If you are like me and have been patiently waiting for a new Tenchu game to wet your assassin stealth appetite then you prayers were somewhat answered back in the latter half of 2016 with the release of Aragami. It wasn’t quite Tenchu but it helped to go a long way to fill the void. Two years later and the game returns with the Shadow Edition which now features a new story expansion called Nightfall as part of the package.
If you are picking up Aragami for the first time it is recommended to play the main game before Nightfall even though its story acts as a prequel. This is because Nightfall throws you in the deep end with a complete set of abilities and tricky level layout from the offset which the main game instead gently eases you into.
The main games 10-hour story is set over 13 chapters and puts you in the shoes of the protagonist Aragami, a vengeful undead spirit that is summoned by a mysterious girl named Yamiko. Yamiko explains that she and her empress have been captured before asking Aragami to help release them both by finding six talismans to unlock their prison. Thus the journey begins to take down the evil Kaiho army whilst also learning about your past when fragments of your memories are awoken each time you find a talisman.
What really appealed to me the first time I set eyes on the game was just how much of a badass assassin Aragami is. His character design is memorable with having no visible facial features except for startling white slit eyes, with dark bandages hiding the rest of his face. His dark ninja-esque outfit is contrasted with a bold red hood and cloak that is patterned with sigils that depict the technique you have equipped and they glow white when you are hidden in darkness and fade to black in lit areas. Cleverly, these runes also act as a visible magic meter for your ‘Shadow Essence’ which will deplete when you use your abilities and refill when in the shadows.
This brings me nicely on to the abilities at your disposal. Strangely as an assassin, you can’t jump in the game. Instead, you are able to use a teleportation ability to move on top on ledges and buildings and to be able to quickly travel out of a tight spot. You can also create shadows to draw power from and keep you hidden for a very short amount of time. These two abilities are accessed at the very start of the game but as you progress through the levels you can find scrolls to unlock a variety of different offensive and defensive abilities, such as being able to hide bodies, become temporary invisible and tag and track enemies. Some of these will rely on using your ‘Shadow Essence’ whereas others have an infinite use.
As you progress, you can unlock powerful techniques that are limited to two uses but they can’t be used against bosses and you can only have one equipped at a time, though you can switch between them. You can find Shrines placed sparsely throughout the level which will refill the techniques. The techniques range from a shadow clone to distract enemies, to being able to throw kunai knives. My personal favourite, which once fully upgraded, summons a dragon-demon that devours the enemy in spectacular fashion leaving no trace of them whatsoever.
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Final Conclusion: Review kindly provided by Shaun (@Rudecold)
With Aragami stealth is the real key for success, especially as enemies can instant-kill you at close range and most of them have a ranged projectile that again is a one-hit kill. This makes for careful planning to complete the levels unscathed as being spotted or leaving a corpse in the open alerts the enemies and they can be pretty effective at hunting you down. This all adds a layer of tension whilst you play and it keeps you constantly moving and calculating your next steps. I played on the middle difficulty and it certainly provided quite a challenge. Thankfully, the more abilities and techniques you unlock, the easier the levels become to navigate.
The art and environmental design in Aragami is a real highlight. The cel-shading and bold colours fused with the feudal Japanese era, creates such a unique style that works brilliantly and helps to paint over the some of the cracks in the technical department of the game. Background textures can be a tad janky and rough looking especially the hillsides and mountains and screen-tearing within inside environments is very pronounced. This can be resolved almost fully by ticking the v-sync box in the options menu that fixes the game at a fairly solid 30FPS. It’s a shame that the game hasn’t been fully optimised for console gaming, however, it must be remembered that this is an indie title from a small developer without the AAA resources. What really compliments the art style and setting is the impressive sound design. Little touches such as the sheathing of the sword sound and the rush of wind from teleporting are pitched perfectly. Also, the wonderfully classical Asian-inspired soundtrack from Two Feathers suitably transports you to the era and is very effective in creating a haunting atmosphere and suspense.
The Nightfall story expansion has you take on the role of either shadow assassins Hyo and Shinobi who are on the hunt for the mysterious Alchemist in order to bring back their long-lost companion. I won’t venture much more into the story as it is heavily linked with the main game and Aragami’s awakening and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The story is told over four chapters taking only a couple of hours to complete. You can play as either of the two assassins but it doesn’t affect the story at all except you might come across some slight differences in the documents you find. The expansion offers co-op gameplay which is added to the main game too on completion. This works pretty well and its good fun ramping up the death toll with a friend. You can play Nightfall in single player mode too where one of the three new techniques in the game calls upon your partner to unleash a very handy and satisfying stealth kill.
Nightfall, unfortunately, doesn’t offer much else that is new. As you have all your abilities from the offset the level design is fairly complex and I found it to be pretty challenging, especially the mission where you have to follow the alchemist’s messenger. One of the main disappointments of Aragami is the lack of enemy types and designs and these models are once again re-used in the expansion. There is also no boss fight in the expansion which is a bit of a shame and a missed opportunity and even though overall the expansion is more of the same it’s not necessarily a bad thing especially when the game is so satisfying to play.
Aragami and its expansion are very strict in adhering to the stealth approach and it’s what I enjoyed most about the game. Some may find this mechanic off-putting and feel dated that you can’t blast your way out of a tricky situation but in doing so, it truly makes you feel like an assassin where one mistake will lead to failure. It’s an absolute must for anyone that enjoys the classic stealth genre. It’s a very smartly designed game in both its level design and mechanics and has a story while not ground-breaking it kept me well-captivated. It’s unfortunate that the game does lack the polish in its technical performance but ultimately Aragami succeeds in creating the Tenchu-like game I’ve been craving but in its own unique and gorgeous style.
Review kindly provided by Shaun (@Rudecold)
Aragami: Shadow Edition£19.99
- Well-crafted stealth gameplay
- Excellent protagonist and interesting story which is further explored in Nightfall expansion
- Gorgeous cel-shaded art style
- Beautiful and atmospheric soundtrack
- Co-op mode for the base game and Nightfall expansion
- Performance issues including screen tearing, frame drops and dodgy textures
- Repetitive enemy design
- No boss battle in the Nightfall expansion