It’s sad every time I’m reminded by newer generation stealth games that methodical stealth is dead; buried in a shallow grave by developers who have decided to move on to fast-paced, action-orientated games with a hint of stealth. Aragami 2 is no different in this regard, a highly anticipated sequel to, you guessed it, Aragami. The question is, however, even though that classic style of stealth may be gone from the newest title, can it pull off the newer style of gameplay?
If you’ve read my reviews in the past you’d know this is the part where I start talking about the story. Well, in Aragami 2, while there is a story it was so forgettable that I’ve forgotten what most of it was about. But, I do remember the basics – you play as an Aragami, a soul trapped in… somewhere… that has the power to control shadows. This power is sought after by your enemies who will stop at nothing to get to you and the other Aragami of Kakurega Village, so you must use whatever means necessary to free any remaining Aragami and drive back the invading forces.
I know what you’re saying “wow Ben, that was the most generic way you could have described that”. And you’d be right, but that goes further to prove my point about how forgettable the story is. There’s not a whole lot of memorable stuff that happens, and even if it does (like friendly characters dying) it’s not written in a way that makes you want to remember — let alone care. There’s one specific plot point that I know was meant to feel like a big deal, but came across so eh that I felt the need to skip the cinematic and get back into the gameplay.
The next paragraph is spoiler territory for the story.
Like I mentioned before, the Aragami have the power to control shadows. Well, anyone can control the Aragami with the help of the most generic MacGuffin devised; a stone that holds the souls of the Aragami. The bad guy uses this stone to cause you to turn your blade on a friend, stabbing them. But guess what? Your friend actually managed to catch it in their hand and the blood that was pooling on your blade isn’t actually from their stomach. She then reverses this “deadly” wound, snaps you out of your daze, and you go back to fighting the bad guy. Plot armor is as thick as it comes and is so apparent that it’s obnoxious. It’s like the writers put a spoon full of food in front of you and are just playing airplane over and over again. Like, god dammit give me the damn food and stop messing with me. This game should have felt a hell of a lot grittier and had a no holds barred attitude.
Speaking of gameplay, you’re probably wondering what I meant when I said that “methodical, stealth is dead”. Well, the developers have killed off the best part about Aragami 1 and replaced it with significantly faster-paced gameplay. I have my reservations about that, mostly because I loved how the first one reminded me of classics like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Now, Aragami 2 reminds me of Splinter Cell: Blacklist with all its kill-chaining, fast-paced stealth action. I’ll note that I don’t dislike Splinter Cell: Blacklist — that game is one of my favorite games to binge — it’s just that the formula for Aragami 1 was perfect and really didn’t need such a significant change.
In Aragami 2 you’re encouraged to use passive abilities like run, dash, and teleport to skim through levels like you had Goku’s Flying Nimbus. Couple that with air strafing, and that you just need to be a hair’s width above someone’s head to assassinate them, and you can bunny hop your way to each kill till you’re at the end of the level. In fact, completely ignoring that it should be a stealth game for a second, it’s almost too fast. In fact, I found that after botching a kill, I could use all these speedy strats to either always avoid aggroing the enemies (even if the enemy was basically right next to them) or, if I do agro them, turn a corner and get 100 meters away before they even round it. Aragami 2 is extremely forgiving to the point that it’s too easy.. Couple the fact that there’s no difficulty option, and you’re basically going deathless across the entire game.
Of course, Flash’s speed isn’t the only new thing that this game has to offer. In Aragami 2 the game boasts a way larger selection of abilities than the first title. Some involve killing your enemies quickly, while others might give you passive buffs while you play (i.e. recovering stamina during combat). Arguably, the best of which is Mesmerize – which dazes and blinds your target so you can get by completely silently. It was really fun incorporating this ability into a kill chain to knock off multiple targets at a time.
The other biggest change is the inclusion of one-on-one combat. This is easily my least favorite part of the game, not because it takes away from the stealth gameplay but because it’s not very rewarding. Sure, it’s challenging to survive, but going from balls-to-the-wall speed while assassinating targets to standing and waiting for a parry opportunity feels kind of out of place. If the combat was to feel satisfying enough for me to want to try it, it’d make more sense to be at the same speed as the stealth side of gameplay. Let’s break that down; in combat, you need to find a good balance of striking and blocking (and occasionally parrying). Both you and the enemy have a stamina gauge, which will be whittled down once enough strikes land on either. Once you manage this, their guard will be broken and you can start attacking their health — and once you get towards the end of this bar you can either perform a finishing attack animation where you’ll choose to kill or knock them out. Do note, however, that the AI isn’t like Ghost of Tsushima — enemies will attack you at the same time. Again, extremely challenging to stay alive, but not satisfying enough to feel fun.
