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Okami January 7, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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If there is a game that proves the Playstation 2 has some life in it yet, that game has to be Okami.

Developed by Studio Clover and distributed by Capcom, Okami is a gem of a game steeped in Japanese folklore. Okami Amaterasu, the sun goddess, takes the form of a white wolf to save the village of Kamiki from the eight-headed demon, Orochi. Wounded, she disappears after successfully sealing away the demon, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity across Japan. Yet 100 years later, when the demon seal is broken, a weakened Amaterasu returns to find the land a darker and more dangerous place again in need of her protection. This sets the stage for players to take Amaterasu on an adventure to reclaim her lost powers in order to defeat the evil spirits once and for all.

In many ways, the closest game that Okami resembles is The Legend of Zelda. Indeed, Okami often seems as if it were a title meant for the Nintendo Game Cube that somehow found its way onto the PS2. This is only to say that it does right by the action-adventure cum role-playing genre, bringing together something at once familiar and unique to a console that has seen far too few titles of the sort that has brought the competition so much success.

The game is rife with puzzling dungeons, occasional side-quests and epic boss battles. But the central feature that makes Okami unlike anything before it is the “Celestial Paintbrush” that allows players to use the screen as a canvass and “paint” (calligraphy) in mid-game to affect changes in the environment. This has many uses, such as enabling players to further explore the game’s world by giving Amaterasu the ability to manipulate the elements (by causing gusts of wind, for instance, or making water geyser forth) and is also used as part of the game’s battle system. In some cases, the paintbrush is also used to rebuild broken constructs such as bridges or floors. Naturally, these paintbrush abilities grow as the game progresses. Yet it is the simplest use of the paintbrush learned early in the game, the ability to cause trees and flowers to bloom and thereby add color to the drab and dreary world to which players are first introduced, that is also the most fun. It is this that compels players to really feel as if they were playing the role of a god painting on a canvass. In fact, a large part of the allure behind Okami is seeing the environments change as the game progresses.

This “screen-as-canvass” motif extends to the game’s graphics, which work exceedingly well. The cel-shaded animation is topnotch, making the entire game appear as if it were painted on an oriental scroll as befits the many Japanese legends that underlie the plot. With novel character designs and rich environments throughout, Okami showcases what the PS2 is capable of and is a compelling reminder that video game graphics need not always strive for 3D realism in order to be visually stunning. That there is little if any difference between in-game graphics and the token cutscenes further testifies to Okami’s visual appeal.

From the standpoint of gameplay, it would appear that Studio Clover had gone out of their way to make Okami entirely fun to play. Controls are highly intuitive, and the game itself is perhaps easy to moderate in terms of its difficulty level. Though the game does get progressively harder, it does so by making puzzles and quests more clever rather than testing player’s reflexes or commitment to burning the midnight oil besting the game. In fact, the game can actually be completed without losing a life; as such, it is rare that players will ever get frustrated by anything the game throws at them. Further, Okami is also potentially quite short, as players should be able to finish the game after anywhere between thirty to fifty hours (within which the game can be 100% completed), depending on how many sidequests they decide to pursue.

On the whole, Okami is an enchanting game that is as satisfying as they come. Part engaging puzzler, part action-adventure platformer, and part role-playing game, Okami is a franchise that gamers can only hope will continue long into the future.

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1. Final Fantasy XII « BRAIN DRAIN - August 25, 2007

[…] the absurd amount of dungeon crawling towards the end. Yet for all that the game remains one of the few good reasons left to still invest in a PS2. For my part, I can’t wait to see what its small-screen sequel has in store, and I’m […]

2. Final Fantasy XII « BRAIN DRAIN - August 25, 2007

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