There is always a co-op game in my Steam quick access among the single-player campaigns, roguelikes and my go-to multiplayer game. Apart from the good old ‘jolly cooperation’, it’s an ideal way to get through games along with a friend of mine, and it gives me a middle-ground between what I consider to be campaign-game, which are great to experience a limited run of a game while following a story or structure of some sort; and a multiplayer game that allows you to compete or cooperate with others. It’s the best of both worlds in a sort of little package!
So, this past month we decided to give Aragami a try – an indie stealth coop game, which, by the way, is already enough to make me try a game out. It’s also based on a traditional Japanese setting featuring ninjas, allowing you to teleport around as you lurk around in the shadows. Just take my money already? Well, let’s see. Like all my reviews, I’m going to dissect the game and try to talk about each aspect individually, rate them on THIS 10 point scale and give out my final words in the end.
Gameplay – 7
The gameplay loop is simple and works well for the game. You are an “Aragami”, some kind of powerful shadow, and have been summoned to do a particular task. You sneak across different levels, trying your best not to alert the guards. Along the way, you get checkpoints which will give you back one “Shadow Power”, which I’ll talk about later. If you stray off the path a little bit, you will get rewarded by “scrolls”, which to be honest, I’d recommend getting as many of as possible. These scrolls allow you to invest in new unlockable skills and abilities, the details of which I’ll get into in the “Diversity” section.
There is not a lot of deviation from what you can expect from the game once you’re in 1-2 hours in. Your 2 main abilities for traversal are teleporting to any area ‘in the shadows’, basically left-click any area on the ground that is dark and you’ll teleport there, provided it’s in a certain range. And your 2nd ability allows you to right-click and create a shadow wherever you want. So, you could basically teleport your way through everywhere endlessly, but it’s not all managed by a recharging ability that is shown by a meter on your cape itself. Whenever you’re in the shadows, that meter will fill up. It will go down in light, or when you use it to teleport. I think this reinforces a clear instruction that the game wants the player to lurk in the shadows, since, of course, you are harder to see in them. It’s a well-implemented mechanic which only takes an hour or two to get used to and feels very rewarding when you can manage it effectively and chain attacks and cut through levels in a breeze. I’ll talk about the abilities later, but in short, they add some gameplay variety and fun factor to the overall gameplay.
The game has a runtime of 8 hours including the DLC, thus it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The gameplay loop is good enough, and the collection of scrolls to unlock more abilities prompts the player to explore – UNTIL they get an early ability that allows you to press a button and look at all the scrolls throughout THE WHOLE MAP. While convenient, it ended up becoming a checklist for my friend and me, as we enabled the wallhacks to find the scrolls and add more skills to our array of abilities. I wish this ability never existed, or at least, worked within a small range. If you are within an area you suspect to have a scroll in, you can press the button to find out, but only if it’s nearby. That would’ve still prompted the player to explore more, and have the complete game carry the same sense of mysteriousness as the beginning – instead, collecting scrolls becoming a chore. Overall, the gameplay loop was still very good and entertaining throughout.
Narrative – 5
Both of us followed the cutscenes that occurred every once in a while, but we found it hard to take it as seriously as the game seemed to be taking itself. It was hard to connect to the main character despite the occasional half-flashbacks. We kept making fun of the story and I don’t wanna spoil what happens later, but I wouldn’t say I couldn’t see it a mile away. It would’ve been nice to be able to play a flashback sequence of some kind, maybe as a tutorial or later in the game when the story begins uncovering itself.
The DLC was only 4 chapters but it still had more of the story covered than 13 chapters of the main game, which is a sad thing because only 2.3% of the people who have bought the game have finished the DLC (according to the Steam achievements). It would’ve been great to get some more insight into the characters and the lore, which seemed like it had potential but was never really pushed much. I would’ve liked if the abilities that I have were integrated with the lore in some way as well. During cutscenes, I saw my guy fighting with a sword and besting warriors, while in the gameplay I was one-shotted by randos and could only rely on stealth. I’m not saying this should’ve been an action game, but the other way round. The cutscenes should’ve factored in the gameplay. A lot of the moments are cheesy, and some go another extra length to be hilarious. The last game I reviewed was Yakuza 0, another Japanese game, and I guess I keep running into and playing them despite not being a huge fan of their corny storytelling. The narrative was average, yet it had the potential to be great.
Visuals – 7
I really liked the visual design. It built up the atmosphere of the game well and did a great job of portraying the setting it wanted to. Would’ve even given it an 8 or higher if every enemy wasn’t a carbon copy of another, and every building didn’t feel like one I’d already been in before. Of course, I can’t expect an indie studio to keep designing NPCs. On the other hand, a 7 is a great score in my book for an indie studio for visuals.
