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Aragami: ‘Nightfall’ Review — Stealth Overshadowed By Darkness



Lince Works’s stealth-action game Aragami launched nearly two years ago, so support in the form of its ‘Nightfall’ DLC, while a bit late, is a safe way to welcome loyal followers back to comfort of the shadows. ‘Nightfall’ puts a prologue narrative and new abilities on the table as an attempt to entice fans to return. Unfortunately, despite interesting lead characters and engaging sneaking mechanics, the package is not greater than the sum of its parts.

‘Nightfall’s’ USD$10 price point may be discouraging because buyers sometimes feel as though they are not getting enough bang for their buck for similarly inexpensive add-on content. Thankfully, this package offers more than just collectibles and bonus missions with little substance, as it adds a new story, co-op mode, locations, and settings to learn front to back, alongside new abilities to spice up the tedium occasionally felt in the base game. The Aragami faithful will no doubt want to sink their teeth in again, especially if they have a friend to join in for a double-team approach.

The prologue’s story gives the option to step into the sneakers of either Hyo, a grizzled mentor who is constantly fighting for his life, or Shinobu, who is described as a master field operative with undying loyalty to Hyo. Both assassins are tasked with hunting down an alchemist guarded by an army of soldiers. The story is passable for what it accomplishes, but does little to make itself memorable. Playing as either character yields the same story, so replayability is limited to discovering new ways to take out enemies. Hidden scrolls help to flesh out the story and world, but do not completely soften the blow caused by the lack of attention the narrative seems to have received. The tale spun in ‘Nightfall’ is never completely ignored, though it remains on the periphery, leading to an end product that feels half-baked.

Interactions between the two protagonists (which are sadly limited almost exclusively to cutscenes) inject real character into a game otherwise  missing just that. The pairing is not explored to its full potential though, as it seems to exist only to facilitate the co-op mode in ‘Nightfall’; with the exception of cutscenes, selecting Hyo will almost completely remove Shinobu from gameplay and vice versa. Lince Works tries to tell of the relationship between two killers bound by loyalty, but stays in limbo by teleporting the opposite character in and out without logical explanation. Narrative and intriguing characters are certainly present in ‘Nightfall’, but these offerings are almost as surface level as additional content comes. Playing with a friend is definitely the best way to engage in this new package, and solo players miss out on a more cohesive experience as a result.

While the DLC missteps in its characters, it makes up for these errors in gameplay. Aragami’s gameplay is as punishing as ever thanks to new environments filled with enemies aiming to bring mission attempts to a quick end. Levels take place in daunting hallways, huts, and even the occasional field. The many unique settings present obvious challenge with less obvious solutions. The game provides a laundry list of ways to progress in every area, and each option feels natural. Furthermore, the moment-to-moment gameplay adds versatility through new abilities, though they fail to make an entirely new set of missions feel justified. For example, one of the abilities adds an explosive kunai, allowing a timed explosion to take out a group of enemies; while useful, this mechanic has such a specific use that room for experimentation is null. Only four new abilities of this kind are included, and each suffers from the same ailment. Exacerbating matters, both protagonists possess the same powers. Suddenly, the pull of trying out new abilities seems limited. However, Aragami continues to boast infectious core gameplay, adding difficulty to avoid being sucked into the shadows over and over again while trying to plan different courses of action.

Aragami screenshot Aragami: ‘Nightfall’ does manage to stay true to its unique visual style, resulting in the return of one of the base game’s biggest strengths. Hyo looks intimidating, adding to the feeling of being a true stalker of prey in Aragami’s endless playground. Even the environments somehow look more impressive in this long-awaited return to Aragami’s version of Japan. The steps taken in the original to create an immersive experience are appreciated here too. The dense plains, creative characters designs, and immersive HUD come together to create an intense experience when trying to escape guards. However, the game has some issues that can shatter immersion entirely. One bug in particular completely halts the game from progressing at all, resulting in a complete chapter restart and the loss of up to an hour of play.

All-in-all, ‘Nightfall’ finds itself drenched in detail. Aragami lovers, and even general stealth genre fans, will find content here worth sticking around for, especially for the cheap price. On the other hand, those players hoping for any building upon Aragami’s solid-enough foundation will be sorely disappointed. The genuinely new pulls in the package are shallow beyond belief due to a lackluster story and cool powers that are never given time to shine through the darkness. ‘Nightfall’ is an add-on with a ton of potential that missteps so often that it falls just a bit more than it strides.

Reviewed on PC.


Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans



Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

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