Game Review: Okami

By Mike on 3:14 pm

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Ok, lets launch off another game review. 2006 was a very good year for gaming. It's 2008 now and gaming is moving along well. So why am I reviewing a PS2 game that's over a year old? Well, because it's coming out on Nintendo Wii on April 15th. I already mentioned Okami in my top ten of artistic games but lets see where it hits and misses where it really counts. Okami was developed by the now defunct Clover Studios and was published by Capcom. The Wii port is being done by Ready at Dawn.

The story is loosely based on Japanese Shinto folklore. Don't worry, I wouldn't call this a religious game. The story takes place in around the classical to medieval eras in Japan. You play as Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess who has come to Nippon in the form of a white wolf. 100 years before the game takes place, you and the great warrior Nagi had fought the dreaded Orochi, an eight headed beast that had been terrorizing a small village. Orochi was defeated by you and Nagi, but you die in the battle. Your spirit slumbers in the statue of a wolf. 100 years later, Nagi's descendant Susano accidentally revives Orochi. The game begins as the revived Orochi has unleashed a dreaded curse upon the lands of Nippon. It's Amaterasu's job to lift the curses and defeat Orochi once and for all.
The game itself bares some similarities to the Zelda series. The game's developer has admitted to taking inspiration from Nintendo's classic franchise. It's fitting that it would eventually end up on the Wii over a year after it's original release in December 2006. The game itself seems made for the Wii's motion features, though lets not downplay the original PS2 release. Like Zelda, the game is huge and involves a mix of fighting, adventuring, and solving side quests. Even the game's main screen and menus are strikingly similar. That's not to say that Okami is exactly identical to the Zelda series. Though it borrows a lot from Zelda, it is its own unique game.

Lets talk technical details first. The game's graphics take the form of a living painting in the Japanese watercolour, woodblock, and Sumi-e styles, also borrowing from the works of Hokusai. It uses cell shaded graphics. Cell shading is a technique for rendering 2D objects in a 3D environment. The same technique was used in Wind Waker and The Simpsons Game. It's also used heavily in 2D cartoon shows and movies these days. Futurama was a notable pioneer. So while your character is 3D, they appear to have no depth. Another unique feature is a paper filter, which gives a paper texture to complete the living painting effect. The environment is hauntingly beautiful, it's one of the best looking game's I've seen in a long time. Perhaps what stands out the most is that the game looks hand painted. The game has settings to optimize it for CRT or LCD TVs in the menu settings, allowing you to pick what's best for your TV. I'm not sure exactly what this means though. The PS2 version sports 480i resolution with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The Wii version is 480p with a 16:9 aspect ration. PS3 owners can play the game upscaled for HDTVs. It actually excellent on an HDTV considering that a lot of other PS2 games have aliasing problems at HD resolutions. Okami doesn't have this issue. IGN noted that while the Wii version has slightly better resolution, the paper filter (which surprisingly adds a lot to the feel of the game) is not as noticeable as it is on the PS2. Both versions have some frame rate issues but otherwise the graphics are pretty smooth.

The music is also well done in Japanese classical style. The game truly is an AV masterpiece. The sound track is beautiful and the sound effects realistic. You get your choice of stereo sound or 5.1 Dolby Digital. I did feel the game could have really used full voice over rather then the computer generated babbling that Clover used. Voicover would have allowed for more expression from the characters, given that the artistic style of the game allows them to only express emotion through body language. The babble can also get annoying during particularly long pieces of dialogue. It's a minor issue but it would have been nice to hear the characters speak. Then again, Link has been silent for years and babble is better than nothing. According to the game's English translator in an interview, Okami had too much dialogue to practically do voiceover since it would not fit on a single DVD otherwise.

