Aragami 2 review: a breezy ninja stealth 'em up
Flow ninja flow
‘Breezy’ seems like an odd word to slap on a stealth game - a measured, sometimes plodding genre - but it fits ninj-em-up Aragami 2 perfectly. Flow like water, it says; stabby water, with wings. Flow, then, like an irresponsibly sharp ice-sculpture of a hummingbird. Flow imperfectly and playfully, for the same tools that allow you to strike masterfully silent also let you mitigate sloppiness with improvisational glee. If Tenchu was an armoury to select from, and Shadow Tactics a map to study, Aragami 2 is a toybox. Let’s play ninjas, shall we?
And “play” is key. Because there’s playing a game, in the operational sense, and then there’s playing inside of one. If Agent 47 is Ian Hitman, so must our masked protagonist be Gary Aragami. Gary is, as far as I’m concerned, playing dress up as a ninja, and having the grandest time doing it. Gary’s contemporaries talk of personal codes and honour. Gary teleports from roof to rafter in a Kitsune mask, drop-kicking guards, and gently whispering, "lol you just got knocked out by a fox m8," into their unconscious earholes.
Movement is not just the best thing about Aragami 2 - it is the only truly great thing about it. But, oh boy, it is so freeing that it makes the entire game. “Nice rope, nerd”, Gary scoffs at gaming’s recent obsession with grappling hooks, then teleports onto your mantlepiece and boots your commemorative plates to death. Jump. Double jump. Air boost. Ledge grab. Fly up to Torii gate. Plunge your sword into an unsuspecting neck. Dishonored-blink back up and drop behind the guard who just came to check the body. Do it all before the first grunt knows he’s dead yet.
A stamina bar prevents you from endless, uninterrupted strings of clandestine acrobatics, but it mainly provides a sense of rhythm to your movement rather than hindering your flow. Its presence is mostly felt in melee, which is manageable against one opponent but feels deliberately discouraged against groups. That’s fine! It’s a stealth game! Learn to stealth, you graceless rhino! Besides, most slip-ups are mitigated by a few teleports and a nice lie-down in some tall grass until the entire map forgets about the magic blur in an oni mask that just gutted their commander.
Doesn’t this all make it feel a bit too easy; a touch weightless, though? Yes and no. It’s forgiving, but you will get killed very quickly if you try to act the Captain Cojones and brute force too hard. Stages feature multiple levels of elevation, with interlocking patrol groups where the outermost guard of one area eventually crosses sightlines with that of the next. You can easily bring a mob down on you, or get fried by fireballs flung from a watchtower above. Guards can climb, too. Gary can take precious little damage, and failure comes quickly and suddenly.
“Love stealth, me, but it takes ages. I’ve only fifteen minutes before my face explodes.” Is this you? No worries. You could be in and out of most of these 51 missions in under ten. Or, you could hang around for half an hour collecting gold and silently offing the entire map. Or, you could go back and speedrun earlier missions for a better rank and rewards. The downside to this is that there are only around a dozen actual locations, but some are huge, and the game does a good job repurposing them with different patrols and the like.
Each mission is objective based, and later objectives do their best to guide you into improving. Remember when you had but one assassination target? How we chuckled! Now you have to kill six and loot their bodies for scrolls. No shuriken cheese for you! Remember when you avoided getting spotted on the way in by sticking to high ground? Now you have to carry a hostage out, over your shoulders, preventing you from teleporting or using weapons. There’s some heft to these later challenges, especially if you want to perform well, but never enough to stodge up the breezy loop of mission - hub - equipment - upgrades - mission.
Oh, right, yeah. Magic! Gary is also magic. Here are some Gary magics: Gary can whistle. Not very magical, but quite useful. Gary can summon a shadow Gary to stealth kill two guards at once. Pretty magical, imo. Gary can do a ‘get over here’ and suck guards directly towards Gary’s fist. I call it the 'Mike Dyson'. There’s plenty more, some geared towards stealth, some towards violence. My fave is still a well-timed smoke bomb, though.
I said up top that movement was the only truly great thing about Aragami 2, and I’d like to clarify that. The game does feel, in a world of Hitmans and Desperados, a touch light. The distinction between being lightweight and light-on-its-feet is important, though. A remedy to cerebral, complicated stealth sims is certainly not unwelcome. Something that feels just as suited to a fifteen minute jaunt as settling in for a long sesh of nailing that perfect ghost run. It absolutely channels highlights from the past three decades of stealth-action, but it also files a lot of the bumpy bits off. Immediacy over complexity.
"Aragami 2 absolutely channels highlights from the past three decades of stealth-action, but it also files a lot of the bumpy bits off. Immediacy over complexity."
So level design is - some fun verticality aside - nothing remarkable. Missions are forgiving, as is the ranking system. AI is just smart enough to lend stealth a satisfying power fantasy, but never enough to provide head-scratchers. Presentation isn’t all roses, either. The writing is plain. I fell through a few floor textures, and the stealth-kill from cover animation is utterly borked. Visually, it's more consistent than the original, although the cel-shading is much less distinctive.
Still, if you’re the type of player that got all the Tenchu feels during Sekiro when hardcore own-name enjoyer Gyoubu Masataka Oniwa called his horse ‘Onikage’, I reckon you’ll have a cracking time with Aragami 2. It really does remind me of PS2-era stealth, just with fantastically responsive, flowing movement, and snackable pace. Again, it’s not a sim: it’s a toy. And that’s just peachy. We all need to grab a plastic katana and leap around the house like a dickhead sometimes.