Sneaking around like it's 2006!
At the beginning of the seventh generation of consoles, stealth games were all the rage. Big names like Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed joined the likes of classics such as Metal Gear Solid in a stealth renaissance of sorts. When I first saw Aragami I was transported right back to 2006. So strong in fact was that wave of nostalgia, that I questioned weather Aragami was in fact some Xbox 360 game that had managed to sneak past me. I was almost surprised to see that Aragami was only a few years old, having released on PS4 in 2016. But that initial inclination may have been more foreshadowing than I could have realized.
Aragami sees you taking on the role of an otherworldly ninja, summoned by a mysterious woman to stab dudes. Each chapter presents a maze-like environment for you to navigate. Initially your goal will simply be to make it to the other side. As things progress, you’ll be given additional objectives to accomplish before you can clear the stage. The hook here is your ability to teleport from shadow to shadow, with this ability only charging while you remain in darkness. Inversely, going into direct light will drain your abilities. Dotting the environment are your typical dumb enemies with AI straight out of the very first Splinter Cell. Within the first couple stages you’ll master the art of making a noise, waiting for the enemy to walk to where the noise was, and then walking past or killing them while they face a wall. Either that or you’ll sit there frustrated as an enemy repeatedly gets caught on environmental geometry until you eventually just give up and rush him before he can fill up his suspicion meter (a ninja sprinting at you is only worthy of investigation once you’ve stood there staring for a little while). Throughout the stages, you’ll also find hidden scrolls which can be spent to unlock additional moves and abilities. At the end of each chapter, you’re graded on things like completion time, enemies killed, scrolls found, and bodies discovered. This could add a little replay value for anyone who enjoys hunting down a perfect score.
As Aragami progresses, the chapters get longer and longer with seemingly no additional checkpoints to supplement the scale. I’d regularly move to what I would have assumed was a new area of the chapter only to die and be sent all the way back to the very beginning. While not unfairly difficult due to the simplistic enemy AI, a single hit from an enemy means death. Therefore, any small mistake can easily send you right back to the start of the stage.
Aragami’s clean, almost Wind Waker-like, art style translates very well to Switch. Despite being a PS4 and PC port, it runs very smoothly and looks especially nice in handheld mode. There are some pretty low resolution textures in spots, which adds to the game feeling a bit older than it is at times. The story plays out in a similarly simple yet solid way. Cutscenes amount to basic animation with subtitles substituting for audible dialogue. Occasionally, a lightly-animated cartoon segment will highlight what ought to be a significant plot point. However, I quickly found myself clicking through cutscenes with little interest in what was going on. The story is there, and it’s executed passably well but ultimately just isn’t that engaging.
Aragami is a perfectly adequate stealth game. The gameplay loop is short, as it often is in stealth titles, but that loop generally works well. Enemies exhibit nothing in the way of complex behavior, but that doesn’t make pushing through a group of them, silently killing as you go, any less satisfying. Aragami is a stealth game out of time that could have been quite beloved in 2006. Today, however, it will have to settle for pretty all right.