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Review – Okami

posted on January 30th, 2007 by pat

While some genres are mainly constructive (most sim games for example), the action adventure genre has historically been destructive. Even though your character is generally on the side of good and fighting evil there is something dissatisfying about achieving your ends using strictly violent means. Rarely does a game come along (outside the real time strategy genre) that gives the player the ability to create as well as destroy. Okami is such a game.

As the goddess Amaterasu you alternate between attacking demons with a variety of swords, mirrors(?) and rosaries(??) and restoring the world around you to its former natural beauty. This makes the experience of playing the game much more complete, since you actually have the capability to act like a god (assuming its not the spiteful, vengeful type of god), meting out punishment to offenders and aiding the just in their day to day lives.

Okami has more mechanics than most players (myself included) will know what to do with. In addition to the standard jumping, attacking, searching for items, and talking to people, you also have the ability to employ your Celestial Brush. Apparently, the various gods and goddesses influence our world by drawing things that then become reality. The brush techniques (of which there are thirteen, and several of them have at least one upgrade) can be used for all the standard battle attacks, such as melting a particular foe’s ice armor with your fire, as well as to influence the world while outside of battle.

If only Bob Ross were alive to see this.

While there are a few obvious and simple uses for your brushstrokes, causing a gust of wind to start a windmill for example, some of the more subtle uses may go unnoticed at first, such as using that same wind technique to push Amaterasu around on a lily pad she had previously created for herself. In battle, the wind you summon can be used to knock flying enemies back down to earth where you are eagerly awaiting meeting their heads with your weapon. Should some seemingly odd use for a technique occur to you while playing, it is probably worth trying out, as it just might do something useful.

And it’s a good thing that the creative actions in the game are so well developed. The destructive aspects (fighting) of the game are somewhat underdone. Fights are never bad, since the controls are tight and the inclusion of several different weapon types do a little to keep them fresh, but they are rarely great, either. The few combos that you can learn are not different enough from each other (basically, an additional attack strung onto the end) and fights frequently devolve into mashing the square button (even this is unfortunate, since square makes your character dash outside battle, which would be useful to be able to do in battle).

A couple of special moves (such as Golden Fury) are available, but most fights feel mechanical. You will work in some brush techniques, but once you have faced an enemy a few times even these become somewhat perfunctory. Boss fights are an exception to this. While some of these clashes boil down to skilless square mash-a-thons, for the most part the bosses require a combination of attacks, dodges and brush techniques and are a blast to play.

The graphics have put this game on the map, and it’s safe to say that Okami is awe inspiringly beautiful. Enough has been said of the game’s signature watercolor style that I cannot add much. Let me just say that each time I was about to take them for granted or try to convince myself Clover’s particular brand of cel shading is overrated, the game would come up with something to make me fall in love again. The subtle touches are remarkably well done, and it seems as though no aspect of the visual experienced was neglected. This attention to detail permeates the game well beyond what you see.

Almost every aspect of the game received the same tender loving care. The sheer number of things to do is practically overwhelming. In addition to the many lists of objects you need to collect (treasures, stray beads, traveler’s scrolls, etc), you have to feed animals (similar to collecting except you need to have the appropriate food with you when you meet each of the dozens of animals), go fishing, and perform ad hoc tasks for the residents of the several towns you will visit. These tasks include using the aforementioned lily-pad/wind combo to ferry people down a canal, retrieving items from groundhogs, finding and defeating certain monsters which are terrorizing townspeople, and fixing various things (waterwheels and drying racks for example).

The game is so stupidly pretty you can’t always tell what’s happening.

Even this laundry list of tasks neglects some of the deeper minigames the come up from time to time. There is a recurring 2D digging game that is very brush technique intensive and varies from enjoyable to frustrating. The world of Nippon in littered with cursed gates, and passing through them leads to some of the tougher battles encountered in the game. You can deal with two different currencies, collecting one of which requires detailed knowledge of the enemy (or the purchase of special moves at the dojo).

My point in listing all of this is to demonstrate that this game was somebody’s baby and this person cared enough to develop an entire world for Amaterasu. Some of the most successful fantasies are able to immerse the reader/player in whatever world they have tried to create by fooling us into believing that this world persists while we are not a part of it. The Lord of the Rings accomplished this by making brief references to legends and characters which are left otherwise unexplained. This technique implied that while reading, you believed that Middle Earth had a history and mythology well beyond what we were being told, and that Tolkein was just drawing on the relevant parts.

