In the land of Nippon (Japan), a mammoth monster has been released upon mankind. As Okami Amaterasu, you must fight the evils of the world and restore the land of Nippon to its previous peace. So begins our romp through Okami, developed by Clover Studio (R.I.P. 2007) and released in the U.S. on September 22nd, 2006.
The storyline puts players in control of a female goddess from Japanese legend, Okami Amaterasu. However, rather then taking the form of a human female, Okami is pictured as an incredible white wolf. Amaterasu doesn’t speak, but she is accompanied by the chattery Issun, a small entity who wishes to master all of the Divine Brushtrokes. Issun is a fantastic addition to the game: Okami’s plot is faithful to the atmosphere of Japanese legends, and his presence adds a lightness that prevents the events to develop too dramatically. They set out on a quest to recover all of Amaterasu’s lost brush techniques, restore color and life to Nippon, and defeat the monster Orochi. However, they eventually find themselves confronting a much greater evil (no spoilers here!) The story is simple yet stirring, comedic yet dynamic, and emotional in a way previously thought impossible in a game.
Behold the cel-shaded glory
From a graphics standpoint, Okami is the most beautiful game you have ever had the privilege ever play. This is not an understatement. The game takes cel-shading to the next level, immersing one’s senses in a moving watercolor painting. Okami’s environments feel exactly as they should – when roaming through an open grass field, they are alive and vibrant; subsequently, while in a cold and harsh place, they still adapt and fit. You literally feel like shivering when entering the snowy land of Kamui. Animals litter the world, giving it another element that adds to the already amazing sense of life. Watching bursts of color appearing on your screen, dead trees blooming into cherry blossoms, and battle effects has never been quite as beautiful as in Okami. This game would be worth it for the art alone, fortunately there is a lot more than art that makes this game a must have.
Music to the ears
The sound in Okami is brilliant. First, the music must be mentioned, with dozens of scores stirring a sense of tranquility into the mind of the player. The music always perfectly matches the environments and situations you are in. During boss battles, music is epic, providing a backdrop to some truly amazing experiences. In dungeons, music is creepy, mysterious, or whatever it needs to be to fit the situation at hand. This game wouldn’t be what it is without the amazing combinations of graphics and music that it provides.
Other in-game sound effects are good as well, especially small things such as a sound every time you defeat as boss or find a secret. That may sound familiar to Zelda fans, and indeed it is, because while one might not expect it, Zelda and Okami share many similarities (which will be discussed more later).
Last but not least the voices, but voices they are not. Each character, from major to main to minor, speaks with a series of squeaks, mumbles, and grumbles instead of an actual voice. While this could be a turn-off to many people, you quickly get used to it. After playing through however, one realizes how bad real voice acting would have been for the game. Trust this; the quirky voices are beneficial instead of a reason to miss out on this fantastic game.
Paint your way through the most original game ever…
Even after all it’s other positive elements have been reviewed, where Okami truly shines is its gameplay. The main focus is on the “Celestial Brush”. During any time whatsoever, you can press and hold R1 to turn the game into what looks like a sepia scroll of parchment, which pauses the game and allows one to draw, interacting with your surroundings in amazing ways. It’s a strange concept, but it’s actually the core of the game and its main success. There are 13 brush techniques (15 if you count blossom, lily pad, and vine as three), which each allow the player to interact with the world in magical ways. Rejuvenate things such broken bridges or missing stars by just filling in where it respectively should be using rejuvenation. Slash monsters, trees, and almost anything else in the environment by using power slash. Dead trees can be bloomed using "blossom". The list goes on and on from drawing bombs to summoning gusts of wind. Almost all techniques can be used in multiple different ways, especially as one uncover secrets as they venture through the game. There is a limited amount of ink, but it rejuvenates quickly and never poses a large problem. Be aware that Okami does not possess all these skills as soon as you begin the game; they are obtained along the course of Okami’s adventure. In fact one doesn’t receive the final brush technique (blizzard) until about forty hours into the game!
Speaking of length – this game is long in that fantastic way where one hopes for it to never end. It’s like a magical book whose 1,000 pages aren’t enough. Expect a first play-through to last a solid fifty hours (assuming you don’t rush through the game). It is at least a forty hour game minimum.
You get many weapons throughout the game; each one being original and beautiful. There are three classes of weapons, or as they are known in the game – “Divine Instruments.” Each class of "Divine Instrument" has a different play style. All weapons are upgradeable through the use of "Golden Powder," a rare and desired item. One can equip a second weapon as their sub weapon, and depending on which sub weapon is equipped its effect changes. For example, when a reflector is equipped as a main weapon it allows for short melee attack chains; but as a sub weapon, the reflector acts as a shield upon pressing triangle. This allows for many possibilities and combinations that are up to you to explore. Battle consists of combined brush strokes and weapon attacks, as well as finishing moves with the brush which can yield Demon Fangs. These valuable items can be traded in to certain merchants in order to receive specific charms and other goodies. The regular fighting is on the easy side (non-boss battles), which although might seem like a bad thing, isn’t because of the game’s pacing. Sometimes, it’s just a wonder to admire the multitude of ways to defeat enemies.
The controls are intuitive and easy, fitting the celestial brush easily into the rest of the game. Besides battle there is so much to do. Different activities net "Praise" which can be used to upgrade stats. Praise is received by doing quests, feeding animals, and many other unique activities. Hidden throughout the game, Solar Shards net Okami greater maximum life every time three Shards are collected (similar to Zelda’s heart system).
Even loading screens are interactive and fun. There are two minigames: Pressing X at the same time as footprints appear on screen, or rapidly pressing X fifty times before the loading is done. Each will net a Demon Fang. There are areas like forests, shrines, caves, and islands that remind us of dungeons from Zelda games, with puzzles, fighting, and bosses galore. They can vary in length from around 15 minutes to 2-3 hours, which is great on the first play-through because one doesn’t know what to expect. None of the dungeons are incredibly hard; in fact a few are downright easy. Don’t get Okami expecting a huge challenge, as the game holds your hand for a while, and never truly pushes one to the limit. It’s still hard enough to be fun and play through, and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. After you beat the game loads of extras are unlocked, as well as the ability to play a "New Game +", keeping all upgrades (minus brush techniques), all yen, and most of weapons and items that were collected by the end of your first play through.
To sum it all up, Okami is a truly amazing game that can be appreciated by everybody. Sandwiched between its compelling story, stellar graphics, and gorgeous musical scores Okami is one of the best game experiences this generation. Okami is a must-buy for everyone, simply because no gamer has experienced anything like Okami before.