Okamiden - Staff Review  

Dog Day Afternoon
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Painting mechanics remain engaging throughout
+ Amusing, fun to watch plot
+ Welcome variety of locations and situations
- Combat is downplayed - justifiably so
- Final area is a letdown
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   "The pen is mightier than the sword" has usually been a figurative expression save for the purposes of humorists, but in the case of Okamiden it is wholly accurate. Young Chibiterasu does wield a few weapons, but his use of powerful calligraphy is the savior of the world, not the slaying of bothersome baddies. Slaying the planet's evil denizens, though necessary, cannot resuscitate its dead ecosystem. Even Lassie is made to look like a lazy dog when confronted with Chibiterasu's feats.

   The basic controls are similar to many other action games. Chibiterasu can jump and attack nearby enemies with his current weapon, both of which handle effectively. It is the uncontrollable camera that will occasionally obfuscate the onscreen action, though not to an overwhelming degree. Navigating the areas of Nippon is accomplished efficiently and enjoyably save for an odd camera angle, but these are hardly fatal to the game's pleasures.

   The calligraphy aspect of Okamiden is what separates it from anything else except its predecessor, and efficient use of the stylus to draw upon the environment is vital to make any progress. Throughout the game, pressing the L or R button will turn the currently viewed area sepia, and allow Chibiterasu to use any of his constantly-growing Celestial Brush arts to change the surroundings. The accessible arts being color-coded while in Brush mode ensures that making a mistake is easily recognized, and the DS touch screen is perfectly responsive to the needed strokes. There are a few tricky puzzles in the game, but the stylus-controlled calligraphy does not make them trickier than necessary.

"I fell asleep at a tattoo parlor with my wallet open, that "I fell asleep at a tattoo parlor with my wallet open, that's what happened!"

   With that said, there are a few points at which the directions are somewhat unclear on precisely what stroke is necessary to progress, and in these situations the game will supply the necessary pattern after repeated failure. Fortunately, failure usually does not expend any of the ink that Chibiterasu requires to use the Celestial Brush. The presence of a timer for every use of the Brush is actually not an issue because thirty seconds is more than sufficient to perform the deeds necessary, but there are a few instances in which the player's reaction ability will be tested repeatedly until a stroke is done just right. Requiring pinpoint attention may be bothersome, but if it is the worst complaint to be levied against the calligraphic construction, Capcom has done a lot of things right.

   The environments of Okamiden also deserve credit for compelling constant calligraphy use. Dungeons and NPC-filled towns alike are stuffed with places and things on which to use the Celestial Brush. Dungeon locations vary as the game progresses and incorporate the full range of powers Chibiterasu gains, while their use in the outside world is mostly optional but still rewarding.

   Combat is a necessary evil Chibiterasu must partake of, but it doesn't hold attention nearly so well as the calligraphy. The use of certain calligraphic techniques against enemies is the major selling point, because button-mashing is the only real tactic otherwise. Sending Chibiterasu in to smack an enemy repeatedly, then running away if necessary, works against every foe and gets boring very fast. The camera likes to pan a little too close to the dog, and though its corrections are fast, enemy attacks are faster. Bosses are considerably more inventive and use fixed camera angles, but most encounters are tepid and uninteresting.

   Okamiden's story is not quite on the level of high literature, but nevertheless entertains. It begins nine months after Okami when the son of Amaterasu arrives to find that evil has not been removed from Nippon even though Orochi has fallen. Chibiterasu finds a variety of companions to compensate through their dialogue for his inability to speak, and the character interactions are frequently amusing to digest. This is not really a tale to captivate audiences everywhere, but it serves very well within the game, and manages to pack a few real surprises.

Mermaid guidance hasn Mermaid guidance hasn't taken off yet, but will probably become a fad next year.

   Visually, Okamiden looks somewhat like Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light's strongly outlined storybook style. The graphics show the DS in its best possible light, using bold colors and excellently animated characters to stay captivating throughout. Even when the camera pans out to make everything onscreen tiny, the visuals remain clear and striking. As for the audio, its Japanese instrumentation sounds pleasant without being especially memorable, though there are some very good sound effects to enliven the proceedings.

   The core game of Okamiden will probably take a little over twenty hours to complete, though plenty of side quests exist to entice more playing time, often derived when new Celestial Brush powers are acquired. Several hidden techniques are also available, and a higher difficulty level can eke out more playing time if necessary. Both difficulty levels allow one to retry areas with no penalty even if slain in combat, making the challenge of combat quite painless, though figuring out a few of the puzzles may demand some brain power. The real difficulty comes from the final area, which forces combat into the forefront with no distractions by throwing many mandatory minions along with repeated bosses into the player's path, and thus makes this portion of the game less than captivating.

   The power of Okamiden's pen is what should draw it the most attention. This game is ideal for the DS, and manages to display some of the best visuals on the system in the process. Its combat may not show great taste, but the rest of the game sketches something worth beholding, making Capcom's effort very easy to appreciate.

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