A stealth-'em-up with an attractive art style, Aragami was announced last month for PlayStation 4, and is due to launch later this year. Catching our eye with its debut gameplay trailer - which you can watch through here - we reckon that Barcelona based studio Lince Works could well be onto something. It's fortunate, then, that we've had the chance to fire over some key questions to the independent developer. Join us in the shadows with studio director David Leon, and read on as we find out what this sneaky escapade is all about.
Push Square: To start with, can you explain to us what kind of game Aragami is? What did you want to achieve with this project?
David Leon: To put it simply, Aragami is a third-person stealth game in which you play an undead assassin that has the power to control the shadows. We are huge fans of stealth games, and with Aragami we are trying to recreate that feeling of tension and suspense that the classic stealth games give you, but with a modern twist, look, and feel. It's been a while since we had a good 'ninja game', so we wanted to give the world a great successor to old-school ninja stealth games.
Obviously, there have been a lot of great stealth games over the years, but are there any titles in particular that were a source of inspiration for Aragami?
The one particular title that springs to mind is Tenchu – we were big, BIG fans of the series back in the PS1 and PS2 days (school work suffered a lot because of those games). From more modern times, Dishonored comes to mind. And of course, Mark of the Ninja. Our visual styles draws inspiration from games like Okami, Sly Cooper, and the beautiful cel shading style from the new Zelda.
The stealth genre is a reasonably crowded one - what does Aragami do to set itself apart from other games that may be similar?
We feel that over the last few years, the stealth genre feels a bit "watered-down" – it doesn't give players the challenge of what the original, old-school stealth games were known for. We want the player to feel that every move they make has to be calculated – one wrong step and you have to re-write the plan on the fly.
I can't recall any other stealth game with an Asian fantasy setting since the Tenchu days. The theme of Aragami and the importance of the shadow power mechanics is a great mix that I think will make the game stand out among the crowd.
Can you give us any details on what Aragami's undead protagonist is capable of? What kind of special powers does he have? Is there an upgrade system, or anything like that?
When Aragami was bought to life by Yamiko, our companion and guide in the game, he was given the power to control and manipulate shadows. Teleport to any shadow, create areas of darkness, summon projectile weapons, cast traps… we've got a full set of mechanics revolving around the use of shadows.
As you advance through the story you will find Shadow Scrolls which act as a way to unlock new skills and Shadow Techniques for Aragami. There are currently 21 skills and upgrades that can be unlocked.
The point of using stealth is to remain undetected - but does the player have options in Aragami if they're spotted? Can you engage in combat with enemies, for example, or is it game over?
Being spotted doesn't mean it's game over – but you certainly do not want to be caught right out in the open! There's no traditional combat system in Aragami. We wanted to avoid those, as they usually take the focus from the stealth and make the game easier. If you play games like Assassin's Creed or the latest Splinter Cell, you can notice that stealth becomes obsolete when you can dispose of every enemy with a good counter, spamming an attack, or exploiting the artificial intelligence.
So the answer is yes, there's combat in the game, but no combat system. If you get spotted you can outrun your enemies, make them fall into a trap, attack and kill them from an unsuspecting angle, or use a Shadow Technique to attack them.
Stealth games often walk a fine line between providing a challenge and being overly frustrating. Would you say that Aragami is a particularly difficult game? Are there any difficulty options?
We certainly wanted the players to feel a bit of a challenge – we don't like hand-holding in games! However, we do want people to ease into the world of Aragami. We will show you the basics – how to use your powers, how to use your environment, and how the world works. Once you know the basics, we will let go of your hand, and let you figure out how to beat each mission all on your own.
There are no difficulty options planned right now, we want to playtest the game in the following months and see how people respond to the difficulty curve of the game; what I can tell you is that every person that has played Aragami has found the way the game respects them really refreshing. A difficult game is a good thing if it stays fair to the player.
Aragami has a very eye-catching art style, and uses a lot of vibrant colours. How important are attractive visuals and first impressions to a game like Aragami in this growing indie scene?
Although visuals don't make the game whole, it's important to have a catchy, pleasing-to-the-eye visual style. And just like the old saying goes, first impressions matter - even when it comes to games. Great visuals help the player immerse themselves in the world that you are trying to create. They also help to set the mood, vibe, and feel of the game. Plus, as a developer, you do want to create something that is beautiful to look at. You take a sense of pride when people say your game looks pretty – it puts a smile on your face! But without awesome gameplay, visuals won't carry you over the line, and we want to make sure that our game plays just as well as it looks.
The PS4 has become something of a hotbed for indie titles, and Sony is supposedly very supportive of independent developers. Can you tell us anything about your studio's experience with Sony?
We can only speak in high praises about Sony. They've been supportive of our game from day one - giving us advice, helping us in showing the game to the world, and most importantly, in allowing us to create the game that we want. They have full faith in our project and it's awesome to have them on board. They are fantastic to work with!
So, are you looking forward to Aragami? Are you a fan of stealth games, or has its art style simply caught your eye? Emerge from the darkness in the comments section below.
[ Thanks to David Leon for taking the time to answer our questions, and thanks to Michal Napora and the team at Lince Works for making this interview possible ]