Okami - Staff Retroview  

Bark at the Moon
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Gorgeous environments
+ Fascinatingly varied things to do
+ Intuitive, engaging ink use
- Infuriating camera
- Needless repetition
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   RPGamer doesn't cover a whole lot of content that comes from Capcom, probably because the company is not generally known for games that fall under the RPG guidelines. When Clover developed Okami for the company, no one knew what to make of it. It fell outside the usual safety zone of Capcom products, and that perhaps contributed to its relative failure in the sales charts. Those who did play Okami were on the whole enthralled with it, and there was heartbreak when Clover was closed down after the game's release. A visually arresting title with a lot of worthwhile aspects, Okami is nevertheless guilty of having some issues that keep it from the rarefied heights to which some have assigned it.

   Okami's narrative isn't particularly original, but is presented in an entertaining way. It begins with some background information on the tale of Nagi and Shiranui, a man and divine wolf who together stopped the vile Orochi's habit of taking maiden sacrifices at every full moon. One hundred years later, Amaterasu appears to follow in Shiranui's footsteps. As a wolf, her means of communication are limited, which makes the appearance of the tiny artist Issun as a wolf-rider and exposition dump quite handy.

   Amaterasu is on a quest to free Nippon from the darkness and reacquire her former celestial brush powers, taking in quite a few colorful characters and a number of goofy events along the way. The connection between the various areas is often paltry, but the individual parts work well. Okami also might serve as a good introduction to Japanese folklore, since almost every part of its tale references its myth. A few typos slipped through, but Capcom's localization is also quite good, and most of what was intended to be funny comes across that way.

   Okami's tale comes alive in large part thanks to its gorgeous graphical presentation. Looking rather like a series of watercolor paintings in a children's book, Okami has a unique style that it exploits fully. Fascinating locales and creatures appear with every area, with each new place having a distinct and captivating appearance. Gazing at the scenery is a perfectly understandable pastime in Okami, since the activity is rewarding and helps to illustrate what a unique world Clover created.

This species of spider is very rare due to its inability to move from that position. This species of spider is very rare due to its inability to move from that position.

   Okami's audio also assists in the immersion. The music has a distinctly Japanese flavor in its instrumentation, reinforcing the setting. On top of that, it's of consistently high quality. Clover made the interesting decision to have every line of dialogue in the game be accompanied by a variety of sounds that are reminiscent of adults on the telephone in Peanuts, but the variety of noises they utter keeps this from becoming annoying.

   The gameplay style of Okami was clearly borrowed from The Legend of Zelda template. Amaterasu progresses through the game, gradually recovering her previously lost abilities, each of which is necessary to proceed further. Enemies can cough up cash and items, but not this game's version of experience points, which come in the form of Praise. Praise is earned through methods Al Gore would enthusiastically support, resulting as they do in the beautification of the despoiled environment. The resultant Praise is stored until the player decides which aspect of Amaterasu's statistics should be enhanced, and this freedom of choice is welcome.

   The techniques themselves are a variety of magical ink uses with fascinating effects, and the ink pots needed to draw are analogous to magic points in most other games. At any time the player can pause the onscreen action, then use the left analog stick to draw ink lines upon whatever seems fitting. Changing day to night, whipping up winds, dowsing fires, causing plants to bloom, and more is all possible with the celestial brush. The PS2 analog stick wasn't necessarily designed for this function, but it works rather well, and the game is very forgiving when it comes to the acceptance of strokes that came close enough to the desired shape. There are times when multiple tries will be needed, but Clover did the best it could with the available technology, and the application of artistic paraphernalia is a definite highlight of the game.

   Combat isn't the best focus of Okami, but sometimes enemies simply must be engaged. Amaterasu gains some extra moves as the game progresses, but straight-ahead battles with regular foes usually boil down to smacking the enemy, running away when necessary, then returning to an unsubtle beatdown. Bosses display considerably more ingenuity, and the majority of them demand intricate tactics to defeat. There are some regular foes that require a touch more strategy than smacking them as often as possible, but combat is nevertheless not an aspect of the game that is exceedingly good.

   Far more aggravating than the combat itself is the camera which displays it. Okami's battle camera is okay most of the time, although tweaking it when in a fight is a very dangerous thing to do. It manages to make depth perception quite difficult at times, however, and thus for a crucial second the player may be squinting furiously at the action in an effort to discern precisely where Amaterasu is and why her blows aren't hitting the enemy. Whenever the battlefield is near a wall is when things really hit the fan, because Okami's camera refuses to have anything to do with walls. Instead it goes crazy and makes the action briefly unintelligible, which is long enough to feel pain from some of the speedy adversaries.

   Outside of battles the camera continues to obstruct the action on a constant basis. The right analog stick serves as a means to direct the camera manually, which will often be required when it feels like showing a view that is useless. Many of the scenarios in Okami demand fast reaction times, and manual control of the camera isn't always quick enough to cope. The camera is at its worst whenever Amaterasu is standing very close to a wall or mountain, and the view from inside the position should be displayed. In this situation, the camera actually acts as if it is a character in the game. It will refuse to pass through solid objects, and will bounce all over the place instead of doing what it should, raising the blood pressure of all who attempt to corral it.

Honestly, why did the Poncles build a village right over a gaping pit?  It Honestly, why did the Poncles build a village right over a gaping pit? It's very bothersome.

   Okami has quite a bit of content, more than this style of game usually does, but there are moments of padding to increase the length. The most blatant comes at the end with a replay of five earlier boss encounters, but other events such as a lengthy hunt for dogs also serve no real purpose except to pad the game out to thirty hours at a minimum. Expanding that time is easily done thanks to a plethora of optional things to hunt down, most of which are quite enjoyable, but the slight bloat to the central narrative is still annoying.

   Though save points aren't spaced very generously through its world, getting a Game Over in Okami is never a great risk. Avoiding every enemy attack is a very difficult job, but healing items are available in large numbers which can be further augmented by shopping. The game also has an interesting system of allowing Amaterasu to be automatically revived after ingesting a lot of the fruit found all over the game world, ensuring that wiping out this wolf is no easy task.

   Clover definitely crafted an arresting game, and one that deserved wider recognition among the general gaming public than it received. Okami's unfortunate flaws keep it from receiving nothing but plaudits, in particular its rage-inducing camera. It most definitely deserves to be experienced by anyone with the slightest interest in playing something different, just with the slight caveat of the camera having seizures on a regular basis.

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