Gameplay wise, Okami is somewhat similar to Zelda. The game is huge and takes about 30 hours to complete the first time through. There's a wide variety of locations you can visit, from cities, villages, the sea side, fields, and dungeons. Throughout the game, your partner Issun the Wandering Artist acts as your guide. Issun is from a race called the Ponnicle who are only one inch tall. If you're familiar with the Zelda series, Issun plays a similar role as Navi did in Ocarina of Time though he fills a much larger role. Because Ammy is a wolf and can't talk, Issun speaks for her. He provides a lot of the comic relief for the game but his character is actually quite complex.
One of the unique aspects of the game is the celestial brush. Hitting R1 will freeze frame and you can draw things on the environment using the Square button and the left stick. In the Wii version, the left stick will be replaced by the Wiimote. There are thirteen brush techniques in total, which are learned as you progress through the game. There are also several sub-techniques you can learn. The brush techniques are your part of your god powers. You can use them to attack and defend against enemies, alter the environment, or open new paths. You draw symbols for the specific powers. The size of the symbol you paint effects the intensity of certain powers. One of my pet peeves about the game is that it can be a bit sensitive when it comes to detecting the technique you want to use. Sometimes you'll draw the right symbol but it won't trigger. The brush is not infinitely powerful. You have a limited supply of ink that drains each time you use a technique. The ink slowly replenishes over time but you have to carefully manage it so you're not caught running out of ink in the middle of a boss battle. Not only will you loose your brush techniques, but also your god powers.
Combat is arena based. Demon scrolls are scattered about the land. If you come too close to one, it will chase you and start a fight. Fights are enclosed by a demon barrier. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal. These are mirrors, rosaries, and glaives. You can equip a weapons as either primary or secondary. Secondary weapons have different abilities than their primary counterparts. The weapon you have at the beginning of the game (a divine mirror) allows you to make close range attacks and can also be used as a shield as the secondary weapon. Rosaries are long range and are used as a whip, or as projectiles as a secondary. Glaives are swords that work best at very close range and launch charged attacks. You get new, better weapons throughout the game, either by completing quests or buying them at a store. You can also upgrade weapons with gold dust.
Since Amaterasu is a wolf on four legs, she controls the weapons telekinetically. If you run out of ink, you loose your god powers which is bad in battles since you loose your special abilities. If this happens, she's only able to fight like an ordinary wolf. No weapons, no enhanced physical abilities. You don't regain your powers until three ink bottles are replenished. However, you can never technically run out of ink as it's being constantly replenished. Some monsters will drop ink bottles for a quick boost. Tools can be employed in battles, such as certain sakes (rice wine/beer) which can improve attack or defence ability and the Inkfinity Stone, which gives infinite ink for a limited period of time. There are a few other aspects of combat worth noting. You have limited solar energy, which is your health. Victory in combat gains money in the form of Yen, which you can spend at shops in the game for more items. You also gain godhood power through combat, which acts as a shield to protect from a limited number of attacks without taking damage. Drowning or running from battle looses godhood. Combat controls are tight and you can learn additional battle abilities at one of three dojos in the game. Lastly, you also have an astral pouch, which if full of food, revives you if you die.
Okami also has some roll playing elements. Throughout the game, you'll be given various quests. Solving problems gains praise. Since you are a god, praise gives you power. You can then bank it to enhance your abilities. You can put it towards more solar energy, more ink capacity, bigger wallets, and a bigger astral pouch. Quests include restoring cursed zones, restoring nature, feeding animals, and helping characters in the game. There are also spots where you can dig up wilted clovers (Clover's shameless plug, lol) and use the brush to revive them. The clovers give you even more praise. You can also dig up treasure chests. Treasure can be collected and sold for money. In battle, sometimes you will get demon fangs, provided you preform a certain special attack which varies depending on the monster. These can be traded for special powerups.
There are a large variety of characters to interact with in quests. There are humans, ponnicle, other gods, and demons. The story is well laid out but there are some parts that irritated me. The story becomes too anime-like towards the end of the game, which I felt did not fit in with its theme or world. The game does have anime overtones throughout but I just though the ending was weird. Without giving too much of the plot away, lets just say it involves fighting a mech and ends with some J-pop over the credits.

For difficulty, as I said it takes about 30 hours to complete. It's no more difficult than your typical Zelda game but there are some parts that do have no room for error. One of which is a race against a demon through a room of saws that nearly drove me nuts, since it was timed. If you've played the Zelda games though, this game is quick to get into. Even if you haven't, it's pretty easy to pick up. The game does a good job at describing how to play. The manual is also well written and even takes the time to explain some of the mythology used in the game. It goes the extra mile for non-Japanese audiences. If you want to learn more, Wikipedia is a good place to start.