Instead of playing through the levels linearly like in the first game, the Aragami spawns in the hub world of Kakurega Village after each mission. Here, you’ll be able to stock up on supplies, buy cosmetics, talk to the villagers, and decide what mission to play on the village’s bulletin board. It’s still rather linear, as the only purpose of the bulletin board is for you to visualize what mission you’re to do next rather than giving you a drop-down list like you would have when selecting a mission from a menu screen. Even if the game drops a set of missions on you from time to time it won’t matter what order you finish them in as it doesn’t impact the story — coupled with the fact that there are zero side missions, this bulletin board starts feeling a little out of place.
One thing Aragami 1 was known for was that most, if not all levels were reused for future missions. Aragami 2 has this in abundance, and while there are 51 total missions there’s only a handful of levels that you’ll play through. Most of the time you won’t be spawning from a different part in the level; you’ll start right from the beginning. Once you realize this you’ll be exploiting specific travel lines through the map and ignoring entire portions of it because you know that there’s nothing for you over there. It quickly becomes repetitive since you’re playing through the same maps but doing something slightly different each time. Very early on I gave up on taking my time with the game and decided to follow these specific lines to complete these objectives, and almost immediately I started to finish levels in mere minutes. Only 1 level took me 12 minutes to finish, and that was the final boss fight of level 51, with the second slowest speed of 6 minutes, and the third of 3 or 4 minutes — isn’t it crazy that every other mission took me under that third slowest time?
Don’t get me wrong, the levels were very well designed and looked gorgeous. There’s one level set inside a major city that I absolutely loved hopping rooftop to rooftop on and taking in the sights. However, after a while, you realize you’ve seen everything you need to see and you start to focus solely on the objectives.
The last thing I want to touch on is bugs and exploits. I’ll start with the latter. As you know, this game is super easy to exploit, almost to the point that it’s way too easy. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re doing it (i.e. bunnyhopping from assassination to assassination), while other times you do it once accidentally and you realize there’s no point not to do it. In this case, it’s to do with how after completing the objectives you’re required to extract from the mission. If you die, you don’t immediately fail the mission; you’ll be spawned back at the start with all your progress saved up until you died. Die twice, however, and you will fail the mission. But, because you’ll always respawn at the start of the level on death (unless it’s one of the three actual methodical stealth missions), you can abuse this by killing yourself once all objectives are completed. On spawn, move an inch backward, and you’ll complete the mission. Again, ridiculously easy to exploit that it kind of feels silly not to. I mean, if it’s there, why bother trying to survive all the way to the extraction point when if you die you’ll spawn there anyway?
Thankfully, bugs aren’t the bane of this game’s existence – so fear not, it’s generally completely playable. The bugs I came across were ones where enemies occasionally walk through walls, or if I was in combat and I pressed Y/Triangle to pick up an object to complete an objective I would instantly snap to the enemy instead of picking it up (this one actually was a massive pain, but you could fix it by getting out of combat). There was one where I assassinated a target, began the animation, but then slingshotted back to the platform I was on and they were alive, but they ruined a perfect stealth run. The weirdest one was on the mission end screen. When you complete a mission you’ll be shown an end screen to see how well you performed, giving you a ranking in either Ghost (not sure how to exactly accomplish this), Spirit (either avoid detection or be minimally detected), or Demon (killing everything). Somehow, I got an S-tier rank in Spirit for “no hostiles killed” and “all hostiles killed” (as above).
Aragami 2 is extremely different in comparison to its predecessor. It’s not slow anymore, you don’t get one-tapped by enemies, it’s a hell of a lot more forgiving, and you can exploit the hell out of it just by accident. If you were hoping for a game in the same caliber as Splinter Cell: Conviction or Blacklist then you found it, but if you were looking for the original Splinter Cell quadrilogy, you best look elsewhere.
Aragami 2 is so ridiculously easy that you can breathe in its general direction and you’ve exploited some gameplay mechanic. It’s great for those who like speedrunning, or those who might not have a lot of time in their day, but if you’re hoping for the slow and methodical stealth gameplay of Aragami 1 then you won’t find it in the sequel. Just like most developers (eyeing you Ubisoft over Splinter Cell) it seems working gameplay formulas mean bugger all.