Okami (PS2) – Review Repost

Okami - CoverOkami, developed by Clover Studios (who previously have done the Viewtiful Joe series) and distributed by Capcom, is best described as a game for the PS2 in the flavor of the Legend of Zelda series, with a lot of similarities but makes strides for its own unique gameplay styling. Nearly every part of this game is done perfectly, with extremely strong gameplay, an engaging story, and stunning audio and visuals. The few minor faults at the presentation level don’t affect how strong a title Okami is.

Story: A

The story in Okami is based in the classical era of Japan in the Nippon region. One hundred years prior to the events in Okami, the eight-headed beast Orichi threatened the countryside but thanks to an expert swordsman and a wolf, the beast was defeated and trapped in a shrine. However, in the present, nearly on the 100th anniversary of the defeat, the beast is let free and curses the entire countryside. The goddess Sakuya calls forth the sun goddess Amaterasu into the physical manifestation of a white wolf charged to remove the curve and to save the countryside. Guided by Issun, a bug-like artist seeking the Celestial Paintbrush techniques for himself, the pair work on reversing the damage caused by the curse, but sense that a much greater evil is emerging to threaten the world.

Gameplay: A+

It’s very hard not to compare the gameplay of Okami to the Legend of Zelda (particularly of the three 3D incarnations – Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Windwaker). Each of these games, including Okami, is based on a very large overarching quest with many subquests that you have to complete and with many optional side quests, usually to open up the next area that you have to face. There’s a pretty good size overworld (though delineated for the game to load up each new area), with a variety of fields, villages, small cities, and very Zelda-esque dungeons along the way. While the plot is linear, the gameplay will have you going back and forth over the same ground many times, eventually assisting with the equivalent of a warp system for faster movement across the play area. There’s lot of optional side quests you can work through as well; these include finding a number of hidden beads, Once areas are free of the curse, you can feed the animals with the right type of food to earn praise, help out the various residents with small tasks to earn valuable items that you can collect or sell, and other similar side quests.

Okami - Celestial BrushUnique to Okami is the use of the Celestial Brush. Once you gain this early on, you have the ability to use it’s powers to aid you along in both your quest and in combat. By pressing R1, your current view of the screen suddenly becomes a picture on parchment, and you then can use the Brush to ‘alter’ that picture. These alterations include the ability to repair bridges and other destroyed objects, to change or create wind patterns, to sprout vegetation from dying plants, to create bombs, to change from night to day and back again, and to make water or fire move from a source to a target, among other powers. You get these powers over the entire course of the game, and like when you acquire a new key object in Zelda, there’s a brief introduction to how you use it. You can also use the brush in combat, slashing across foes to do extra damage, or use some of the other techniques to attack the weaknesses of the various foes (using wind to put out fire-spewing creatures for example). However, you do need to watch your use of the Brush – you have a limited amount of ink that’s spent on successful usages, and while your ink will refill quickly, you may find yourself inkless and a lot more mortal in the heat of a tough battle. The brush aspect is a bit hard to get used to on the PS2 – many people have complained that this game could have been much better with the Wii controller, but the strokes are simple enough that the analog control of the PS2 works fine. It’s a little touchy at times; for example, the most common stroke is the Power Slash, which requires you to draw a straight line across something to cut at it, but if you make a tiny bend it in, it fails to go. Fortunately, you can hold down X while you draw to force a straight line, when you need it. In most cases, while you’re working the brush, time freezes for everyone else, and thus there’s no rush to make your stroke as long as you hold down R1. There’s a few times that you need to use the brush in quick succession, but again, you have time while in brush mode to rotate the view and get the brush down right. There’s a few foes late in the game that can defeat your brush strokes with their own, but by then, you’ll likely be an expert at the winning strokes. The Brush system is particularly an interesting way to get around the usual problems in a Zelda game with tool management. In most of the late Zelda games, you can equip up to 3 tools but to switch in a new tool, you need to pause, go to the equipment screen, and select the new tool, and then unpause the game. In Okami, your ‘tools’ are effectively your Brush strokes, and all that you’ve acquired to a point within the game are available once you’ve got ink to paper. This aspect makes running through the game a lot less of annoyance and keeps a better pace to the gameplay.

There’s plenty of other items you’ll collect that help with getting through the game. You’ll gain weapons (one that can be used as a main, one as a defensive), health boosters, items to temporarily boost your ink levels, damage enemies, and other similar effects. Additionally, as you perform good deeds and earn respect, you can spend those points to build up your maximum health, amount of ink, the number of spare lives you can have (through the Astral pouch) or the amount of money you can carry. Dojos around Nippon will let you pay for special moves, some required to continue on, but most optional as to make combat or treasure hunting easier. Certain merchants will also trade Demon Fangs (collected during combat only) for optional special items that can further help in your quest.

