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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: Clover Studios PUBLISHER: Capcom
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 19, 2006 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

And I'm hungry like the wolf...

The Japanese culture is a strange mystery to us folks who never have the chance to actually experience it first-hand. Many people only base their opinions of Japan from what little popular quirks seep overseas, be they the rubbery, lovable face of Godzilla or surprisingly creative ways to implement tentacles into the daily lives of young women. So when other elements pop up, they can occasionally be startling to some -- unless there are swords involved, which automatically self-inflicts its own "cool" status. As for myself, I am quite happy with what Japanese minds come up with, at least when it comes to quality video games. How else could we have experienced wonderful milestones in gaming history such as Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Final Fantasy? If it were up to American developers, all of those games would have bazookas and large-breasted prostitutes at their forefronts. But I praise their innovations because it appears as though Japan is the root of technical and gaming innovation. So when I first played Capcom's "Okami", it was quite a different experience. Okami is not your standard game. Japanese culture drips off of it like maple syrup off a tasty flapjack, and although it may spook off a few Halo-pushers, it could be one of the best PlayStation 2 experiences out there. Too bad it didn't sell as well as it could have...

Okami follows the story of the wolf goddess, Amaterasu, the descendant of an equally heroic wolf, Shiranui. 100 years before this game is set, Shiranui and the swordsman, Nagi, battled Orochi, an eight-headed dragon-shaped demon who terrorized Kamiki Village. Orochi was sealed away, but thanks to the thieving nature of Nagi's descendant, Susano, Orochi is upset and unsealed, ready to carve his vengeful mark upon the village -- nay, the world of Nippon (what Japan is referred to in the actual country) -- yet again. Amaterasu is conveniently revived by Sakuya, guardian of the village, to go after Orochi. And to join him, out of the bustial cleavage of Sakuya pops a tiny sprite: Issun, the wandering artist, whose lust for breasts is unmatched, it seems. You must guide Amaterasu through the necessary tasks in order to prepare for Orochi's downfall. But of course, there's more to the story than that; Orochi is not your only goal, but please, play on to find out more. I shall spoil nothing further! Okami is, in general, a lighthearted game, although it knows precisely when to maintain a serious undertone. After all, nothing says humour like a small bug-like creature who likes to travel long distances inside the cleavage of wood sprites and ogles every woman with at least a modest physique. Yep, your accompanying pal, Issun, sure is a perverted fellow. Does he not understand that he's particularly small and probably would not do well on a date with a human female? Most characters speak, but what the developer did was record real people speaking in various emotional tones, and then jumble those speeches up so that they can be ...uh... NOT understood in every language on the planet.

The very first thing you'll notice as you begin to play is the very unique graphical style that Okami possesses. Instead of a very straightforward "plant a character into a grassy knoll" type of world, everything around you appears as though it was painted on with the swift stroke of a classic paintbrush. It's referred to as "sumi-e", or ink and wash style. Everything from the lands that you cross to the enemies you encounter look hand-drawn, and this is the primary source of its artistic structure. Yet the framework of the overworld is dynamic, so whenever you move around, the "paint" swirls with you, especially in darker areas where the darkness, indicated naturally with black, is quite pronounced and shuffles along with the angles of the light. This could be very well be one of the most majestic-looking games out there. However, there are definitely naysayers out there. I must reference my father, who, upon seeing me playing Okami and believing the graphics appeared cheap, was generous enough to quip, "I hope you paid five bucks for that." I secretly know that I paid more than five dollars, but I do not at all feel guilty.

