Fast and loose is probably the best way to describe how I approach stealth in video games. Sure, if remaining undiscovered is encouraged in a game or a particular sequence I’ll have a crack at it, but I lack the patience to sit around for an eternity while I discern enemy patterns and plan my approach. Aragami is a game that I initially dismissed as being too stealth-horny for my liking when it released for the PlayStation 4 and PC back in 2016, despite sporting an enticing visual style. With the release of Aragami: Shadow Edition hitting both the aforementioned platforms and now the Xbox One with all of the previously available content plus the new Nightfall expansion, I figured it might be time to give it a look.
If you also missed Aragami the first time around, it’s a stealth-action game with a heavy bias towards the ‘stealth’ portion of the equation. Your player character in the main game, a being made of pure shadow named (you guessed it) Aragami, is summoned by a princess named Yamiko to defend her from an army of light called the Kaiho clan. What follows is a simple but forgettable tale full of proper nouns and poorly communicated plot turns, but the world itself is interesting enough as a backdrop to the action that it’s still easy to feel invested in the immediate story. The important thing to know is that because Aragami is made of shadow, he aint’ a fan of the light. Staying out of the shadows too long drains him of his power, and the warriors of the Kaiho army can take him down for good in one light-imbued strike.
I’ve been watching, I’ve been waiting, in the shadows, for my time
Luckily, being a ninja made entirely of shadow, Aragami has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. Shadows in the world provide not only a means of staying hidden but also a nifty way to get around, as Aragami can teleport instantly between them as well as create his own almost anywhere that isn’t under direct light. Using these powers takes energy that is drained when standing in lit areas but recharges in the dark, so it pays to stick to pockets of darkness, teleporting swiftly between them as you make your way across each area. The levels themselves are self-contained and span a multitude of interesting locales from wide plains to dense forests and temples and do a decent job of providing varied opportunities for evading or dispatching enemies. The forces of the Kaiho army stick to their predefined paths for the most part, only straying if they spot Aragami or come across a dead body, and their line of sight is relatively short, making stealth more about taking advantage of shadows and the verticality of the level design to effectively reach your goal than managing enemy AI. Frustration does crop up from time to time when an enemy behaves inconsistently such as randomly spotting the player from miles away, but for the most part the simpler NPCs make for a refreshingly easy-going stealth game.
Twin ninjas. Twin-jas. Yes? No? Okay
New to this version of Aragami is the Nightfall expansion, which adds an all-new story to the game across four chapters and features two new playable protagonists, Hyo and Shinobu. The game recommends playing the new content after finishing the main game not only because the story takes place a few years later but because the gameplay picks up pace pretty well from the end. Nightfall is short, only two or three hours compared to the original ten-hour campaign, but the momentum and level of challenge are strong throughout. Whereas Aragami’s special abilities would gradually unlock through finding hidden scrolls, Hyo and Shinobu have their (admittedly smaller) movesets unlocked from the outset. Variety then comes in the form of unique twists on the standard gameplay that crop up from time to time, like tailing enemies to sneak through special barriers or manoeuvring past ethereal balls of light. In single player it’s possible to play as either of the new protagonists, with the remaining character popping in as needed to perform tandem moves. Where this expansion really shines is when another human player gets involved. Whatever simplicity or repetitiveness when playing solo is quickly extinguished as soon as a second player gets involved and it becomes possible to plan and execute coordinated attacks. Playing in co-op is a lot of fun and different enough that it almost warrants going through the entire main game and expansion a second time, or just forgoing a solo playthrough altogether.
Shoot, I’ll never assassinate that giant rock wall with the guard watching it so intently
Aside from the new content on offer, developer Lince Works has also done a lot of behind-the-scenes work on improving the visual experience in Aragami. While already a great looking game with its high-contrast, yet soft cel-shaded look and pleasing effects, performance has always notoriously been a bit of an issue. Now with Shadow Edition, some much needed spit-and-polish has been applied that brings some stability to framerates and visual improvements just in time for the Xbox One/One X release and will be applied retroactively to prior versions of the game on PS4 and PC. Some issues and bugs still remain however, in particular a significant portion of the audio in my game (being played on the Xbox One X) was missing from the beginning, which at first I assumed was intentional (ninjas being silent and all that) but realised was a bug after I hard reset my console. Still, for an indie effort there is a lot to appreciate about the production values on show and the way in which the visual composition and interplay of light and dark help inform the gameplay.
Aragami: Shadow Edition is the perfect way for anyone who missed the game the first time around to get in on a basic but fun stealth game about shadowy, teleporting ninjas. It’s great to see a small developer continue to iterate on and support a game that’s almost two years old and for the whole thing to find a new home on another platform. If you bought and enjoyed Aragami in the past you’re in luck too, because the improvements are for everybody and the Nightfall expansion is well worth throwing a few dollars at to add on.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher