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Aragami: Shadow Edition – The Switch Island Review

Stealth games…

I suck at them!

My very first experience of them was way back in the day when Hitman was first released on PC, and all I ever wanted to do was go on a mad slaughter fest, taking on as many enemies as possible at once, and as you can imagine, I never got far and eventually uninstalled the game never to be played again.

So you’d be well forgiven for wondering why I chose to review one.

Call me old, call me boring, but these days I tend to lean more towards the relaxed and thought-driven gameplay styles, be it in RPG format, puzzle based adventures (a la Captain Toad) or point and click affairs. Taking your time to think about your next move, perfectly timing your execution and the rewarding feeling that accompanies.

So in recent years I’ve sat back and watched the likes of Alien: Isolation, Metal Gear 5 et al pass me by, each one becoming more and more intriguing but never fully hooking me to the point of purchase.

So when the boys here asked, “who wants to give this a review?” I thought, screw it, let’s go (no, not that game!)

You play vengeful spirit Aragami, risen from some plane of existence by Yamiko, a sort of astral projection of a woman currently held captive (along with her Empress and contingency) by the Kaiho clan. Your mission: collect a bunch of talismans to help free them all. This all takes place over the course of one night as you will disappear into a puff of smoke should sunlight touch you. No pressure.

Obviously it wouldn’t do to have a risen spirit go without any special abilities, and there are plenty for you to unlock as the levels progress. The main one being the ability to shadow leap. You can instantly transport yourself to a shadowy patch, which when you get to grips with can feel really rewarding to shadow leap and stealth kill a foe. Even more so if you can chain these leaps together, butcher your target, then leap away to pick your next quarry.

Other moves are learnt by collecting scrolls from hidden areas within the levels, and then unlocking them from a skill tree. A small tree, but it adds a nice RPG feel to the proceedings.

On first impressions of starting, the game looks sounds and feels great. Wonderfully dark cell shaded Japanese landscapes punctuated by very effective flashes of colour here and there really helps the scenery to really come alive. The sounds are immersive; from the far off hooting owls to the blood dripping to the floor from your sword. You really find yourself leaning into the screen listening out for all the nearby audio queues in anticipation of planning your route.

The music score is also wonderful. Haunting Asian melodies, calming in nature accompany you as you pick your way around, becoming suitably more dramatic upon being detected by a guard.

Then, the frustrations begin.

As great as the game looks, the character models often clip into other objects. There’s been many a time when you’re ankle deep in soil! Some of the animation can be very jarring, or in the case of one instance near the start of the game, poorly edited. A scene plays out, and then you get a split second shot of something you feel should be integral to the scene, but by now all meaning of it has now been lost as a consequence. The scenery begins to falter and stutter, the main instance of this I found is looking at metal gates into an area. Not so much screen tearing, but more so if you imagine Disco Stu getting his hands on a glitter ball.

There are occasional control hiccups, which, typically for me, came when you had progressed towards the end of an area. You shadow jump to an enemy’s location. You’re behind him, great! Now let’s go for the kill. Nothing happens. That sinking feeling as the enemy begins to turn and the controller still won’t respond. Bugger! Back to the beginning of the area to start all of the sneaking again.

It felt like I sunk an additional 30% of my playtime into this purely because of this…

The final issue for me is the text animation of the conversations. The conversation text flows fine, until the text box runs out of room so the font decreases in size, jarring you out of the moment. If you’re especially lucky, you get treated to a further reduction in font when the box runs out of space yet again. The story telling moment was lost for me then, and I often found myself speeding through these conversations just to get back to the game to avoid seeing this happen.

Overall though, this is still a fun game to play through, and there is plenty of satisfaction to be had. There are challenges available and plenty of scrolls to find to keep the completionists out there occupied a while, but the game as a whole is let down by numerous technical issues which I hope are patched out in the coming months.

Note:

As of writing this, the two player online feature was not available and I will be re-visiting the review in a few months’ time to see if any patches have been implemented and to give the online play a try.

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