Ninjas and the stealth genre are like PB&J sandwiches: even with stale bread, it’s usually a mix powerful enough that it can overwhelm any unpleasant flavors — though Aragami 2 is the exception that proves that rule. This sleuthy third-person adventure is an utter delight when you’re exploring its brilliant serpentine levels or disposing of evil-doers by way of some creative supernatural powers, both of which are even more fun while hip-tossing your way through the campaign in co-op with a buddy. Even so, a lackluster story, painfully repetitive missions, and one too many bugs keep Aragami 2 from being a tale worthy of legend.
Set in an entrancing, war-torn feudal fantasy land known as Rashomon, Aragami 2 puts you into a stoic hero’s spiffy tabi boots as they try to save the Kurotsuba clan from a miasma of death and disease. It seems a rival clan known as the Akatsuchi wants to wipe any competition from existence, no matter how war-crimey things get. Despite Aragami 2 sewing compelling seeds involving themes of spiritualism, the story never blooms into anything meaningful in the 15-hour long campaign. It’s all just shallow set dressing to justify why you’re throat-punching armored guys around the countryside. At least, as a silver lining, you don’t need to know what happened in the first game to enjoy this one.
That doesn’t really slow Aragami 2 down, though, as prowling around enemy encampments is a ton of fun early on. I typically find the best way to approach levels is to get a good lay of the land via high ground, then proceed with whatever attack plan allows for maximum sneakiness. If an assassination target is on a building’s second floor, climbing up its siding to dip in through a window for a silent takedown will minimize unnecessary encounters. Or, if a situation calls for knocking out several guards, slinking behind them one at a time via back alleyways is an excellent means by which to ensure you’re not overwhelmed. The labyrinthine quality of Aragami 2’s levels encourages crafty, meticulous strategies that are a blast to plan and execute.
That fabulous self-expression only amplifies once shadow skills come into the fold and wildly expand on how you can approach levels. My favorite is Dark Flame, a skill that, on command, will turn lamp posts into explosive clouds of sleep-inducing gas. It comes in handy when there’s a posse of baddies hanging around a choke point, where individually taking them down is nearly out of the question. If you’re lucky, though, there’ll be a lamp post close by that’s eager to send them off counting sheep. Which there often is! Few moments in Aragami 2 are quite as satisfying as witnessing your wild schemes come to fruition in a fell swoop.
Of course, there are times when a plan goes awry, and things devolve into duels that are about as enjoyable as pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks in knee-deep mud. Combat in Aragami 2 is bizarrely swampy and awkward for a game about ninjas, where the timing of both hits and misses feels off, as if the animations aren’t keeping up with the fights themselves. I’m relatively confident the parry maneuver is partially to blame as it often doesn’t, well, actually parry incoming sword-swipes. Frustration sets in quickly when parrying fails, and then enemies wail on your defenseless carcass. Only two or three hits will send you belly-up, so it’s best to sprint, hide, and wait for the guards to get back to patrolling, particularly if two or more are on your tail. Considering guy-with-sword is the only enemy type to encounter for the vast, overwhelming majority of playtime, you’ll likely grow tired of fights, regardless of the outcome. I came to avoid combat at all costs for these reasons alone, even forgoing lethal takedowns when possible out of the fear that they might somehow trigger more tussles later on.
There were more scraps in my future, sadly, especially as I steadily lost patience with Aragami 2’s excruciatingly slow pacing. Missions have a nasty habit of returning to the earlier levels ad nauseam, upwards of five times in the most egregious instances. Sure, you might be gathering intel now instead of rescuing prisoners like last time, but visiting a stone quarry for the umpteenth occasion aggravates beyond belief. Worse yet, virtually every objective is either just a boring fetch quest to nab random items or assassination contracts with no substance. There’s just a staggering lack of variety across the board. It feels like developer Lince Works wanted to draw out the campaign to reach an arbitrary hour count, but Aragami 2 could have nearly half of its missions cut and would be better for it. If that were the case I probably would not have resorted to madly sprinting towards a mission’s finish line near the campaign’s last few hours, often fumbling quieter sequences and resulting in more tiresome fighting.
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As is true of nearly every game that supports it, having buddies by your side goes a long way in alleviating Aragami 2’s more tedious sections. Outside of a handful of short tutorials, the entire campaign is available in online co-op for up to three players, and it’s a blast. In the beginning, my friend and I would usually congregate just beyond a group of enemies’ line of sight, carefully scanning ahead of us while coming up with the best means to take multiple targets out at once together. If two guards split off from each other, I’d strangle whichever veered left while the fool that went right got blitzed by my friend. Synchronization came so naturally that it wasn’t long before all it took was a quick countdown before an attack because we knew what the other was thinking. Even combat isn’t so bad when someone else is there to pull aggro off you and share the load.
Not even co-op can save Aragami 2 from its disastrous glitches, though. These range from harmless, chuckle-worthy stuff, such as guards running laps as if they’re in an intense ring-around-the-rosey match to inexcusable game-ending things where you clip out of a level and have to restart the whole mission to progress. Bugs aren’t frequent, as I only encountered a handful during my time with Aragami 2, but the effects are pretty severe when they do crop up. For example, during a co-op session, my friend and I couldn’t complete a mission because the resources we had to gather were missing the “pick up” button prompt, forcing us to hard restart. When a game is already trying your patience, that kind of thing can push it over the edge.