Stealth action is far from the most prevalent genre on the market, even with the modern Hitman series and the occasional triple-A treats like Arkane Studios’ Deathloop. It’s this that made the original Aragami such a pleasant surprise in 2016, delivering a classic linear ninja espionage game that felt in line with classics like Tenchu. While it wasn’t an incredible game, it was a refreshing debut for indie developer Lince Works.
Aragami 2 felt like the perfect chance for the team to refine and polish their stealth narrative adventure, but instead, the series has taken a lateral shift into an open-ended co-op mission smorgasbord that almost answers the question “what if Monster Hunter was about doing ninja stuff?”
There’s no need to catch up on the story of the first game before diving into Aragami 2. Set a century after the first game, it tosses the protagonist of the original into an entirely new world where shadow-inflicted citizens of a small village are at risk of being decimated by an invading clan of warriors. There are a few interesting ideas established throughout the 15-hour campaign of Aragami 2, but don’t expect them to get explored or fleshed out in a satisfying way. Narrative and character development are much less of a focus in this sequel, so while the light story elements tie into the new open-ended nature of the gameplay loop and make it easy for anyone to hop into the game, it’s sure to be a disappointment for any existing fans of the series.
A lot of the core gameplay of the first Aragami carries forward to the sequel, but it’s been remixed, expanded and altered in a lot of ways. A few core abilities from the original – like creating shadows in your environment to act as movement markers and hiding spots – have been removed in favour of mixing a larger skill tree of more versatile abilities into the game. You can unlock a series of base perks with useful properties, and then dump a few extra skill points into each perk to upgrade them and their abilities. A generic distraction whistle that alerts nearby enemies can be upgraded to target specific guards, or a temporary smokescreen can become a permanent smoke-emitter deployed at any lanterns on the map. Underneath it all, the fundamental stealth gameplay remains, and it’s easily the most satisfying part of the game.
The variety of stealth tools at your disposal help break up the monotony of the new gameplay loop in Aragami 2, which might come as another surprise to fans of the original. The sequel is set in a small hub village, where you upgrade your abilities, customise your armor, and then snag missions from a job board. Grab a mission, hop into the shadow-teleporter-thing and get whisked away to a standalone environment in order to complete your objective and escape unharmed.
The structure apes off Monster Hunter, but it’s hard to feel like it’s warranted. Monster Hunter makes sense because of the endlessly repeatable nature of your task to hunt huge monsters, and other hub-oriented games justify the repetitive job-search with unique missions or threads of narrative tying sets of missions together.
Aragami 2, struggles to justify the unstructured experience. Mission objectives are far too basic and repetitive, and without a strong narrative purpose, it’s hard to get excited about nameless assassination contracts and generic supply gathering missions. Enemies and environments are just as repetitive – you’ll return to the same maps multiple times, and encounter the same humanoid blade-wielding guards for pretty much the entire run of the game.
The repetitive enemy design adds an extra wrinkle to the discomfort of failing stealth. When you’re spotted in Aragami 2, you enter combat. There are fun ideas like parrying and sword-clashing at play, but it all feels a little muddy and unpolished. Due to the clunky AI, you can often just run away and hide in a corner after being caught to avoid combat and reset the enemy alert meters.
Repetitive missions, repetitive environments, and repetitive enemies make it hard to enjoy extended sessions in Aragami 2. On the other hand, it’s kind of an incredible game to take small bites out of every now and then. HItman levels can take upwards of an hour to experience and I don’t always have time to invest into a fully linear, narrative-driven stealth game – but taking 20-40 minutes to do a couple of simple and satisfying Aragami 2 missions? I can handle that. It’s the kind of comfort food game that lacks polish and variety, but still ends up being a surprisingly fun time in short bursts. While the sequel has taken a big shift in direction from what the first game promised, at the end of the day it’s just as much of a flawed yet impressive stealth game as the original.