Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was a great game in its day. Sneaking around as the ninja Rikimaru, you took down adversaries using a combination of cool weaponry and sheer wits. Since Tenchu has been put on ice, it’s been a long time since gaming has received a 3D ninja stealth game. Enter Lince Works’ Aragami to fill that void. This stylish stealth title partly acts as a callback to Tenchu’s heyday, but carves its own identity thanks to a suite of supernatural shadow-based abilities.
I sat down with Aragami's designers to complete the first three levels and came away impressed. As the titular ninja, you’ve been summoned from the dead by an enigmatic girl named Yamiko. In addition to new life, Aragami has also been bestowed with the power to manipulate shadows. Players can teleport between shadows to bypass obstacles and sneak past enemies. Shadow teleporting took some getting used to due to the aiming reticule, but once I was settled in, I was zipping around relatively smoothly. I regularly used it to warp behind enemies and perform lethal takedowns. Other powers include being able to generate and place your own shadows (ideal for lit areas), and even summoning a shadow dragon.
One of my favorite powers was Shin'en, a shadow-based ground trap. I set one up, then goaded a guard into chasing me near it. Once he was within range, I triggered my trap which summoned a black hole that devoured him without leaving a trace. The developers told me these abilities can be expanded by upgrading them. As an example, players who invest in upgrading Shin'en can eventually tag enemies with it. They could eliminate that single foe or, even better, activate it once the target is near other comrades to suck up multiple foes in one fell swoop. All of the abilities I used seemed cool and, most importantly, useful. I found myself regularly swapping between all of them as I played.
Aragami’s otherworldly talents are powerful but limited. His cape acts as a physical spell meter, conveying shadow usage with the fading of its glowing pattern. The effect is somewhat reminiscent of the traveler’s scarf in Journey. Hiding in dark areas replenishes shadow magic, so players must be mindful of how and where they use their powers. If Aragami’s supernatural gas tank is running on empty, he can rely on his good, old-fashioned sword and kunai. I found the latter particularly handy for discreetly killing enemies from a distance.
Aragami is a hardcore stealth game through and through, so remaining undetected is vital. Triggering an alert makes missions significantly harder. This is mainly because when Kaiho, the army of light, spot players, they unleash radiant beams that kill in a single hit. Not to mention that checkpoints are situated between decently large segments. I had to restart entire areas anew several times, but my frustration was tempered by the fact that deaths were entirely my fault, due to either my carelessness or my impatience. Aragami is tough and demands skill, but it’s not unfair.
Whether you choose cut down every adversary or sneak by without harming a hair, Aragami rewards both approaches and doesn’t push players towards either option. I finished a zone by taking the non-violent route (which is tough to do) and was recognized for it with a special accolade in the post-level grading screen. As nice as that felt, it was equally satisfying to just murder everyone and receive an award for clearing the stage of all enemies - a challenging feat in its own right. Player freedom is also encouraged in the variety of routes presented in each level. I once stumbled upon a secret area that lead to a shortcut. Thorough explorers will discover hidden ninja scrolls that weave narrative threads about Aragami’s former life as well as his explaining connection to Yamiko.
Those who wish to share the shadows with a friend can do so in Aragami’s cooperative mode. Two players can tackle the entire campaign together online. Both players have to reach the end of levels to complete them and must trust in one another's skills to do so effectively. A slip-up from one player, such as raising an alarm, makes things harder for his or her partner.
As someone who enjoys stealth games, as well as all things ninja, Aragami is officially on my radar. The shadow gameplay fits the ninja philosophy like a glove, plus it's just flat-out cool. As I stated earlier, the difficulty is up there but much of the fun is derived from the steep challenge. I relished the opportunity to test my skills in each new area.
Aragami rises from the shadows this fall for PlayStation 4 as well as PC, Mac, and Linux.