Okami (Wii) review
"The world is dying. The trees are nothing more than wooden skeletons. The grass has shriveled away and scattered on the wind. Streams, rivers, entire oceans are drying up. The sky is no longer blue, but a pitch-black mess of toxic clouds. The sun is just a memory now; the lack of light and heat has killed off most of the plants and animals. The planet has been reduced to a shell of its former self, a bleak and barren expanse of dirt and darkness. Humans have been left perpetually frozen i..."
The world is dying. The trees are nothing more than wooden skeletons. The grass has shriveled away and scattered on the wind. Streams, rivers, entire oceans are drying up. The sky is no longer blue, but a pitch-black mess of toxic clouds. The sun is just a memory now; the lack of light and heat has killed off most of the plants and animals. The planet has been reduced to a shell of its former self, a bleak and barren expanse of dirt and darkness. Humans have been left perpetually frozen in time; they’re not even aware that their realm is crumbling beneath their feet. Prophecies of the end of the world have always mentioned great catastrophes and a scouring of mankind. But this is worse than divine fires and pestilence; the world has been consumed by demon Orochi’s curse.
But all is not lost; there’s still one being left with the power to avert the planet’s destruction. Enter Amaterasu, the legendary sun goddess of Japanese mythology. Armed with her divine influence, she has been summoned forth to save mankind… At least, she’s supposed to. There’s one problem that comes with her return: she’s been reincarnated in the form of Shiranui, a white wolf that defeated Orochi the last time they fought. While wolves are undeniably badass, they’re not exactly the kind of saviors you’d expect. That’s aside from the fact that she’s been out of action for the last hundred years; all of that downtime has sapped her powers and left her little more than a sentient ball of white fur. Her annoying grasshopper sidekick and wannabe hero companion get more in her way than actually help. But considering the fact that Amaterasu is mankind’s last hope for salvation, there’s little time to complain.
It’s not like her job is difficult, either. While there may super-powered demons and ancient spells to overcome, Amaterasu’s primary goals are surprisingly simple. In order to restore the world to its former glory, our heroine must seek out the various Guardian Saplings (giant trees that support the vitality of the planet) and bring them back to life. Actually getting to these behemoths, however, is an adventure in itself. You’ll start off in a humble town, listening to the villager’s whining and performing a few acts of god to trigger the necessary events to further the story along. There’s nothing too complicated – few of the events in Okami are truly challenging – but you’ll be sidetracked with an ever-increasing amount of them as you venture further into the world. Once you’ve spoken with all the right characters, solved all the blatantly obvious puzzles, and explored the terrain, you’ll eventually come across the sapling you were originally seeking.
So, how do you bring a mystical tree back to life? It’s not like you can just water it. Instead, Amaterasu utilizes her only trump card: the Celestial Brush. This godly calligraphy utensil grants her the ability to freeze the fabric of reality, turn it into a giant parchment, and paint whatever she pleases. All it takes is a wave of the brush to turn the dead trees into vibrant saplings with enough leaves to send the screen awash with pink cherry blossom leaves. The brush isn’t just reserved for environmental stuff, either; it can repair broken structures, blast through evil barriers, and plenty of other restorative abilities. Even combat is more engaging; while biting and headbutting baddies may be effective attack strategy, there’s nothing more satisfying than slicing them in half with a well-placed brush stroke. Unfortunately, you won’t have access to most of these powers early on. You’ll have to traverse the massive realm of Okamiand seek out other divine beings willing to lend their powers to Amaterasu. By the time you acquire all of the techniques, you’ll have more than enough power to take on Orochi.
That’s not to say that you can get by with just the Celestial Brush, though. While it can be used as a weapon, its primary purpose is solving puzzles and restoring nature. The limited (but automatically rechargeable) amount of available Celestial Ink means that you won’t be able to doodle your way through the game. You’ll come across a small army of Orochi’s cronies and demonic foot soldiers during your quest. Rather than painting them to death, you can utilize a small arsenal of divinely power weapons. Though you’ll start of with a blunt object, you’ll eventually gain access to magical whips, ink bullets, elemental spells, and even some ridiculously oversized swords. Your arsenal is also supplemented with various magical seals and health regenerative pickups that you’ll find during the journey. Considering the utter lack of difficulty, however, you likely won’t have a reason to use your spare items.
