Mork of the Ninja
HIGH Old-school stealth with gorgeous modern art
LOW Old-school pacing issues/mission design with modern finicky controls/incoherence
WTF For a shadow ghost ninja, this guy runs awfully slowly…
Aragami is both a welcome reminder that ‘obsolete’ has no meaning when it comes to game design, and a sobering affirmation that it’s really difficult to make an ‘old-school’ project that offers appeal beyond mere nostalgia.
In fairness, Lince Works picked a good niche to try and fill — Ninja games. While standout titles like Mark of the Ninja and Ninja Gaiden have managed to capture the mythical battle prowess of Japan’s most famous assassins and spies, few beyond the ungainly Tenchu series have tackled the subject from a third-person, stealth-focused perspective. In fact, Tenchu was cited as a primary inspiration for Aragami, and there are shades of the early Splinter Cell titles as well.
Set in a fantasy world almost shamelessly inspired by Japanese culture, Aragami casts players as a vengeful ghost, summoned by a mysterious maiden named Yamiko to exact violence upon the not-samurai of the Army of Light.
To fulfill this mission, players will stick to the shadows, remain unseen, and kill silently. Aragami‘s style of stealth is, like the older games it draws from, unforgiving in nature. The soldiers of the Army of Light are deadly, and will use their light-infused weapons to instantly kill players as soon as they’re detected. Where newer design philosophy would allow players to accept (or even enjoy!) dealing with failure, Aragami doesn’t hesitate to kick its players back to the last checkpoint if their sneaking isn’t up to snuff.
To its credit, Aragami doesn’t just recall those games and rest on their laurels. Instead, it takes that older gameplay’s do-or-die style and incorporates innovations that newer, more open styles of stealth have introduced. Most visible in this philosophy are the array of special powers available, including a method of teleporting similar to Dishonored‘s Blink. There are also other shadow-based magics that can make enemy corpses disappear, quietly consume guards from a distance, and most importantly, enlarge and project shadows where they wouldn’t be otherwise.
Shadows are Aragami‘s lifeline, providing cover and recharging players’ powers. Conversely, direct exposure to light drains the player’s abilities. The interplay of shadows and powers gives the game its hook and structure, and in conjunction with its striking and colorful visuals (the main character looks like a ninja rendition of Journey‘s cloaked avatar) Aragami carves out its own niche, almost able to stand alongside its inspirations. Almost.
It’s unfortunate, but technical issues and uninspired missions weigh Aragami down, preventing it from living up to its potential.
Enemy AI in classic stealth games has never been especially good, but having an old-school level of bone-headedness alongside a fully-empowered player tends to soften the challenge too much to be engaging. Further, the game’s thirteen chapters take too long to open up the toybox of abilities, forcing players to stick with safe, boring strategies or exploiting AI dunces to get by.
Prospective ninjas who choose to stick it out will easily spend a dozen hours chipping away at ‘perfect’ runs or indulging completionist tendencies, but for most others, Aragami won’t be seen as more than a reasonably competent also-ran.
Disclosures: This game was developed and published by Lince Works. It is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player and multiplayer modes, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game’s rating is M, and contains blood and violence. The game features plenty of violent-looking stealth kills with various melee weapons.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game features subtitles in English and transliterated Japanese (romaji), but voiceovers are locked to Japanese. Due to the nature of Vocaloid voice synthesis some lyrics and speech cues may be difficult to understand. Almost all songs in the game are in Japanese, and being a music game, audio is a major part of the experience. However, it is entirely possible to play the game using only the visual timing cues.
Remappable Controls: The game contains remappable controls for the face and shoulder buttons, as well as PS4 touchpad and stick options for certain input types.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the game.
Today he continues to write for a living while trying to turn his fledgling knowledge of Japanese into a marketable skill. He is Managing Editor of Japanese culture site Japanator and is a Contributing Editor for Destructoid. He has written for The Escapist, The California Literary Review, Esquire Magazine, and proudly holds the badge as the premier apologist for Star Trek Online.