Okami - CombatCombat is handled a bit differently than a usual Zelda game. When you either encounter wandering monsters or are forced to fight them while completing a dungeon, mystical walls spring up and contain the battle to this ‘ring’. As you use your melee attacks and brush techniques to take down the foes, they’ll drop and leave goodies. In the case of random encounters, if necessary, you can flee from battle by striking at ‘cracks’ in the mystical wall, though I never had to use this tactic. Once you’ve bested the foes, you’re given a rating for how long it took to finish off the battle and how much damage you took; the better you are at both grants you a better cash bonus for completing battle, above and beyond the base reward. Combat isn’t hard – you can carry a lot of health items to recharge, and as long as your Astral Pouch is full with food that you pick up, you’ll be brought back to life if you take too much damage; it also allows you to experiment a bit to figure the easiest method to dispatch foes using a combination of your weapon skills and brushwork.. While most of the battles can be fought just by your primary weapon, the game rewards you for taking the larger risks and more aggressive attacks.

The game story has a rather good depth to it. All the characters are rather memorable and have a good engaging dialog. The plot, while initially seems to have a separate first and second act, is tied up by the end of the game. There also seems to be points where the plot diverges from the overarching story, but ends up being tied back to it anyhow. The story, while serious most of the time, does take a back seat to some rather humorous conversations (mostly initiated by Issun) and other nice gags. A few parts of the story use pre-rendered movies, but still using the same engine and thus are barely noticeable as being different from most of the other game happenings. The only annoyance on the story is that a lot of the dialog cannot be fast-forwarded or skipped, and the text appears at a somewhat slower rate than I can read. In fact, the first twenty minutes of the game is the backstory, which is necessary to appreciate the rest of the story, but can’t be skipped. Since the text is not voice acted but computer generated mumble-jumble, there seems to be no reason to allow the player to read at their own pace instead of the fixed pace that is given. Particularly late game as you get more and more successful, not being able to zip through the story to get to the next action bits can be annoying, though as noted below, on following runthroughs of the game, you have the ability.

The game comes off somewhat less challenging than most Zelda games, though certainly no walk in the park. There’s a lot of puzzles, but hints are rather thick, almost hammered into you early in the game, though after about 3 hours (roughly), you’re given a bit more freedom to work out solutions with your arsenal of tricks. Moreso, the puzzles for the main story are readily solved though visual or written clues and some experimentation, but a lot of the side quests are less obvious. Combat isn’t difficult, but as noted, you’re rewarded for being more effective in battle through special moves and taking risks as opposed to playing it easy. There’s no huge engrossing puzzle similar to the collection of the TriForce pieces that’s required to complete the game, which is a huge benefit. The map system (which shows both the overall world, individual areas, and dungeons) can be easily used to track where you have been and where you need to go, and various logs help to always keep you on track of what missions you are in the process of completing, so you’re rarely at a loss for where you have to go. I don’t think the lack of difficulty is a big problem for this game – there’s a lot to do in the main quest alone, and to make it too difficult to work through would definitely be detrimental. Plus, the game promotes the use of experimentation via combat moves and the Celestial Brush to find the most effective combat styles by not having enemies that can easily kill you and lots of health restoration items available. While there’s plenty of save points as well as continue points across the lands and dungeons, I never felt that I was in too much trouble unless my health item stash started to get low, at which point I would be looking for a way to the nearest shop to restock.

Value / Replayability: A+

You’re treated to at least 30 hours of gameplay from Okami in main plot alone, but there’s a lot more outside of that through subquests. Once you’ve completed the game, you’re given stats that tell you how long you played, how many times you died, and the like, and depending on how well you did, you get special presents that you can take with you into the next game that are more easter egg in nature (such as a way to changes Ammy’s appearance). You also carry over your final stats and most of you equipment save for special weapons and treasures if you choose to restart, thus allowing you to really do well the next time through (and you also can then skip the long sequences easily). Completing the game also unlocks artwork, music, and promo videos for the game regardless how well you did. I’d say that the length is near perfect; while you do get new ‘toys’ (weapons and Brush methods) throughout the entire game, the last few pieces were somewhat predictable, and just a hint of boredom with the game set in, but this was right before the final boss section. Any longer on the main plot would have been overkill, and if this game was only 20hrs, I would be begging for more.

