Stealth is a difficult thing to get right in gaming, and it’s something developers have been trying to nail for decades. Do you go down the GoldenEye route and encourage the player to sneak around while still giving them the option to go all guns blazing should they so desire? Or do you go for a strictly stealth-only affair where players are punished the moment they’re spotted (bow your head, Ocarina of Time’s castle grounds)? Aragami leans more heavily towards the latter of these examples, though it isn’t quite as harsh.
You play as the titular Aragami, a shadow spirit who’s been summoned by a girl called Yamiko. She’s been captured by the Kaiho, an army that uses special weapons powered by light. It’s up to you to make your way through the game’s 13 chapters – using your numerous shadow powers to either avoid or kill the Kaiho standing in your way – as you attempt to reach Yamiko and find out more about what’s going on. It’s a fairly mundane plot at first, but it does get more interesting as the game progresses.
The same could be said about the actual game itself, in fact. When you initially start off, you’re armed with a single skill, the ability to turn into a shadow and instantly teleport to any other nearby shaded area. Before long you’re then given the ability to create temporary circular shadows on lit floors or walls, allowing you to teleport there, too. These are interesting enough mechanics, but they also mean that for the first couple of hours things start to feel a little repetitive. You do eventually get to upgrade and add new skills by collecting scrolls; some of these are minor but useful additions, like the ability to tag enemies so you can track them, or making bodies disappear so that can’t be spotted.
Others are larger upgrades that can change the way you approach each situation. The ability to throw kunai knives from a distance, or place bombs that can be remotely detonated, for example. By the time the game nears its end and you’re kitted out with a full range of abilities it’s a far more enjoyable adventure, but for the most part your initial time with Aragami will be spent with a handful of skills, teleporting around small stages patrolled by guards, meaning you’re going to need to have a little patience before things properly kick off.
Depending on your mood, you can choose to play through the game in one of two ways. If you’re the peace-loving sort, you can try to make your way to the end of the stage without being seen by the numerous Kaiho guards, allowing them to happily continue their patrols, blissfully unaware that you just infiltrated their defences. Alternatively, if you’re the sort of person who feels you aren’t doing your ninja duty unless all of your foes taste cold steel, you can choose to go 'full ninja' and stealthily pick them off one by one.
Whichever you choose, not being seen remains the order of the day; as we stated already, this isn’t a GoldenEye or Splinter Cell situation where being spotted just means things switch from a stealth game to an action game. Your enemies are armed with the power to fire huge waves of light from their swords, which kill you with a single touch; this essentially means that once you’re spotted, you’re as good as dead. The only exception is playing on the easiest difficulty, where they’re so comically slow to react you can run straight at them and plunge your sword into them before they have the chance to get their sword out – like that famous bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – which sort of removes any real sense of a challenge.
Aragami is very much a ‘hiding in the shadows’ type game, then, to the extent that its inventive HUD (or lack of one) is based on that concept. Aragami has an ornate cape hanging down behind him, and the design on this cape actually shows your current shadow energy and how many uses you have left for your special abilities. As you use your various skills, this design will start to disappear, and when you move into a shadow your entire outfit turns black and the cape’s design begins to fill in again. It’s an extremely cool look, made more striking by the game’s cel-shaded art style.
It’s not without its issues, however. The shadow teleportation trick seems to be a bit hit and miss at times, especially when you’re trying to teleport onto higher platforms and structures. There’s a (tiny) cursor that turns blue when you’re able to teleport, but during the odd occasion when you have to teleport in a hurry it can become quite frustrating trying to quickly determine which areas you can and can’t move to. Your complete lack of ability to jump or climb is also frustrating, and it can be particularly annoying when your hero – who’s supposed to be a ninja, lest we forget – can’t step up to a ledge that’s knee height.
Get over these niggles and you’re left with a pure stealth game that should appeal to fans of classics like Tenchu, even if it doesn’t quite surpass them. Even better, this Shadow Edition also includes the Nightfall DLC expansion, which includes a handful of new chapters and introduces a pair of new characters, helping to mix things up a bit and provide new environments for you to stealth the living hell out of.
It takes a while to get going and it has its fair share of annoying quirks, but as it progresses Aragami becomes a solid stealth game with a compelling story. The addition of extra DLC chapters gives the game a welcome boost in longevity, and though its temperamental mechanics prevent it becoming an unarguable gem, its stylish look and the range of abilities you acquire by the end mean fans of stealth games (and fans of stealth only) will still have a fun time with it. Eventually.