Title: Aragami 2
Developer: Lince Works
Release Date: September 17, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Lince Works
Genre: Stealth Adventure
The stealth genre is fun in concept, but rarely does it live up to the experiences provided in games such as Tenchu or the Metal Gear Solid series. However, that doesn’t stop me from wanting a new title to spend hours in the shadows and peaking behind corners. Indie developer Lince Works began their venture into this space with the 2016 release of Aragami. Now, we see them expand their stealth systems and mechanics in the much-anticipated Aragami 2.
Aragami 2 is a standalone sequel that follows the journey of Kurai, as he rises to become the last hope of the Kurotsuba clan after being threatened by a never-ending curse. The Aragami are a collective of cursed individuals that are victims of a supernatural affliction that slowly robs them of their humanity, body, and mind. On top of this, they are also enslaved by the Akatsuchi Empire in their conquest of the Rashomon Valley, and it is up to you or a group of up to 3 friends to stop them.
There are a few notable differences found in Aragami 2 when compared to its predecessor. Though both games are challenging, Aragami 2 allows for a welcome addition of head-on combat. In addition, the protagonist’s signature cape from the first game is replaced with a stamina bar, and the level design is more extensive, offering free-roaming exploration to explore and find hidden collectibles and blueprints.
Aragami 2 is a fairly linear game. Instead of story-guided missions, it introduces a central hub known as Kakurega Village, where you can select missions via a map, talk to NPCs, unlock abilities, and purchase items. Each mission is ranked by a letter for performance, with S being the highest achievable tier, so there’s reason to replay stages outside of collectibles.
Completing missions earn experience points that can be exchanged for abilities in a skill tree. Further, levels have money bags scattered about that provide the funds needed to purchase items or cosmetic armor. Customization comes in different color dyes for armor unlocked through gameplay, with hidden blueprints containing rarer colors.
Sadly a few more limited design choices make their way into this new adventure, including a long, drawn-out campaign bloated with fluff in the middle hours that don’t push the narrative any which way. You revisit the same maps upwards of seven to eight times as you cycle through the same loop of objectives: rescue or kidnap someone, fetch some items, or kill some enemies.
One of the benefits of level design is the feature where you can leap to cliffs, ledges, windows, and rooftops. The scale of each map paired with this mechanic made them feel like a playground I was swinging across. However, you begin to naturally slug through the levels as you perfect navigating their layout after a while.
The narrative is significantly lacking in the middle portions that bring the story to a crawl, and it isn’t until the end that new map layouts, enemy types, and mission objectives are introduced. The same goes for visual and audio design. The cel-shaded artwork is passable, with noticeable improvements to the engine. Voice acting is awkward, with characters speaking without their mouths moving in a language that I assume is supposed to be Japanese but doesn’t sound like it at all. For the most part, these details are excusable because the main focus is on the gameplay mechanics, which leads to some ambitious features.
While your signature move, shadow kill, still makes an appearance, there are many cool new skills and abilities. These range from creating a cloud of stunning gas via lamp posts and summoning a shadow clone for distraction to warp striking your enemy.
By the end, your entire arsenal of shadow powers allows for some very satisfying gameplay. Stringing together a slew of tightly knit executions without being spotted by an enemy always left a sly grin on my face. The versatility of the skill tree also dramatically benefits the game’s replay-ability, allowing you to tackle previously completed missions with some new tricks up your sleeve.
Though Aragami 2 does offer the element of real-time combat, if you manage to break stealth, it doesn’t do it well. The sword combat is a chore as the button input response is inconsistent. Perfectly timed parries sometimes do nothing, and enemies often hit me through walls or break out of my stun-lock to one-shot me. If I was spotted, I always opted to run away because of how unbalanced and unpolished the combat mechanics were. I understand that stealth is the main focus, but introducing a new mechanic this broken isn’t a good look.
In addition, the enemy AI can’t keep up with your skills. They don’t notice the splattered blood of their dead comrades right in front of them and quickly lose interest in you after you jump onto a ledge, hilariously allowing you to backstab them within seconds. The entire mechanic of picking up a body and disposing of it is rendered useless because it doesn’t matter in execution.
Aragami 2 will surely scratch any itch that you’re looking for within the stealth action genre. Laying waste to unsuspecting enemies with your buddies and jumping from rooftop to rooftop provides a certain sense of satisfaction. Unfortunately, however, the other systems can’t keep up with this action, leaving the narrative, AI, and overall game loop to simply exist in hopes the play doesn’t get lost in the shadows.
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