Okami accomplishes this in a similar way, by giving each of the NPCs their own business to conduct and backstories which are more or less revealed. Amaterasu may or may not encounter every character who could use her help, and if she does, she can choose whether or not to help them. Regardless, the player believes that these NPCs will go on with their living and dying either way, with only the strength of their belief shaken. In addition to all of this, several of the events in the game are grounded in actual Japanese myths, further knowledge of which the player can choose to pursue or not.

My personal experience with the game was not uninterrupted bliss. The fighting is just drab enough that I occasionally lost momentum while playing, at one point putting it down for several weeks. The minigames and sidequests contribute to the experience, but can become a nuisance and serve to distract from the main plot (although it is tough to fault Okami for this since all games concurrently impress upon the player the need for immediate action as well as the need to do a million other things before going off to fight the bad guys). I do not begrudge the game its various awards and honors, and I was glad to see it receive the accolades. It was an ambitious project that was carried off very well, and for that it deserves my undying respect. Considering how large Okami is, ignoring most of its minor problems is quite easy since it does so many things so well.

7 Comments

  1. Christian said on January 30, 2007:

    Its been said in certain circles of the ‘net I frequent that Okami feels like a trilogy of games crammed into one because Clover knew this was their only shot. This in turn leads to something with a lot of content, but as Pat says sometimes it can be tedious.    In any case, I was really excited about Okami before its release, and then I stopped caring.  The more I read about it the more it became apparent to me that it was very much a Zelda-like, including all the silly things that the modern Zelda games often do to annoy rather than enhance.  I guess it also doesn’t help that so much of the people screaming about it seemed to only be doing so because of the graphics and Japanese mythology.  I’ll still play it some day, but I’m not guaranteeing myself any level of experience. 

  2. jay said on January 30, 2007:

    It’s completely unfair, but I couldn’t help but compare Okami to Shadow of the Colossus. Something making such an effort to look different should be different through and through may be my stance. I like Okami (the few hours I played) but was disappointed that the innovation was mostly skin deep. I am a god, why am I picking up yen and countless other stupid items? I really love the minimalism of Ueda’s games and I was just hoping Clover would either borrow from him or strike out on their own boldly original path. They didn’t.

  3. pat said on January 30, 2007:

    i can completely understand the thought that this game feels like a trilogy glued together.  there are a few neatly discreet chapters that could almost be played in isolation.  

     

     

    i do think that both of you are reacting to all of the hype and attention this game has received rather than the game itself.  its true that the game never pushes the envelope the way an ueda game may, but it is still better and more playable than just about anything else available in the genre.  in other words, stop being jerks and like this game.

  4. Matt said on January 31, 2007:

    One of the coolest things in the game was when you created a bed of flowers by running and jumping. That really put you in the role of a god, one with otherworldly powers. It also looked really neat.

  5. DeeMer said on January 31, 2007:

    The best thing Okami did is the Brush.  It’s always available, quick
    to active, and easy to use.  All commands can be input in less than two
    seconds; hold the button, draw the shape, and magic happens.

    Compare this to Zelda, where to do most important tasks
    required you to pull out an ocarina (or baton), input the song (after
    memorizing it), have the game play the song again, then the effect
    occurs.  This is especially trying in the Wind Waker’s Shadow Temple. 
    You are required to switch between Link and his companion by way of a
    song, taking maybe 10-12 seconds each time.  This issue is
    addressed slightly in Twilight Princess, but you still have to swap
    around inventory there, and Okami still does it better.
     

  6. jay said on January 31, 2007:

    That’s an excellent point. Every time I transform in Twilight Princess, I get pissed off that I have to talk to Midna (then when the transformation happens with no apparent loading time, I feel a little better).

  7. pat said on January 31, 2007:

    very good point deemer.  the only problem is the tradeoff ease of use causes late in the game (im thinking around yoshpet).  by the time you have all or most of the techniques, it can become difficult to use the right one since you can now manipulate most of the things on screen and frequently end up using ice when you meant slash, or something like that.

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