Preview: Aragami 2

6 Sep 2021

Sometimes it’s worth looking back at what you’re proud of and analyzing what made it work. What were the things you did or didn’t do that lead to its success? Where did you fall short, and what didn’t work? I had the chance to sit down with a preview Aragami 2, the sequel to 2016’s stealth action title Aragami, and see how they answered all these questions.

For those who don’t know, Aragami was a stealth action game with an emphasis on shadows. You were a creature born of shadow, with stealthy powers utilizing the shadows, and the light your enemies wielded was fatal to you. Avoiding detection at all costs was a necessity because any fight would likely spell your doom, and entering the light not only meant an easier time being detected but also the loss of your abilities.

Very early on, Aragami 2 shows itself as a very different sort of game. Far from being a one-hit stealthy wonder, there is now a dedicated combat system emphasizing parries to lower an opponent’s stamina and get past their guard. It’s honestly how I would have added a combat system; perfect blocks are always fun to pull off, but I can’t help but feel that it changes the feel of the game considerably. There’s far less pressure to avoid detection when the penalty is a brief annoyance.

The shadows are also taking a bit more of a back seat. While you’re still portrayed as a user of “shadow essence” for your otherworldly powers, they work just fine outside of them. If anything I found myself more on the lookout for tall grass so I could hide bodies… I suppose I’m more of a grass essence user here.

Another major change is the addition of multiplayer, and the impact it has on other systems within the game. Sadly I didn’t actually get to experience the multiplayer as it hadn’t been implemented yet, but I did get to experience the changes surrounding it. Rather than journeying across the land from level to level, you’re teleporting out from a hub, doing your mission, and teleporting back. Each map has a number of missions that can take place in it, locking off areas and changing items around accordingly.

There’s now also XP and gold to grind. XP is earned by doing well in missions and earns new skills, and gold has a flat amount per mission with more hidden around the map and is used primarily for cosmetics with consumables and augments available. And lastly the player character just… isn’t a character.

I imagine the change to missions was done to have a clear hub area for players to prepare for a mission together at, but it also changes the feel of the maps themselves: You’re not traveling from place to place, you’re warping in and then just warping out when done. It’s not an obstacle in your way, not a place with a history to it, you’re just here to do a job and go home.

The maps themselves also feel far more open and sandboxy as a result. Rather than an obstacle course you traverse through once in one direction, it’s a location made to be traveled numerous times with different goals and factors in mind. While this certainly opens up ways to approach a target, these options can also make it rather easy to just avoid most of the guards.

The grinding, I feel, is there so joining multiplayer on earlier missions has some point to it, which makes sense on paper, but in practice I hope I won’t feel the need to spam earlier missions beyond what’s needed to master them. There’s a certain puzzle-like appeal to learning a stage in a stealth game, figuring out patrols to get in and out without being noticed. In a way, learning the stage is the real gameplay. Once that’s done, repeating it again just to make the numbers go higher just doesn’t hit the same way.

And lastly, the character. While the first game gave you a definite character with their own motivations, background, and personality, in Aragami 2 you’re a blank slate. It makes sense in a multiplayer setting, since alongside the cosmetic options this allows you  to create your own character so you’re playing as “you” instead of a bunch of clones of the same character… but it is a definite shift away from the previous title. That said, there is a large number of supporting characters there to pick up the narrative slack.

I look at all these changes and I see someone trying to hit a wider audience. More choices on how to play, open levels with plenty of choices, multiplayer, these are all things that are considered a draw for most games. Conventional wisdom holds that they’re great things to add to your game… and yet I can’t help but feel that maybe those restrictions added something. A greater focus, removing the temptation to take the easy route, a clearer preferred playstyle.

Overall, whether Aragami 2 succeeds or fails depends on how the multiplayer pans out. What I played felt like a step down from the original, but this was all done in service of the multiplayer, and I have to say I am REALLY curious to see how a multiplayer stealth game works out. Would other players getting detected hurt your score, or might it actually help by only giving them the penalty and drawing a guard’s attention? Will there be opportunities for synergy between players, especially among those who’ve taken different skills? Will pulling off a perfectly stealthy run feel all the more satisfying when you have teammates encouraging you to stick with the mission if you fail? Will the chaos of other players make each run through an already completed mission feel fresh and new? I will be eagerly watching to see how they do.

Preview copy provided by Lince Works. Screenshots taken by writer.