Well it’s been a long time coming, and Okami is finally in stores. It found its way in to my PS2, replacing the demo discs that have been released from time to time. And after playing those discs, it made the beginning of Okami slow going, and I was almost alarmed that I wasn’t fully enthralled and in love with the game. I don’t know what it was but after clearing that initial game play hump where you sort of establish yourself with the beginning powers and you move on to the real meat and potatoes of the game I fell head over heels for this game. Many comparisons to the magic of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series have already been made about this game, so I’m trying very hard to avoid them because that’s really all that’s been said, but is that really a bad thing? I don’t think so, but let’s see if I can avoid doing it.
First thing that is immediately noticeable about Okami is its stunning visual art style. There are many a pundit in Hollywood who sit back and say that video games are not art; I’d say that this game is the perfect argument towards those who talk about just zoning out and playing a mindless game. Watching this game in motion is absolutely amazing; everything is fluid and feels alive. There will be times where you’ll be taken aback by the scenery and I say, just pause, and take it all in. Clover Studios has done such an excellent job at giving us a living and breathing world, it’s great to just sit and watch flora come to life behind the white wolf Okami Amaterasu as she bounds through fields and goes about righting the wrongs of ancient Japan. Strong presentation goes hand in hand with the graphics of this game. Encountering new enemies will give an old haiga art style display before the fight begins which just looks cool. Little and I do mean little things are what make this game beautiful, the attention to detail and emphasis on the beauty of nature only strengthen how good this game looks.
The pseudo cel-shading and post production effects in this game also lend to its visual style very heavily. It also does a good job hiding a lot of graphical issues, like clipping and texture fighting, but seriously, you’d have to be very meticulous to find these kinds of things and they really don’t take away from the overall experience. For all that the graphical bells and whistles hide they also help bring out the best in this game. The visual style and design at times had me sit back and just listen to the music and let Amaterasu take a short nap. To put it in a very short explanation, you will not find a more unique and beautiful game on the PS2 or any other system for a long while.
The audio is also a really strong point of the game, well at least from a musical stand point. The music sounds great and fits everything perfectly, running through the hillside while the music is going through one of its powerful tracks just kind of helps emphasize how big of an adventure this is and how success is the only option. The music for battles with regular enemies and bosses is also very fitting and sets the mood perfectly. The sound really takes you back to ancient Japan and only strengthens the mood, and I could just go on and on, but I’ll stop gushing. The only weak point in the sound department is the lack of voice acting, but considering how large this game is, I’ll happily put up with the Animal Crossing style of speech.
To call the story of Okami Amaterasu epic might be a bit of an understatement. After being trapped as a statue for one hundred years Amaterasu wakes to find that the evil power of the eight headed dragon Orochi has been unleashed once more upon the world. It’s up to Amaterasu and her little sprite friend Issun the Wandering Artist to retrieve the ancient powers of the Celestial Brush in order to take down Orochi once more. This is just a bare bones version of the story, and I really cannot do it justice with this explanation, it’s just best if you see it for yourself. But I will say that the game does an excellent job of keeping the story going, just when you think you’ve got this game beaten and figured out it will throw something new at you. This game treads a fine line between being funny and serious, but it is always entertaining. The interactions between Amaterasu and Issun alone are good odd couple material and really add a lot of personality to this game. Couple this with a myriad of interesting bit characters and you’ve got a game that oozes with life that graphics alone cannot properly convey, especially when you consider that Amaterasu does not speak a single word. Actions truly do speak volumes while you play this game. Issun may try to serve as Amaterasu’s voice but his attitude and disposition only make their interactions better.
In between story bits there is a lot of exploring to do in Okami. Amaterasu also lovingly referred to as “furball” or “Ammy” gets around very quickly, which you would kind of expect for a wolf. On occasion there will be something that appears in the way, when this happens; odds are you need to use the Celestial Brush. This special ability allows Amaterasu to draw to repair or destroy things within your path. See a crack in a wall; draw a bomb to open a path. Need to cut down some trees? Well just draw a straight line across the offending object and it will topple. Of course I’m not even beginning to scratch the surface here, but I just wanted to give a really short overview, since I don’t want to give away a lot of their uses. But there is always a use for the brush and it adds a lot of depth and is more than just a simple gimmick, you can tell a lot of creative puzzles are the result of this mechanic.
Ammy’s not all just art, she’s got plenty of power in her lupine form, and she kicks ass with the best of them. Attacks are a simple press of a button and can be upgraded for more moves. Ammy also receives a handful of weapons that range from rosaries to swords each more powerful than the last. Ammy’s brush techniques can also be used in combat as well and can reveal weak points in what could be an airtight defense. The other nice thing about combat is that it isn’t used as a mean to a leveling up end. Instead Ammy earns power ups through Praise which is a nice break from a grinding norm. Instead of killing enemy after enemy Ammy can satisfy the needs of nature, by repairing blossom trees and feeding animals of the wild to earn Praise which is like experience and is dumped into expanding the life bar or increasing the amount of ink Ammy can hold.
Okami has finally come home, and Clover Studios could not have done a better job in my opinion. The game is full of life and has so many fun and interesting features that never bore, even references to Clover’s previous games make short but enjoyable appearances to help shake things up from time to time. This game is also by no means short, just when you think the adventure is coming to an end you find that the game has only really just begun. I really cannot say anything bad about this title, as it excels on every level, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I will keep this one in my collection for a long time to come, save this one for the kids of the future as it really displays the power of imagination that this industry is becoming increasingly devoid of. Once you step out of the first village and into the full world you’ll find an amazing experience that is only rivaled by Nintendo’s Zelda… damn it I did it… Bravo Clover, bravo, you’ve made the wait more than worth it.