Yet if graphics made the game, it would be no more than a clone platformer. Such is not the case. Okami presents a control scheme never before (and never again) experienced on a console video game. In additional to making Amaterasu run around and bark at things, you are also given the abilities of the Celestial Brush. By pressing the R1 button, you can use the analog stick like a paintbrush of your own as your surroundings become a magical tapestry. Over the course of the game, the mighty gods will teach you new techniques that can help you on your quest (and they appear at the most convenient times, by mere coincidence), such as drawing a circle around a withered tree to make it bloom again, or drawing two parallel slashes to slow down time temporarily. The brush can be used anytime, in battle or on the field, to make the world cuddle to your every desire... within reason. This brush will become your best friend as you make your way across the various terrains

But I must say that Okami is rather forgiving at times, considering I often can't draw a circle to save my life, even when necessary. Kudos to the programmers. Your amount of ink is also limited, although the meter slowly refills itself over time, so keeping a close eye on that and not writing all over things willy-nilly is a key to success. But where would a fine game be without the ability to improve your own character? Well, the designers thought of that, too. By collecting Praise, you can freely upgrade the length of your health and ink meters, the size of your Astral Pouch (filled up by food to act as a means of emergency revival in case Amaterasu perishes), or the storage space in your wallet. It's actually easier to obtain Praise in Okami than it is in real life, amazingly enough. You can get Praise by a) helping out people in need, b) reviving withered trees, and c) feeding renegade wild animals with purchased food bags. Those animals are everywhere, and they range from the timid rabbit to seriously hungry bears. Those guys love their fish.

Along your way, you're destined to encounter more than your fair share of enemies, which are very Japanese in flavour and likely stem from ancient culture. They are usually encountered by walking furry face first into a floating colourful parchment on the field or in a dungeon. Yes, that is what I said, though it makes no sense. Once you are start a battle, you'll enter an almost psychadelic ring with your foes, so be prepared to battle! Armed with one of the many disc-shaped glaives, rosaries, or reflectors (known as Divine Instruments) that you can snag over the course of the game -- and equip as sub-weapons for extra effect -- you can beat the living tar out of many of your enemies until they fall prey to death. However, as you progress, the enemies become naturally more difficult and you'll need to use a combination of physical swipes and Celestial Brush strokes to survive. And believe me, some enemies can be quite irritating if you don't know their weaknesses right off the bat. Once you get the ability to slow down time, I strongly recommend using it wisely. Just make sure to keep an eye on your ink meter! You can also extract Demon Fangs from enemies that can be redeemed for nifty items. Get them by... ah... spraying your dog juice all over them. Yep, literally lift your wolf leg and soak the fang right out of them. Gross? Maybe a little. Oh, but if you want new moves, be sure to purchase them from a rather feisty dojo master. He's feisty and makes a few wild noises; enjoy opening your wallet for this character.

That's not to say that Okami is the perfect game. If I have any complaints about Okami, it was the level of challenge. I did not encounter any Game Over screen through my entire journey; I'm quite used to succumbing to the Grim Reaper at least a few times in action titles, so when I don't, that's a strong sign that the difficulty is a bit on the easy side. On the other hand, going through a game without repeated deaths is probably just what my already tattered nerves needed. If you just stock up on plenty of health items, and make sure you have good weaponry and brawling skills on your side, you shan't go wrong. As well, I could frown a bit at the presentation of the story. The game's introduction is far too lengthy without being particularly exciting. Yes, there is a good backstory to predate what happens in the game, but there isn't much liveliness to watch screen after screen of (mostly) static activity. It was 2006, not the early days of the Atari 2600 -- add some movement! I also didn't like the fact that when the game felt as though it was coming to a close, you discover that it's not, and you still have a big chunk of game left. Okami does that several times; I found this jarring. I'm probably alone with that opinion, but I will stick to my story!

Regardless of these minimal flaws, Okami is still a very well-produced and charming title, indeed a flower in the muck of much of the PS2 library. I realize that I didn't mention every little detail about this game, such as the little sidequests, but I'll leave that up to the player to discover. It's a shame that the original developer, Clover Studios, was dissolved the year after Okami's release. That's sad, although their final release, God Hand, was proof that maybe Clover was a one-trick pony. Luckily, the sequel, Okamiden, will be hitting the Nintendo DS later this year, making full use of the stylus capabilities, so drawing circles should be much easier for me. Hopefully the liveliness of its PS2 counterpart will continue to shine through and impress me once again. C'mon, Capcom, do it again! Give me another amazing game. ...No more Mega Man Super Excellent Zero XYZ 3: Brown Cow Tigress sequel nonsense.


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