Final thoughts. Clover took an epic story and mixed it together with a proven concept and produced a masterpiece of a game. There are very few games of this calibre. I dare say this matches Ocarina of Time, one of the titles that inspired Okami. It has won numerous awards, winning several game of the year trophies. IGN ranked it 90th out of the top 100 games of all time. As they put it, though it's similar to Zelda in some aspects, it's unlike anything else. It's definitely a game that every PS2 and Wii owner should have in their collection. Clover studios closed shortly after Okami was released so unfortunately there will be no sequel. Okami will remain unique. Fortunately, it will see a second life on the Wii and hopefully will sell more copies. It's probably the one of best game I've played.

What works
-Excellent storyline
-Unique and hauntingly beautiful "living painting" art design
-Excellent musical score and sound effects that blends seamlessly with the environment.
-Unique gameplay with the celestial brush
-Finally a game that matches Zelda.

What doesn't work
-Weird 'anime-style' ending doesn't fit the Okami world
-Game sometimes has trouble recognizing brush technique inputs

Rating: 10 out of 10

Tips, Tidbits, and Easter Eggs:
-Plant a tree next to Kushi when she's at the springs. She'll be so delighted, she'll give you a hug.
-When the game is completed, select the red "start here" icon from the saved games menu. It will start a new game but you'll get to keep your items, certain weapons, ink bottles, solar energy, money, and astral pouch contents that you had at the end of the last game. Brush powers are not transferred over though.
-Thoroughly search areas as many special items are well hidden.
-Keep visiting the Dojos to learn new techniques.
-Shooting projectiles at Orochi's individual heads will irritate him. He might need a drink after that.
-Sake is featured predominantly in the story. It is sometimes called rice wine but it shares more in common with beer and spirits. It is non carbonated, typically with low alcoholic content (12%). It ranges in taste from sweet (Nigori) to dry and has a smooth body. It can be clear filtered, or unfiltered giving it a cloudy appearance and milky texture. It is usually served chilled or at room temperature in small cups or saucers. Cheaper varieties can be drunk warmed during the winter months.
-Headbutt the bathroom door at the inn in Kusa village. The girl will freak out. Visit her later in the guest room on the right and she'll give you a sidequest.
-Race the postmen in Shinshu and Ryoshima three times each for a special reward.
-Talk to Camille by Konohana in Kamiki village. Headbutt her when she asks if she's dreaming. Talk to her and her sister again while visiting the city.
-Visit the tower in the Aristocratic Quarters and the rear of Himiko's palace after beating Ninetales.
-Collect demon fangs whenever possible. They can be traded for certain special items. Talk to the Emperor in Sai-an City.
-Collect all stray beads for a special reward.
-In the game's manual, Amaterasu is said to be deliberately genderless. However, several scene in the game clearly identifies her as female. She is also clearly stated to be female in the original Japanese version and in the concept art comments in the Art of Okami book.
-While they share the same name and have similar powers, the Amaterasu in the game is not the Amaterasu from Shinto mythology. Neither are the other characters despite their stories and names being similar. Is this were the case, Susano would be her brother and a fellow god.
-Western elements appear in Okami. Susano's design is partly modeled after Popeye. Waka speaks French and has blong hair. Westerner characters were originally going to appear in the game with different font for their dialogue.
-The weapons in game represent the imperial regalia of Japan. The sword Kusanagi, a mirror, and prayer beads, all said to be owned by the mythological Shinto goddess Amaterasu. They share similar mythological background to the True Cross and the Holy Grail of European mythology. However, the imperial regalia is claimed to actually be in the current possession of the holiest Shinto shrines. No historians, archaeologists, or members of the public have actually seen them though so this claim is debatable.
-The brush gods in the game represent the animal figures of the Chinese Zodiac.
-An Okami original sound track was released in Japan as a CD boxed set but was never made available in other regions. The OST is unlockable on the Okami DVD.

2 comments for this post

Updated April 14th because the first review was garbage.

Posted on 14 April 2008 at 22:38  

Once again I've made some changes to this review. I've also added a few Easter eggs found in the game as well as some tips.

Posted on 5 September 2008 at 22:32