Okami (PlayStation 2) review
"As the sun rises over the village of Kamikimura, its brilliant rays shine on a lone statue sitting in the middle of town. This work of art was created in the loving memory of Shiranui, a white wolf that had once saved the village from utter destruction a century before. Back then, a demon known as Orochi would annually terrorize the town into submission, forcing the people to choose a woman to be sacrificed. In a true display of emotional heroism (and outright idiocy), a young hero named Izanagi..."
As the sun rises over the village of Kamikimura, its brilliant rays shine on a lone statue sitting in the middle of town. This work of art was created in the loving memory of Shiranui, a white wolf that had once saved the village from utter destruction a century before. Back then, a demon known as Orochi would annually terrorize the town into submission, forcing the people to choose a woman to be sacrificed. In a true display of emotional heroism (and outright idiocy), a young hero named Izanagi grabbed his trusty blade and stepped up to take the supernatural baddie down, save his girlfriend/damsel in distress, and restore peace to the village. At least, that was his intention until Orochi kicked his sword-wielding carcass around the battlefield. But when things were starting to look hopeless, Shiranui showed up, teamed up with the hero, and eventually sealed the demon away. Thus, everyone lived happily ever after.
Too bad this isn’t the end of the story.
After a hundred years of tranquility, some fool broke Orochi’s seal and let the demon back into the world. Needless to say he was pretty pissed off. Using his incredible powers, Orochi ravaged the land and laid all sorts of curses on its inhabitants. He didn’t just stop with Kamikimura, either; all the surrounding countryside has gone barren, the water has become polluted, and everything else was cast under his evil spell. But in the midst of the desolation, the statue of Shiranui has become something more than a bastion of hope for the people. Through the use of divine intervention, the goddess Amaterasu has been reincarnated in the shape of the famous white wolf. With all the other gods of nature down for the count, it’s up to her to restore the land to its rightful radiance and send Orochi packing once and for all.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Wait a minute. Amaterasu is an omnipotent goddess, yet she’s in the body of wolf! What kind of video game heroine is this?!” Don’t worry folks, the heroine of Okami is more than capable enough of handling the situation. In order to get everything back to normal, she’s got to revive the Guardian Saplings, a species of supernatural trees spread throughout the land. Once a sapling has been rejuvenated, all the evil in the immediate area will be eliminated and the wildlife will return to normal. In a gameplay style hearkening back to Ocarina of Time and other epic quests, Amaterasu will have to wander through a vast overworld, explore dangerous dungeons, solve all sorts of mystical puzzles, and kick plenty of demon ass before a sapling will bloom in full force. Along the way, she’ll have to take out roving bands of psychotic drummers, kamikaze birds of prey, and plenty of other annoying minions. It’s not like she’s entirely helpless, though; aside from incredible agility, sharp teeth, and particularly impressive headbutt, Amaterasu will be able to wield divine weapons such as a mirror, beads, and a handful of other nasty surprises.
However, the most important item in Amaterasu’s arsenal isn’t a weapon at all; it’s a paintbrush. Armed with the Celestial Brush (and a hefty amount of black ink), she can summon a canvas to freeze her surroundings and make any alterations that she sees fit. Should our heroine face a group of foes, she can paint a quick straight line to slash her enemies in half. The brush can also be used to draw the sun into the sky, thus immediately turning night into day. It also proves fundamental in solving the puzzles you’ll come across; timed bombs can be drawn to blast through cracked walls, paintings can be filled in, and trees can be restored with a few quick brushstrokes. However, the brush doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around exploration and tactical functions; it can also be used to perform small miracles for the various townsfolk you’ll come across. These usually involve simple tasks like fixing a bridge, restoring a broken water mill, drawing in a missing laundry pole, and a few other minor tricks.
And that’s just the humans. You’ll come across plenty of wild animals that can be fed from your food inventory, small patches of cursed grasslands can be magically restored, and there are plenty of demonic shrines that need to be demolished. Even though helping random NPCs may not seem very important when you’ve got an entire country to save, but even the little things matter. Every time you successfully aid a person, feed some animals, or do a little landscape redecorating, you’ll be justly rewarded with some Praise. I’m not talking about positive words like “Good wolf!” or “Thank you!”, but actual Praise points that can be collected throughout the adventure. Once you’ve collected enough of the good vibes, they can be converted into an extension of Amaterasu’s health gauge, boosted inkpot storage, stored energy for emergencies, and even a bigger wallet for all the cash you’ll come across. Who says no good deed goes unpunished?
Okay. You’ve got the massive overworld to explore, a decent amount of dungeons filled with foes, hours of sidequests and people to help. However, Okami has something unique that sets it apart from other generic adventure games: an incredibly beautiful and stylized presentation. If you loved the cel-shaded epic of The Wind Waker, you’ll be in for a treat with this game. Everything in this game is awash in a wide array of color palettes and shades. You can see the symbols etched into Amaterasu’s fur as she runs around with incredibly fluid and lifelike animation. Her fur practically glows with its sheer whiteness. Whenever she headbutts her foe, she kicks up a trail of fallen leaves in her wake. If she breaks out into an all-out sprint, bunches of grass and flowers will automatically grow on the ground she’s walked on.
That same landscape is beautiful too; you’ll get to wander through hilly countryside, trot along beaten trails, and lope down deserted beaches. You can see faint wisps being carried through the wind, water gurgling down the river, tiny waves lapping at the shore, and the utterly brilliant glow of the constellations in the night sky. The colors of land will change ever so slightly as the day turn into night, allowing to see the sky change from typical blue to the stark gray of early morning and pink-tinted sunsets. That’s on top of the psychedelic greens, blues, and purples that make up most of the game’s combat atmosphere. Once you’ve factored in the cherry blossoms drifting through the breeze and the soothing music in the background, you’ll see that Okami is as much about the experience as it is the gameplay.
In a time when RPGs, FPSs, and action games dominate the gaming world, a great adventure game is hard to come by. But if you’ve been waiting for a new epic tale in which to immerse yourself, then Okami should be placed pretty high on your must-buy list. This game has it all; it’s got a wonderful story, wonderfully memorable characters, fast-paced and fluid combat with a wide variety of demonic foes, hours of dungeon exploration, puzzle solving, various item collecting, a few lengthy sidequests, a slew of people and animals to help, and even a mildly annoying sidekick to point you in the right direction. On top of that, the game’s presentation is nothing short of an incredibly vivid treat for the eyes. Though the PS2 may be reaching its inevitable end, Okami gives it one hell of a sendoff.
Community review by disco (September 24, 2006)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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