One thing I especially liked was the inclusion of the shadow stamina bar in the cape itself, along with the 2 slots of shadow power. The former was used in teleportation and shadow creation while the latter for special abilities – having them integrated in the character model instead of the game interface was pretty innovative and convenient. The changing color of the character model depending on whether they’re in the shadows or light was another great addition, and these things add up to create a nice visual experience while you enjoy the gameplay.
Content – 6
The game has a runtime of 6 hours or less if you only talk about the main game. While the length is perfect for this game – any longer, and it would’ve felt a drag – it also means that there isn’t too much content in there, apart from and including the main campaign. I’m glad they didn’t pad it with useless collectibles, though only the scrolls that were essential to build up your ability tree.
Apart from the main path, there aren’t a lot of deviations you need to take. Thus, there isn’t too much to explore. As I’ve already said, it wouldn’t have been a terrible idea to remove the ability that lets you scan the entire map for scrolls. It would’ve added another ‘side objective’ in the main game (exploring for scrolls), while it also being essential for your main experience. During the early game, when scrolls were scarce, and both my buddy and I didn’t have that many abilities up our collars, we decided to divide different jobs and abilities between us. One of us would be the ‘ledge kill guy’, the ability useful for taking archers out. The other would unlock ‘kunai’, an ability that allows you to snipe out people from a distance using a throwing knife. This was an interesting phase because of the division of roles among us. That was short-lived after we had the ability to hunt through all the scrolls in the game. Overall though, I think the game still has a good amount of content and makes for a very tight 8-hour experience with minimal padding.
Mechanics – 7
The base mechanics involve teleporting to shadows and creating shadows – while managing your shadow stamina bar, as I’ve elaborated. Apart from that, you have a number of different abilities that you can unlock throughout the game, which are fun to use and adds variety to the gameplay. You can mark an enemy, after which they’ll be visible to you through walls, just like every stealth game these days (*sigh*). One mechanic I really liked was being able to evaporate (sublimate, if you wanna be too scientific) bodies out of thin air. I liked this better than the usual “carry the body and put it in the bushes” I’ve seen a dozen times. It went well with the setting, and was a handy feature.
The movement mechanics are good enough, and I didn’t have any complaints from those. I’d have prefered to have the shadow stamina regenerate faster (or make the upgrade for it replenish 50% quicker, instead of 25%) to make a considerable difference. One thing I had a gripe with was the ledge teleport. When you point your mouse to the edge of a ledge (hah!), it will become a triangle instead of a dot, prompting you to teleport there. The problem with it is there are portions where you’re supposed to enter a building by clicking inside, and other times by clicking on the balcony ledge or something. This wastes your time by making you think which one to do, which can be brutal if you’re running away or trying to get somewhere quickly. Another gripe I had was it works only if you are precisely aiming at the ledge, and will not work otherwise. It may be a nuisance for people playing with controllers or high DPI mice like mine.
Another thing I wished the developers added was teleporting mid-air. Basically Aragami’s own version of Spider-Man. You can click in mid-air to teleport there since it’d night anyway and it’s all dark! And before you fall, you can click on another place to reach there. This would’ve required more invisible walls to prevent the players from dunkey-ing the game, though it’d probably be a very rewarding and fun experience. Make it an unlockable ability, I don’t care! Just do that. If you’re a dev reading this, how about this for a sequel?
Challenge – 6
The game was fun to play, yet it wasn’t very challenging in either the stealth or the traversal. I’d still give it a 6 (good) because they at least didn’t make it unfairly hard – which is probably worse. The boss fights were actually very smart in their application, considering this is a stealth game with the only offensive mechanic being the stealth attack. The first boss fight required you to take care of these crystal balls to remove the shield from the boss who was walking around in order to get a hit in. He can kill you with ease if you’re spotted. This was pretty ideal for co-op in my opinion, because my friend kept taking out the balls on the four corners of the map, taking out any enemies on the way, while I lurked behind the boss waiting for the perfect time to lunge at him. If only there had been more levels like that celebrated the existing mechanics by implementing them in a slightly different way and level design every time.
I only recall 3 types of enemies: walking melee fighters (that also have a ranged attack, granted), archers, and these soul ball things that are kind of time bombs if you walk into them, and can somewhat follow you. It would’ve been interesting to have some enemy that could spot you in the dark using a gadget or something. There a lot of possibilities of things to do. Maybe traps you can avoid triggering using the shadow ability teleport (I only remember being one instance of traps like that, that too in the DLC). Or, level design that forces you to use your abilities to the best of your abilities?
Diversity – 6
All the diversity that the game offers comes in the form of its skill tree. You have an ability to throw a knife, turn invisible, and create a black hole vortex that sucks enemies inside. What the game lacks in enemy and level design diversity, it makes up in the form of abilities. If only they were as convenient and practical to use as they sound. Abilities like these are fun, and add variance in terms of how you can play the game. Alas, you can definitely end up finishing the whole game without having to use any ability at all. It would’ve been a good idea to make the abilities more practical to use rather than a whole project of their own. This black whole ability can be placed on the ground or on the back of a soldier, as well. Cool, right? But you need to be behind the soldier to place it, making it pointless if there are many soldiers standing together facing you anyway. There is no way to get to one without being spotted anyway. Maybe this could be the 2nd tier of the same ability, of being able to place it on another soldier within a certain range, but this would’ve increased my usage of that ability a lot.