Okami - ArtworkGraphics: A+

The graphic stylings of the game is amazing. Much of the artwork, including both scenery, buildings, people, and enemies, is based on classical Japanese art, such as that of Hokusai, a combination of thick outlines, solid colors, and otherwise extremely styled. In addition, the entire world at times appears as a popout from such artwork, almost in Paper Mario style – trees and clouds seem only two dimensional despite the 3D environment, though most everything else is 3D. Hints of a distant mountain as if on parchment and other little touches make the environment extremely immersive Those that have played the Viewiful Joe games will recognize that a similar visual engine appears to be at work here, and it works quite well. The paintbrush effects are incredibly well done, including misfires that may leave a foe covered with ink or the like. There’s also a odd screen blurring effect that may be a little disorienting at first, but as you remove the curses and dark areas, it becomes more familiar and less a problem. Only a few times when a lot of foes are on the screen does the game drop a few frames, but otherwise does a good job on the PS2.

Audio: A

The game’s audio is very good. There’s no voice acting, only a computer generated voice that changes in tone and octave but sounds like any adult on the Peanuts animated specials – unintelligible but recognizable for each character. The music is well themed to the era, and sets a good pace during dramatic sequences; some tracks even are reminiscent of Windwaker. The sound effects are very immersive for both combat and normal getting-around modes.

The game isn’t perfect but these flaws are mostly limited to high-level aspects and not to the gameplay itself. As noted, text dialog can’t be skipped. There’s also scenes that result from your actions that step away from the main world and then drop you back after your done (feeding the animals, for example). While these are cute, they get repetitive, and then the game has to load up before you’re returned back to play. Speaking of loading, there are some rather unfortunately loading points within the game – 10-20 seconds seemed to be the maximum amount, but it’s still an annoyance if you’re in the heat of a good battle to wait for the action to restart.

There’s also two general issues of consideration. First, as mentioned, is the Brush aspect of the game, which seems that it could be done on Nintendo’s Wii much better, as getting used to drawing straight lines and full circles with the PS2 controller can be rather hard at first. However, the producers of Okami have mentioned they did consider the use of the Wii for this game, but given that Okami is an action game it’s heart, the lack of other controls on the Wii controller would have been more detrimental to the game, and thus the Brush work was optimized for the PS2 controller. Here, they’ve done a good job – the most difficult draw is a circle, but as long as it goes around and connects to itself, the game will take nearly anything close to that as a circle.

The second aspect is the strong comparison to the Zelda games. I’d say that at the core, at least 50% of Okami’s gameplay is similar to the Zelda games. But, as I mentioned in comparing Saint’s Row to Grand Theft Auto, having at least two different titles from different publishers can only help to promote self-improvement in that gameplay style, as the two competing titles can take ideas from each other and try to one-up on the next iteration, which can only serve to make the games better for the players. However, while Okami does have a strong feel to it like Zelda, it takes a lot of steps to make itself unique through both gameplay elements (the Celestial Brush, the combat system) and the general setting and presentation.

Overall: A+

Okami may not be a perfect game, but this is pretty dang close to the most enjoyable gaming experience I’ve had in a long time. Every aspect of the game is tight, and the unique aspects of the game are truly enjoyable. It’s great game that can be shared across all ages; while the game is rated Teen for a number of reasons, I think that it’s a great game for younger games simply due to the ability to experiment and play around without feeling under too much pressure to succeed in battle. There’s a few faults with some of the mechanics of the game presentation, but these are easily overlooked for solid gameplay that, while not too difficult, remains engaging throughout the entire game. Okami is definitely one of the top games of the year, if not of all time, for myself, and I would strongly recommend anyone with a PS2 to get it, unless you are totally put off by Zelda-like games in the first place.

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6 Responses

  1. i am stuck at a part were there are three water drop pictures on the ground circuling a little circle i just dont know what to do.

  2. how do i get the fire brush storke i dnt know how to obtain ti adn i need it to cross the draw bridge to the city where do i ge tit form im really stuck ive passed and defeated the windmill and crimson helm but i need to find the fire brushs troke plzzzzzzzz

  3. I’m not sure what to do at the drawbrige… i need to light the Phoenix but i am stuck, any idea of what to do? thank you for your help-Michael.

  4. if you need the fire thing, go to that place where is a big windmill (i can’t remember the name) and find all 8 canine warriors. then you can go inside the windmill and fight against crimson helm. after beating him you’ll get the serpent crystal and then you can go to orochi’s. there you will find the rooser god who gives you that power. i wish that helped even a little bit!

  5. i have finished the game ask me questions

  6. Hmm, I disagree with this review. I wrote a brief review of it with my own opinions on my blog, which you can read. I think you’re being far too generous with this game, though I haven’t beaten it so it’s possible my problems with the game are addressed later on.

    http://jeffrobot.wordpress.com/

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