Observable patterns have been a part of video games since…well, at least since the inner sleeve of Buckner & Garcia’s Pac Man Fever album (they’re called “albums,” kids, not “vinyls”) contained the patterns for certain objectives of Pac Man. Most arcade games, the majority of shoot ‘em ups, and plenty of puzzles in Zelda and Mario games can be overcome by simply watching and learning.
Aragami: Shadow Edition—a third-person stealth game from Lince Works and Merge Games— can also be won by watching and learning. Or by stabbing, but even that requires a great deal of patience.
Aragami starts with a flashback of your death, it seems, before you learn you’ve been called back to the living by a girl named Yamiko. Only you’re not actually seeing Yamiko, you’re seeing visions of her because she’s been captured by the Kaiho army and needs you to free her. You’re surprisingly chill about all of this, but perhaps that’s just part of being a dead ninja.
Gameplay centers around Yamiko guiding you to various locations to acquire certain items, all of which are heavily guarded. This is where your particular skills are needed, as it’ll be up to you to figure out how to get past the guards and get what you need. Yamiko’s not much help here, but you do have a raven who can eventually help you monitor enemy movements as you level up your skills. Aside from that, you spend the game in the shadows waiting for your chance to sneak by or eliminate the enemy by simply pressing Y once he’s in range. If you’re detected, it’s pretty much game over; the guards can kill you with one stab. Even if you manage to hide again they will stay on alert for a bit where they’ll be more likely to detect you.
But you’re a dead ninja, remember, and that comes with certain abilities. Mainly, you can quickly warp from one shadow to another. This not only helps you move more quickly but also allows you to pass through gates and access higher areas. Eventually, you can also create shadows in certain areas and even learn to turn those shadows into weapons. It’s all quite slick, and it means you get to be a bit more proactive than in stealth games you’ve played in the past.
In order to create and manipulate shadows, you have to have “shadow energy.” This is maintained and replenished by creeping along or hiding in the shadows, and it’s indicated by the darkness of your cape and cowl. If they’re all black and Tron Legacy-like, you’re good. Stand in the light, however, and your shadow powers fade to red until they completely disappear. Placing this information on your character himself and not in the corners of the screen was a fantastic development decision that really helps you stay focused.
Aragami: Shadow Edition rewards you for completing levels in either pure stealth mode (no one is killed) or pure vengeance mode (everyone is killed). You get extra rewards if you go either way, which means you’ll likely want/need to go back and play levels differently in order to get all the rewards. That will also help you find all the hidden objects that facilitate your skill increases, so you’ll be doing it anyway. Thankfully, the later skills often make the earlier levels much easier, such as the ability to hide away the guards whose careers you’ve abruptly ended.
How you’ll feel bout Aragami: Shadow Edition will depend largely upon how you feel about standing still. Early on, I spent most of my time crouched in a corner saying, “There’s no way that guy can’t see me,” followed by yelling, “Hey, he’s not supposed to be able to see me!” Stabbed, start over. A lot of the game involves sacrificing yourself to learn enemy locations and movements, as when warping up to a level you can’t actually see just to find a guard standing right there. Starting over is not a huge chore since the levels aren’t too long, but that’s little comfort when you’ve spent half an hour carefully working your way through only to die at the very end. With better planning, what took you half an hour the first time can logically be accomplished within five minutes on the second playthrough.
Also, things get more fun as your skills increase and the story progresses, so the game does reward you for sticking with it past the slow beginning. It also helps that the cel-shaded graphics remain colorful and varied throughout, giving you plenty of interesting areas to explore. This carries over into the free Nightfall bonus content, too, which also provides new characters to control and abilities to master.
Review: Aragami: Shadow Edition (Nintendo Switch)
With its methodical, unforgiving gameplay, Aragami: Shadow Edition is not for everyone. However, it doesn’t try to be. It’s aimed squarely at the Tenchu crowd, with whom it should be a hit. If you’re a younger gamer who’s never tried a true stealth game, Aragami is a great place to start.