Similarly, there is another ability called Kunai which allows you to take out an enemy from a distance. It’s just as great as it sounds, especially if you have an enemy that is out of the apparent field of vision of any other foe, because they don’t like to see their pals turn up dead. Thus, it would’ve been great to have an expensive 2nd tier ability for it that made Kunai kills go invisible too. Things like this would’ve made these abilities handier to use than they already were.
Wouldn’t it allow the player to abuse these abilities, you may ask? No. Because you only have 2 slots at a time to use either of these abilities, and the only way to replenish that slot is to get through a checkpoint or do a shadow kill. Which actually brings me to the aforementioned ability; I really liked the shadow kill aspect. It’s basically a slower takedown which triggers a snake (dragon? kraken?) shadow to eat up your enemy. You get a ‘shadow power’ point, and the body disappears as well! What’s not to like? The only downside is that it is slower so you have a chance of getting spotted by others or the enemy himself – thus making it an even better addition to the game. In the DLC, me and my co-op friend played other characters, and the snake was replaced by a tiger. It would’ve been great for both characters to have their own animal shadow kill, kind of like the Patronus in Harry Potter. On the whole, I think the game offers a good variety in terms of abilities, which are still great despite needing some work, but it does lack diversity in other aspects.
Mapping – 7
The level design was really good to sneak through. I remember a couple of instances where a tunnel was able to connect one part of the map to another, making traversal faster and more accessible. I just wish there were more of those instances – those were very rewarding to find or run into. A lot of times I found some vent to walk in – it didn’t really have that much of a purpose apart from that. I think an interconnected level can be a great way to make your game memorable and increase replayability, and while they did show some instances of that in the game, it would’ve been amazing to have even more.
Despite that, why I wouldn’t give it higher is because it had only one way of getting through a level. There are crystal balls lying around the map, and you need to destroy them to disable an invisible barrier. While it was easy to understand and follow, and made sense in a lot of places, it did begin to get stale by the end of the game because it was even used in places where it had no purpose being.
That being said, I do think the game has a pretty solid level design overall and gives the player enough agency to explore and approach enemies in a way they see fit.
Soundtrack – 5
The sound design was good, and the sound effects did what they were required to do. I wasn’t a fan of either the voice acting or, more importantly, the music; it was very forgettable. For a game that is based on this kind of setting, the role of music is exponentially more important in setting up the atmosphere and I feel it was a missed opportunity. Even if the devs couldn’t create OSTs, I am damn sure there are soundtracks out there that go well with this setting that are free to use or very cheap to get.
Interface – 8
The UI looks surprisingly good for an indie game. The design is very clean and everything does its job well. I would’ve even given it a 9 if the scroll ability I’ve already talked about twice didn’t exist. Now, I know. I can just “not unlock the ability” that lets me see the scrolls, which is a fair argument. The thing with that is, though, that the later levels seemed like they are designed assuming that the player already has this ability. There is a certain scroll I recall, which is present within this thick pillar, and it took us a couple of minutes to find where exactly the way was. Honestly, that’s fine, since a player isn’t supposed to find everything in a game. That’s part of the fun.
If I could go back and not get that ability, I probably would. Since the joy of finding a scroll by yourself would’ve been rewarding in a game that mostly lacks challenges in the main game campaign. So my only gripe with the interface is not the lack of anything, but the inclusion of one. Otherwise, everything was really good. Especially including the dark stamina bar and shadow power abilities in the player model.
Pricing – 9
The game is definitely worth getting on a sale. The runtime is only 6-8 hours. Thus, it’s a contained, tightly knit experience.
Performance – 10
Runs very well. There was no problem at all in the online aspect either. Integrates well with Steam.
Replay Value – 7
Due to the small runtime and unique gameplay – there might be some replay value in there if you play after a long break.
Online/DLC – 9
The coop was smooth. The 4 chapters of the DLC were good to add some lore and backstory to the main game. It also adds some more abilities and removes the chore of collecting scrolls to get abilities entirely which is another welcome change – especially since you’ve already finished the game and did all that once.
Final Rating: 7.1/10
I would recommend the game to anyone who is looking for a co-op game to play with a friend. It’s definitely worth the money to try the game out. It kept my friend and me engaged for a week or two as we finished 2 chapters a day and teleported around the shadows to take one enemy after another. I do think the game can be enjoyed alone as well, as all abilities can be unlocked within the single playthrough, yet the DLC is definitely designed for two players. I would personally recommend teaming up in this title, which is what made it even more enjoyable for me than it would’ve otherwise.