Okami - Review  

Painting a Picture
by Cidolfas

PlayStation 2
20-60 Hours
+ Amazing, unusual visuals and music
+ Paintbrush techniques are fun and interesting
+ Tons and tons of stuff to find and do
+ Fast-paced gameplay
- No voice acting.
- Story not as deep as some may like.
Click here for scoring definitions 

Welcome to Okami, Studio Clover's vibrant answer to the Zelda series. While the game borrows heavily from it (especially Ocarina of Time), it provides a wholly different and, in many ways, superior experience.

First, the backstory. You play as a mute white wolf, Okami Amaterasu, the incarnation of an ancient sun goddess. In her past, she dueled with the evil eight-headed serpent Orochi, but was slain as Orochi was defeated. Now the demon has reawoken, and so has Amaterasu. Her task is to regain her lost powers and take on Orochi again.

In this, she's joined by Issun, a tiny artist. Issun is both a lecher and a loudmouth, in total opposite to Amaterasu's silence (he dubs her "furball"). He's the equivalent of Zelda's fairies, jumping around to draw your attention to interesting spots and providing banter, description, and story interaction in a very entertaining manner.

Rather than rely on the various tools Link usually carries around, Amaterasu's main power comes from her paintbrush. Holding the R1 button brings up her canvas, and you can draw on the world to alter it. Once you've learned the correct brush strokes, you can draw out the sun, make plants grow or rain fall, burn or slash objects, and much more. It sounds like it'd be difficult to control on a PS2, but I never had any problems with it, as the strokes are all simple enough to handle easily.

The paintbrush techniques allow for much more natural and interesting interactions with your environment than most Zelda games provide. You can cut down rocks, make vines grow, create waterspouts or lily pads, and in general, rather than using artificial tools to inflict on the landscape, you change the landscape yourself. It's not perfect - some abilities require very specific types of flower or statue to work on, which takes away some of the immersion - but it's a very natural way of playing.

Caption Stunning visuals.

The rest of the gameplay isn't all that complicated; you fight enemies by encountering them in wandering scrolls, or in scripted battles. You can buy new moves and combos from dojos, but generally you're going to be just attacking nonstop, or using your paintbrush to affect enemies' weaknesses.

Interestingly, while you do "level up" your characteristics like HP and wallet size, you do so by garnering "praise" rather than fighting battles. Praise can be obtained by helping people out, feeding animals, or making plants grow. So if you really want to get stronger, you need to do sidequests rather than battle (all you get from battle is cash).

However, it's not the gameplay that really makes Okami an experience unlike any other. It's the setting and presentation. First, the game takes place in an extremely stylized version of ancient mythological Japan (or Nippon). An incredible variety of myths pervades the story, and as you explore you'll find more characters to care about.

The graphical style is nothing short of breathtaking. You feel like you're inside a Japanese watercolor. Trees have white ribbons draped around them. Wind is an elegant set of white arcs in a black sky. Torches drip discrete flames, each one looking hand-drawn. Cherry blossoms flutter in the wind. Evil kanji characters decorate cursed areas. Some story scenes are illustrated by full paintings. Considering its emphasis on artistry (as in the paintbrush skills) it's no surprise how artistic it is. It's a truly sumptuous place to visit.

Caption Begone or I shall throw my hairpin at you!

The music is just as lavish, with classical Japanese instruments providing surprisingly strong tracks for your exploration and battles. There is no voice acting, though; instead, every character is given four or five syllables in a particular voice and repeats them randomly. It's an odd way of doing things, but it's more interesting than the usual RPG "text beep", and you eventually get used to it.

The game is simply enormous. It seems like it's over quickly, but whenever you think it's about to end, it turns out there's more game to play. You can probably finish it in 20-25 hours, but you can easily spend over 50 collecting everything there is. Speaking of which, Okami is either a packrat's dream or their worst nightmare. There's simply so much to collect that you can almost guarantee you'll never find all of it. There's animals to feed, treasure to uncover, clovers to dig up, fish to catch, wanted monsters to defeat, beads to collect, new brush strokes and battle moves to find, and a bunch of mini-games to play. And after you beat possibly the least imposing final boss in an RPG, you'll have tons of bonuses to play with - music, artwork, and a high-res bestiary, to start.

Okami is very, very Japanese, so if you're turned off by the rich culture inherent in it, you may find it not quite up your alley. However, it's extremely accessible, and a beautiful experience. I'm ashamed it took me this long to get it!

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