons to play the next level.
So the story just didn’t work for me, but the gameplay kind of saved the experience.
Aragamis in this world are very powerful. You get the ability to teleport to shadows after a few minutes, and the tutorial at the beginning of the second level forces you to unlock an ability to draw a shadow on the ground anywhere. Pretty much at that point, I believed I could have beat the game with just those two abilities, they are that powerful.
They also stealth kill like the best of them.
The warp ability is really nice because you can just look at another shadow and teleport to it, as long as you have the “shadow power”, which is gained by hiding in the shadows and lost by standing in direct light. However, the warp does have a flaw. Sometimes I had to finagle a teleport. I would be pointing at a location and sometimes there was no teleport available but I would move a few pixels and then get the teleport I wanted. I wish the game was a little smarter so I could fluidly teleport and make it feel more strategic, instead of making it about how good my aim was. Sometimes it’s not clear why my aim wasn’t good enough, I just didn’t point to the right target and thus I couldn’t use the ability.
On the other hand, the drawing of the shadows felt really good but was an expensive skill so I couldn’t use it that often, but when I needed a quick exit it was always there if I had the power. The ability to draw the shadows reminded me a bit of De blob’s painting all the way back on the Wii. A nice memory, though the shadows fade all too fast as well.
There are other powerful abilities in the game, they can all be earned by paying in scrolls, the collectibles in the game, however I recommend looking for the ability to see scrolls when using Kurosu’s call, because that makes it simple to find all the scrolls in the game, and thus make you far more powerful without meaningless exploration.
Decent number of skills in the game, but you’ll only really need three.
But those powers aren’t as important in this game. The main powers I used were the shadow move, the shadow draw, and the ability to make a character’s body disappear from the ground. Those three became my major tools until around level eight or ten of thirteen when I started to use the invisibility ability. From there I would turn invisible just to get through levels a touch faster, but it didn’t feel necessary.
Actually, on the second to last level, I found out that using the invisibility ability only deducted a use from that ability, and all the other abilities I had possessed their own use counter. It didn’t change my gameplay at all, but it’s a good point for how little I looked at or used these abilities. They don’t feel necessary.
The game also gives you one more ability from the first talismans that Yamiko has you gather, an ability to make a noise to distract guards. It’s the only talisman that gives you an ability, the other 5 give you just story flashbacks and it’s a shame because each talisman could have had a point. Instead, you get one ability from a talisman and the rest of the talisman are inert metal. They feel cheap for their lack of change to the gameplay.
What I’ve been trying to say in this review is Aragmi is quite easy. I played on normal difficulty and only had a few problems on the bosses, mostly because they wanted a specific type of kill. Otherwise, I was able to breeze through the game. I definitely died quite a few times, but mostly because I wasn’t taking my time in levels, or I was spotted and took a death to avoid that. I played through the game without being spotted in almost every level with ease.
As Aragami is a game about stealth, we should talk about it for a bit. Overall, it’s rather good. Enemies will notice you and most of the time they will have a bar that slowly fills. If they fill their spotted bar, they’ll notice you and usually attack you, then call for reinforcements. This is a good choice because it gives the player a short window to kill them first. It allows failure in stealth not to equal an instant failure in the mission or loss of the medal for alerting the guards. The guards aren’t alerted until after their attack and they call out for each other.
The lake scene is one of my favorite locations.
The stealth is also pretty easy. If you stick to shadows you’re harder to see, however, if you crouch in the shadows you’re nearly invisible. Even if you start to be seen, if you teleport away, guards are usually confused for a second and you’re able to regain full stealth quickly.
The warp here is again too powerful, a guard could see me or start to notice me, oftentimes I would be able to teleport just behind him and then quickly stab him. There is no recourse to that. That teleport kind of breaks much of the need for stealth gameplay in this game.
In addition, there are no view cones for the guards, so often it was hard to know which way someone was looking without staring at them for a while. Nothing in the game was too difficult, but I didn’t know when I had a near miss, or if I had a close call. It just didn’t produce the level of challenge other stealth games have.
You see, there are really only four enemies in the game, and two of those enemies are actually bosses. There is a normal guard, and an archer, you see both enemies by the fourth level. The archer is the real challenge of the game, but even they have trouble seeing you crouching in the dark. After that fourth level, the game really didn’t introduce anything new until both bosses. There was a point where guards had these homing missiles/grenades that followed them but they were still guards, and still unable to see anything so Aragami just added a new little challenge to killing them without really changing the gameplay.
I can imagine that there was a possibility of using guns which fire faster than the rather slow bows, or dogs, or even larger guards who can fight better, but the game has you die in a single hit from any enemy, so there was not much they could have done with the combat.
The bosses are slightly different but still stick with the same gameplay. Both bosses require three attacks though one requires one to be an attack from above, that’s really the depth of the game’s requirements. Overall neither boss was a big change to the game either.
The level design is good, you visit a lot of beautiful Japanese style locations, temples, castles, and caves and they all look good. Almost every level has some form of verticality to it. You’re often able to climb up the side of buildings and run around on roofs and, like normal humans, the guards rarely look up above eye line, so you can sit on an archway, and wait for a guard to pass under you before you take him out.
There are a lot of great locations and the levels look amazing as well.
Overall I was hoping for a game about a ninja and I got one, but I didn’t like the end result. Aragami isn’t a hard game, and it wasn’t annoying, it just didn’t stand out in my mind. It’s a solid attempt, and it reminds me a bit of the little I played of Tenchu, though that game didn’t have the absurd power combinations this game has.
At the same time as I played this game, I thought about a favorite game of mine, Mark of the Ninja, and I got curious if I was being harder on this game for some reason. After finishing this I went back and played that just so I could compare the two. Where Aragami didn’t have the fluid ability use, Mark of the Ninja excelled at it. Mark of the Ninja’s stealth and combat is better than Aragami, and I am forced to recommend Mark of the Ninja over Aragami, but at the same time, they’re slightly different. Mark of the Ninja is a 2D level based ninja game against soldiers with guns. Aragami is a 3D level base “aragami” game against guards and archers, with a focus on open world and mystical powers.
I do recommend Aragami because it’s fun for what it is, it just didn’t get me excited enough to sing its praises. There are some good ideas, and the teleportation is fun, but it also feels like the game’s challenge often gets broken by that teleportation system. I ultimately give Aragami a
Final Thoughts: An interesting puzzle game with powerful abilities, and good level design. Though those abilities are quite overpowered for the tasks required for the game and trivialize the experience.
Stats: 10.2 hours played, 33/51 achievements earned.