Coming from Lince Works is the follow up to Aragami; a game that completely passed me by when it was initially released. The snappily named Aragami 2 is launching straight onto Xbox Game Pass, so for us subscribers the value for money aspect of the game is already pretty much nailed on. Obviously, what I hope to do over the course of this review is to examine the rest of the features of the game, so come with me to a world of shadows, sneaking and stabbing!
The story of Aragami 2 is pretty good, actually. Never having played the first game, I’m unsure if this follow on particularly, but we find ourselves as one of the last warriors of our kind, the Aragami. Aragami warriors, it turns out, can control something called “Shadow Essence”, as a result of being afflicted with some kind of supernatural disease. If left unchecked, this disease eats away at the body and devours the mind, but it does have an upside: we gain the ability to control the shadows, giving us great powers to remain hidden, dash into cover and even leap to vantage points. The game plays out as a series of discrete missions, which we are given to help our village survive, or to free enslaved Aragami from bondage, and best of all these missions are almost completely free form. We are given an objective, and then how we accomplish that objective is up to us.
This freedom of approach is what makes Aragami 2 very enjoyable. Do you want to go through the level like a mincing machine, killing anything that moves? Would you rather stealth your way through, using non-lethal takedowns and hiding the bodies in the undergrowth? Or would you rather be the ultimate shadow ninja, sneaking through the levels, never seen, never detected, picking off objectives? You can do any of these, or indeed mix it up as you see fit in Aragami 2.
And as you finish each mission, you are given a rating, in the traditional letter rank, and also a rating based on your performance, being that of Ghost, Spirit or Demon. Extra points are also scored for finding collectibles in the levels, and these are usually hidden in the most inaccessible corners of the stage; working out how to get to the places is a good challenge in itself. As you complete missions, you level up, as you might expect, and this awards you with skill points. Taking these to the dojo in the home village will allow you to unlock various ninja type skills, such as a distracting whisper (I don’t think it’s something like “Your house is on fire”, but it’s effective) right up to invisibility if you press up against a fence or hang from an edge for a few seconds. In a nice touch, which skills you choose from is pretty much up to you, with a certain number of skills in each tier being required to unlock the next. You’ll soon be unstoppable!
The controls of Aragami 2 are up to the task, though. They are fluid and responsive, and within a couple of minutes you will find yourself double jumping, shadow rolling and shadow leaping through the levels like you were born to it. Grasping a roof, pulling up as a guard comes round the corner, then dropping down soundlessly behind him and taking him out, makes for an extremely enjoyable experience. Using shadow vision is also a good idea, as it will highlight guards and show you their patrol routes, allowing you to plan your run at the objective. Is there one guard who is out of sight of the others? Take him out first, use your shadow powers to attract the attention of another, pulling him out of position… When you put together a plan and execute it flawlessly, Aragami 2 is able to deliver up feelings of greatness. When you stuff up the timing, and leave a corpse in the middle of the floor for all and sundry to see, well, not so much. This game really does reward a careful approach.
Out and out combat is something best avoided in Aragami 2, just like in the real world, really. Going toe-to-toe with a heavily armoured swordsman is never a good idea, and while the combat works well – blocking, parrying and slashing all being easy to pull off – a noisy sword fight with a guard usually draws more attention than you can handle; a death and restart from the beginning of the map is usually the end result. If you manage to break line of sight and hide though? Well, let’s just say it’s much more sporting to dispatch an enemy from behind.
Aragami 2 works really well as a single player game, but when you team up with friends it truly comes to life. Playing with others alongside you adds a new angle on taking out the guards, and simultaneous take downs are ridiculously fun. As an example, at one point there were two guards chatting, face-to-face and no way of eliminating them as a single player. But a bit of communication saw my partner and I lined up on the buildings above them, counting down in order to perform a perfect double takedown. Honestly, that moment in itself provided about as much fun as I’ve had in a co-op game for a long time. Running about, planning hits together, executing plans, and fully embracing the cooperative measures sees the fun of Aragami 2 turned up to 11. It’s not utterly essential, but if you have a group of like-minded friends, I highly recommend you try it out.
Now, let’s look at how Aragami 2 looks, and I think it’s fair to say it’s a mixed bag here. The main character you control is beautifully drawn and animated, and the majority of the time, the game looks great, with large maps to explore and good draw distances in place. The sound is also top notch, with haunting Japanese style music and the traditional high pressure hiss after you execute someone all present. The sound of a non-lethal takedown is suitably brutal, and some of the animations are great – if you take an enemy down while hanging below them, for example, you can happily bounce their head off the castle ramparts, which never fails to bring a wince.
However, all is not cherry blossom in the Japanese garden. There is some some jarring pop-in, however: one great example was when I was found sitting on a roof, contemplating life and panning the camera around to have a look, just as a rock wall suddenly popped into view. Some of the animations are a little broken as well, particularly when in co-op mode. The animation to pick up a dead body, for instance, sees you start the animation, then suddenly the corpse is on your shoulder without actually picking it up. It works fine in single player, so may be a multiplayer “feature”. Jumping to places where the game doesn’t want you to go sees you slide down a hillside, frozen in the jumping position, and I have had some truly odd situations where I have been rescuing someone, jumped a wall and found my character continuing to roll, in mid air, through walls, mountains and eventually out into the open, leaving me helpless. That was a somewhat galling restart I can tell you. You can throw in enemies who move to a higher level by teleportation, which is exciting when you are stalking them, plus a load more little oddities. Lince Works are however working on fixes to some of these issues.
So what that means is that Aragami 2 is a great game, with issues. The gameplay is immense fun, takes on a whole other level with friends and there is something extremely satisfying about being able to do what you want, when you want it, in order to achieve the mission objective at hand. It isn’t perfect though, and seems to be missing that little bit of polish required to lift it to the top tier of gaming. If you can look past that, there’s a good little game here waiting to be played. If you have Game Pass, its’ a no-brainer, but even if you haven’t, you may find that you wouldn’t have enjoyed a ninja game this much since the original Tenchu. That is high praise indeed.
Sneak in the shadows with a copy of Aragami 2 from the Xbox Store