A short while ago we previewed Aragami 2, the sequel to the 2016 indie stealth action game Aragami, seeing what had changed from the original and what we were looking forward to. However, that preview left a few burning questions, so we just had to take the opportunity to look at the final release.
Aragami 2 released September 17, 2021 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. The PC version was played for this review.
A Clan of Shadows
Aragami 2 follows the tale of the Kurotsuba clan, a clan comprised entirely of aragami, spirits of the shadows. Summoned as obedient servants with mastery of shadow essence, every member of the Kurotsuba clan has woken up from their control and found their way to Kakurega Village. It is a peaceful existence, but two things plague them: the cursed edge of their blessing that will rob them of their humanity and bring immense pain if they do not find a cure, and the invading Akatsuchi pillaging and razing the valley they call home.
In a departure from the previous game, the story of Aragami 2 is primarily told in the hub of Kakurega village. There are the occasional plot developments that happen mid-mission, but by and large you go out on a mission and then find out the consequences or ongoing developments upon your return.
As mentioned in the preview, you’re also fairly disconnected from the plot this time around. I mean, you’re still an aragami and a member of the Kurotsuba clan so, in that regard, you still have a personal stake in what goes on, but you are not one of the major players. You are, instead, one of the Kurotsuba clan’s many warriors. When you are thanked for your contributions, it is the warriors as a whole who are thanked, but in a way this is to be expected.
As with a lot of changes to the game, this touches on the multiplayer aspect: You’re not all playing as copies of one singular character, you are indeed all different warriors of the Kurotsuba. The game gives plenty of options for customization, both cosmetic and practical, so you’re more yourself than ever, but this does come at the cost of having your character as more of a blank slate than an actual defined character.
A Ninja Through and Through
In Aragami 2 you’ll be using a variety of supernatural powers, stealth assassinations, and good old mundane analyzing guard patterns to slip past the Akatsuchi across the many 3D stages and accomplish your goals, whether that be theft, spying, or assassination.
Remaining unseen is the name of the game, but this time around fighting is indeed an option. Granted, it is an option of last resort. Combat relies on perfectly timed blocks to effectively lower an enemy’s stamina and open them up to a finishing blow. While one or two enemies can be dealt with this way, it falls apart when an entire army is alerted, making it more a way to salvage things when spotted before they can run off and alert others rather than allowing you to barge in sword swinging. Still, it does take a bit of the edge off of sneaking around when you know you’ve got that option in your pocket.
The stages themselves are mission-based. You accept a mission and are then sent off to one of several stages to do it and come back. There are MANY missions this time around, with each stage playing host to several of them. Depending on the mission different areas may be accessible and your actual objective and placement of enemies will vary, but it does mean seeing the same environment quite often. You’re given a score and a grade at the end, though it largely boils down to “don’t get spotted” and “don’t die.” Oddly enough it tracks enemies killed, knocked out, and just left alone all separately in the scoring, but they all give the same amount of points regardless.
There’s now grinding as well, with your shadowy abilities purchased via skill points earned via leveling up. Experience points are based on the end-of-mission scoring, and at first I was a bit concerned that this would result in needing to grind levels for desired abilities, but I’m pleased to say I earned new levels at a fairly decent pace. Completionist players will likely wish to do every level twice anyway for two mutually exclusive side objectives: Not killing a single enemy besides your target, and gutting every last Akatsuchi.
Now with that all said, let’s address the elephant in the room: multiplayer. A lot of the changes this time around seem to be made to accommodate it: The inability to actually pause, the hub and mission gameplay, change to a blank slate character, grinding, and even the addition of combat for a last ditch effort. Was it worth it? To that I have to say… no, not really.
For starters, when I tested it out I had considerable issues just getting it to work. I was unable to host a session, and while I was able to join a session in the end, I had lag issues that made it far easier to get detected and rendered combat near impossible.
Even if the devs could manage to fix the network connection issues, there’s still one glaring issue in the basic design: the scoring remains the same as it does when playing solo… namely, that it’s primarily about having points deducted when messing up, and ALL players get the same group score. The end result is that bringing some buddies along isn’t a help, it’s a liability.
It doesn’t help that in most stages you have a singular objective to go to. While there are some missions with multiple objectives where you could, in theory, split up to finish the level faster, that isn’t every level and you’re making yourself far more vulnerable to do so. For most stages, you’re simply seeing if several people can flawlessly sneak through rather than just one… assuming they don’t make the smart decision of waiting at the entrance while one person does the actual mission.
An Unwelcome Light
Aragami 2 goes for a more “realistic” graphical approached compared to the vibrant cel-shaded original and I’m gonna be honest… I hate it. I really hate it. What it gains in increased resolution it loses in charm. It feels less original.
The sad thing is, if this were its own game I wouldn’t dislike it nearly as much, but we’ve SEEN that Lince Works can do better. A sequel should improve on the original, and this is another area where they’ve simply done worse. The character designs, the stealth kill animations, the special effects, all of these are well done but I simply can’t get over the loss of a great visual design.
The music, at least, does a good job of capturing that classical Japanese feel. The track of Kakurega Village in particular is gentle and inviting, while the music out during the stages themselves are both tense and quiet.
A Stealthy Step Back
For all my complaints, Aragami 2 does pull off making you feel like a ninja rather well. Planning just the perfect route to ambush everyone one by one or slip in and out without disturbing anyone felt really satisfying. It manages to tread that fine line of letting you get away with more than is realistic while still making a perfect run challenging that makes a great stealth game. I just can’t help but feel they took a few gambles with changing things up from the original, and took a step backwards as a result.
Review copy provided by Lince Works for PC. Screenshots provided by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Lince Works.