Okami - Staff Review  

No Kami Like Okami
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Very Easy
20-40 Hours
+ Breathtaking sound and visuals.
+ Great take on Japanese folklore.
+ Can pee on enemies!
- Brush techniques don't always work right.
- Several boss fights are repeated.
- Clover Studios is gone, so there will never be a sequel.
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   It is very difficult to talk about Okami without mentioning The Legend of Zelda. While the two games bear no direct correlation, the similarities between them are quite apparent. In fact, Okami even employs a character named Forest Boy Kokari. Both follow the same basic formula, but ironically, Okami, the copycat in this case, succeeds far better than any Zelda game has thus far. The difference? Creativity, of course! While the Legend of Zelda series trods the same ground repeatedly, Clover Studios has struck out in new directions with Okami, taking the most basic elements and adding their own touches, and the result is something absolutely amazing.

   Okami's visual style stands out more than anything else. The game is stylized like a traditional Japanese ink and wash painting, featuring thick, tapering outlines and coloring that has the incredibly bright yet slightly faded feel of watercolor. Beyond the styling, even the design has a very traditional Japanese appeal. Enemies and characters are all designed as they're depicted in old Japanese paintings and lore, and Kanji characters appear regularly as part of ability effects.

   The visuals aren't the only part of the game that takes a page from Japanese tradition. In Okami, the player takes on the physical, lupine manifestation of the Sun God, Okami Amaterasu. Amaterasu, or "Ammy" to her friends, is accompanied by Issun, a wandering artist/swordsman who also happens to be the size of a grasshopper. Together they set out on a quest to rid Nippon of the newly-reborn eight-headed demon Orochi, whom Amaterasu sealed away a hundred years ago at the cost of her own life.

   The story takes a lot of liberties, but most of it is loosely based on Japanese folklore and Shinto mythology. While the game is played through Amaterasu's perspective, she is a silent protagonist aside from the occasional howl, and most of the talking is done by her charistmatic sidekick Issun. The tale, which feels very much like an ancient legend, follows the pair across Nippon as they try to find the thirteen Celestial Brush techniques and rid the country of Orochi's curse. Players entering Okami's world shouldn't expect a brilliant epic, but the story is well told and very good for what it is: a modern myth. The dialogue is excellent and the story has many twists and turns to keep the player guessing.

This tree has seen better days. This tree has seen better days.

   As mentioned earlier, Okami likes to mimic the Zelda series, and in no place is this more apparent than in the world itself. It is expansive and filled with sidequests, secrets, puzzles, and of course, dungeons. While Link is armed to the teeth with a variety of tools to complete these puzzles, Amaterasu is only armed with a paintbrush, which is used for one of Okami's more original features. The thirteen Celestial Brush techniques mentioned earlier can be used by drawing corresponding symbols on the screen in Brush mode. The Bloom technique causes flowers and plants to grow by drawing a circle around them, the Power Slash technique can cause damage to enemies and also break objects by drawing a straight line across them, and several different elements, such as fire, water, and lightning, can be manipulated by drawing a line from them to a target. All of this is accomplished by holding the B button to enter Brush mode and then drawing them with the Wii remote.

   The controls for drawing are quite intuitive thanks to the Wii remote, but the game sometimes has difficulty recognizing what the player is trying to do, particularly when attempting to use Bloom. This is likely the fault of the position of the circle compared to the object rather than the quality, as other techniques that use a circle rarely fail. The Z button can be held to force lines straight, which can help with several techniques, while the curved techniques are very easy to perform freehand, as they don't require a lot of precision.

   Combat in Okami occurs in enclosed areas rather than on the fly as in Legend of Zelda. Floating spirits wander the world map and activate battles when touched, but scripted battles often occur during the course of the game as well. While Amaterasu has the ability to use her Celestial Brush techniques, her main form of attack comes from the weapon she has equipped. There are three types of weapons in the game, each of which fights slightly differently, and more powerful versions of each can be acquired as the game progresses. The default weapon type is the Reflector, which is a discus that strikes at nearby enemies. Attacks are performed by swinging the Wiimote, but unlike most action games, the timing is vital and swinging wildly will result in the combo ending early. The Glaive weapon, a type of sword, also behaves like the Reflector, except that it has a smaller combo and hits harder. The final weapon type is the Rosary, which is a string of beads that lash out at an enemy. The Rosaries don't hit as hard, but they have a significantly higher combo rate and also aren't affected by timing, which makes them the easiest and most effective to use. Amaterasu can also equip a sub-weapon, and each of the three weapon types have a different effect when equipped as such. Reflectors act as a shield, Rosaries fire a ranged attack at enemies, and Glaives are ridden like some sort of surfboard, impaling enemies in a quick and effective manner.

Much better! Much better!

   There is no target lock-on in Okami, and Amaterasu also has the ability to dodge, jump, and eventually double jump to evade enemy attacks, which makes combat feel less like Zelda and more like God of War. This is especially true when using the Rosary weapon, as they fly outward at the same distance and at the same speed as Kratos's signature Athena Blades. This might seem odd at first, but healing items, health upgrades, and of course the integration of the Celestial Brush keep things unique and more akin to what RPGamers would expect from a game of this nature.

   As with any RPG, Okami features several boss fights, and they are all exceptionally well designed, utilizing the Brush techniques to their fullest. Unfortunately, the game seems to be in love with some of them, forcing the player to relive them several times over the course of the game. One fight in particular is gone through three times before the game is out, and with puzzle-based battles like what one would find in a Zelda game, it's really unnecessary and often tedious to deal with.

   Even more Japanese tradition makes its way into Okami in the form of its amazing soundtrack. The music generally makes use of traditional Japanese instrumentation, and the player can expect to hear a lot of woodwind, string, and percussion throughout the game. Okami has no voice acting, but makes up for it with great sound effects. When characters are talking, a warbly type of gibberish is played in time to their bouncing (yes, bouncing) heads, which is both endearing and effective.

   Okami is about as close to perfect as a game can get these days. With innovative gameplay, gorgeous visuals, an enjoyable take on Japanese folklore, and a breathtaking musical score, Okami is uniquely traditional. Most players can expect to spend around thirty hours exploring Nippon, but the side content and New Game+ mode can extend the game's life quite significantly. Sadly, the game is unnecessarily easy. Although the combat certainly provides a decent challenge and keeps the player on his toes, the ability to store large quantities of healing items along with the ability to ressurect as many as four times during battle before seeing a game over screen means that players are unlikely to ever die, regardless of skill. Thankfully, this doesn't detract whatsoever from the Okami experience. To put it simply, Okami is something that everyone should experience, as RPGamers are unlikely to see something quite like it ever again.

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