Okami Reader Review
It's often said, but with a game such as Okami it has never been so true: games like this come along very rarely, and when they do they're usually overlooked by the general public (often a sign of something special) despite gaining favourable reviews across the board.
In an age when games such as Little Britain: The Game can be top sellers, while games like Okami enter the charts at below the 15th mark, you can't help but cry as you imagine talented developers crossing out their ideas and instead opting for the stereotypical 'guns, killing, explosions!' sales formula to keep their business afloat. Such is the case with Okami, with the developers (Clover Studio) actually being shut-down upon release of the game. While I'm personally unaware if this is due to financial reasons, it still leaves gamers a message that creating unique and amazing games isn't catching on like it used to. Fortunately some developers already have a nice foothold in the market due to longevity (the creators of Final Fantasy, and Zelda for example), but something like Okami is ultimately limited as a 'one-off' affair which is a terrible shame.
Anyway, not to dampen the mood with depressing notions of today's game-buying audience, let's get to the review of this special game and find out exactly why one would consider it 'special'.
The first thing you immediately notice when you play Okami is that it's 'different', and probably a bit weird (at first glance), this is a natural response to such games, but as a lot of experienced gamers realise, it doesn't take long to begin to understand the style of such promising works.
The immediate reaction Okami delivers is awe at the style of the visuals; they�re a mixture between a traditional Japanese water-colour paintings blended with a cel-shading formula. Quite honestly, it looks phenomenal with Clover making the best used of the visual style to push the boundaries as much possible. There's not much on the PS2 that can top this (if at all), with the only major flaws being completely understandable -- these being instances of screen-tearing and a short draw-distance.
What gives Okami a more lasting visual impression than most other games isn�t just the unique style, but also the fact that everything in the game feels exactly like it should be there with nothing looking or feeling misplaced or 'tacked-on'. The music, content and visuals go hand-in-hand with each other, which is something that even the best games out there don't achieve.
And so with an amazing visual design you're also given equally excellent character models, animations and attention-to-detail. Every NPC has something to say (usually something new each time you re-visit the area) with their own unique voice-sounds and facial animations. Even non-important characters seem to have a whole list of sounds and animations despite a lot of players inevitably not even taking the time to notice them.
As mentioned, there are voice-sounds in the game, but it's not in a way you might expect. You see, much like Zelda, all the dialogue must be read, however, this is not because there's no vocal-interaction, but rather that the people/animals in Okami use a unique voice when speaking. Again, it's very strange, but at the same time it fits perfectly in the game and you begin to appreciate it more and more as you delve further into the game.
Delving, you most certainly will be too with the game easily having 55+ hours worth of content. Of course, you could just rush through the main chunk of the game, which is fine, but it's more than a safe-bet to assume anyone playing this will be encouraged to explore every detail of the world before wanting it to end.
The world of Nippon is rather large and holds three separate sections. The place where you're likely to spending most of your time is the mainland where your starting village is, along with the main capital city.
The first village you begin in offers a great area to learn how to play the game, which is non-surprisingly rather easy considering the simplistic (albeit perfect) tone of the game.
With Okami often being talked about in the same reference as Zelda, it's not too hard to say that the controls and gameplay in Okami work out very similar to that of Twilight Princess. However, Okami does give you more control over plat-forming and also offers a little more customization (what with weapons and trinkets), but it's not directly on the same rails Zelda is rolling down, infact it's safe to say Okami offers a lot of differences to make it an easy alternative.
Ironically, one of Okami's best gameplay features would perhaps be better positioned on a Nintendo console rather than on the PS2. When you gain your first Celestial Brush technique you're shown how to use it within the game, which is basically pressing and holding the shoulder button while pressing the square button to draw. This lets you do things like rebuild broken bridges, slash enemies, create bombs and many more complex yet fun functions.
Where the problem arrives is when you have to draw specific actions. While the game does its best to interpret what you're drawing, it's sometimes a little difficult to get the bearings exactly correct and thus some actions may require two or three goes before you get it right. Fortunately the game pauses when you attempt to draw, so at least you don't need to worry too much about rushing (though in some cases a timer does appear, but in these instances simple drawing techniques are mainly required, which isn't difficult). Clover have done well to take into account that not everyone can draw accurately (especially with the PS2 controller), and so you appreciate that a lot when you consider how frustrating the game could have been, but yet isn�t anywhere near those levels of disgrace. What makes the whole situation interesting though is actually considering how much more accurate and - overall - enjoyable it would be to use the brush techniques on a Nintendo Wii controller. If Capcom have any ounce of decency it would be to give Okami an outing on the Wii giving it new features that would surely give it more appeal than what it currently has on the PS2 market.
Again though, not to get too involved in sales and unjustified company closures, let's delve into the storyline which makes up the backbone of the Okami experience.
Along with the visuals Okami also does something else quite interesting with our experience by letting us control not a sword-wielding hero, but rather a wolf with God-like powers. The wolf doesn't even have the power to speak, which you might find odd considering what I mentioned above about NPC interaction. Clover has that covered as well, though, by giving you a cheeky little companion going by the name of Issun.
Issun ultimately plays the role of holding-your-hand throughout the game without being too patronizing and also offering light relief with his stereotypical male obsession with hot babes and mean-while-really-loving and kind nature. But even with a cool little side-kick, and a huge cast of interesting and likeable characters the main praise has to be given to the main hero, which is Amaterasu. One of the best choices Clover have made is having Ammy (as often she is referred as by Issun) as a wise and revered Wolf just because you can't imagine any other animal being such a good format for the game when you play it.
Apparently the storyline is based on mythological Japanese tales and Clover even cite their sources and influences in the well designed manual which comes with the game (which is perhaps the first time a developer has explained their story choices in a manual). Needless to say, the storyline manages to justify every other aspect of the game by being absolutely excellent. The build up to certain bosses - which are a joy to fight, by the way - is always well laid out and reminds you why you're doing what you�re doing (other than to collect all of the brush techniques, obviously).
Once you beat the game you're given even more incentive to play through again not least because it was so amazing the first time round, but also because you're rewarded with new items after achieving certain things the first time through (e.g. like not being killed, or collecting those elusive Stray Beads).
Of course playing through it a second time with advanced weapons and items will make the slightly-too-easy game even easier, but that doesn't really matter as the experience is what counts here. Then again, if you do intend to do everything Okami has to offer there are several areas in the game which require a lot of skill and endurance to complete, therefore filling out any test-of-might urges you may have.
Okami manages to achieve everything a superb game should have, while managing to look and be completely different to anything else out there. A unique masterpiece is the best way to describe such a game, and if were not for the minor issues of performing certain brush techniques, or a couple of hiccups on the visuals then it'd be a no-brainer to label this as a game worthy of the ultimate honour, a 10/10 score. However, even with those minor drawbacks the game still scratches so close to those heights that it feels dishonourable to score it anything less.
9 / 10