While the game is hardly challenging, there may be one aspect capable of hindering your success: the controls. This version of Okami utilizes only the WiiMote and Nunchuck setup, which may alienate gamers who might have expected the game to use the Classic Controller identical to the original PS2 controller layout. Despite the limited options, the controls are simplistic and easy to pick up. Basic movements, such as running, jumping, and digging, require you to move the control stick and press the corresponding buttons. Attacking enemies requires a little more patience; randomly waggling the WiiMote at the screen will get you killed in seconds. It requires a bit of finesse and timing, though later weapons are more forgiving of your potential ineptness. The most significant change, however, lies with the painting mechanics; you can turn the world into your personal canvas with press of a button, and then use the Wiimote as if it were an onscreen calligraphy pen. It’s doesn’t operate as smoothly or as naturally as the real thing, unfortunately. Drawing decent circles and perfectly horizontal slashes can prove aggravatingly difficult early on. But once you’ve gotten a feel of how the brush mechanics work in response to your movements, you’ll have few problems getting your artistic side on.
If anything, it’s Amaterasu you should be worrying about. She’s hardly the demon-stomping juggernaut she’s rumored to be. She begins her quest with only a fraction of the amount of power she’s supposed to have; she can’t explore most of the outside areas, let alone hold her own against the stronger enemies. The source of her powers is based on the amount of restoration she performs. For every tree she restores, enemy she defeats, and wild animal she feeds, she’ll be granted a handful of praise points. Like any god, Amaterasu’s strength based on the amount of praise and worship she earns during the quest. These points are used to level up her stats, such as the amount of ink she can paint with, the amount of damage she can take, and a handful of other essential stats. There’s nothing complicated about leveling her abilities; since all the stats show the amount of praise is necessary to reach the next levels, it’s really just a matter of collecting enough points and distributing them accordingly. By the time you have everything maxed out, Amaterasu will be more than powerful enough to explore and fight her way across every nook and cranny of the continent.
You’ll want to go exploring, too. The world of Okami is a vast landscape of unparalleled beauty. There’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as restoring a Guardian Sapling and watching the flowers, trees, and the very color of the world leap forth to reclaim their former glory. Desolate plains will wash over with a literal flood of green, replacing the clods of dirt with healthy grass and plants. The rivers will flow with churning water and the occasional decorative lily pad. Even the sky, which can be as black and drab as the cursed land, will be changed into a gradually changing spectrum of colors as the days wear on. The sheer amount of pink cherry blossom petals is beyond dazzling; you might have to look indirectly at the screen sometimes. Amaterasu stands at the center of it all; while she may be a wolf, her white fur practically radiates with light. If she runs fast enough, she’ll even cause a stream of flowers to temporarily blossom in her tracks. Combined with with some dramatic instrumental music to set the moods, it’s all too easy to get drawn into the journey. Of course, such an incredible presentation isn’t realistic; rather than emulating the real feudal Japan, the game portrays everything with some vivid cel shading. As such, the game is as much a work of art as it is an adventure.
Okami is a great game. Yes, it’s a port of a game on an older console. Yes, there is no bonus content to enjoy besides the original version. That doesn’t detract from its overall quality. The journey to restore the world’s vitality is long and enjoyable, filled with memorable characters and scenes. Amaterasu’s crusade will lead you far and wide across the planet, allowing you to develop the goddess’s skills and witness the game’s stellar cel shaded graphics at every opportunity. While this is easily the most beautiful game on the Wii, the lacking difficulty might turn off seasoned gamers looking for a little more challenge from their games. The biggest hurdle you’ll have to overcome, however, is the new control scheme. Wandering the world may be easy enough, but mastering that Celestial Brush requires a little more practice. But once you get that down, you’ll be in for one of the most rewarding experience on the console. So if you haven’t checked out the original PS2 version, do yourself a favor and get this. Going for a nature walk just got more awesome.
Community review by disco (May 22, 2008)
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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