Okami (PlayStation 2) review
"Some dungeons also do memorable jobs of balancing on the line between epic and comedic, with the vast cavernous fortress Orochi calls home being perhaps the best example. The battle with the great serpent is an awesome clash that's topped off with cowardly warrior Susano finally accepting his heritage as the descendant of Nagi and realizing his heroic potential. Leading into this.....you're running around with a mask covering your head and fetching ingredients for an imp chef so it can concoct the perfect side course to Orochi's virtuous maiden supper."
Combining an epic tale of heroism, redemption and betrayal with a quirky, off-the-wall sense of humor, Okami could have been perfect. While a handful of issues I had with this PS2 game do drag it down a bit, I still found Clover Studio's epic adventure based on ancient legends of Japan to be one hell of a ride.
The game begins with a long introduction that sets the background. Once upon a time, the vile serpent Orochi terrorized a small village, demanding a beautiful maiden be sacrificed to it once per year. Orochi bit off more than it could chew one year, though, when its sacrifice of choice happened to be the beloved of village hero Nagi. While Nagi wasn't tough enough to best Orochi, a mysterious wolf named Shiranui came to his rescue and weakened the beast enough for Nagi to recover and slay it. The wolf was mortally wounded during the conflict, though, and perished. Out of gratitude, Nagi and the rest of the villagers built a shrine to it and praised it as their guardian. One hundred years later, a mysterious figure goes to the site of that great battle and tries to claim the sword Nagi slew Orochi with -- a deed that resurrects the foul beast. Darkness immediately overwhelms the land as the demon's dark powers overwhelm all.
And now, you come into play as a wolf bearing more than a slight resemblance to the heroic beast of the past. You're the deity Amaterasu brought to Earth to purge the land of the all-consuming darkness. One small problem, though -- you currently don't have any godly powers, meaning you're just a mangy mutt that's currently no match for Orochi. So, after gaining the "assistance" of the miniscule Issun, you begin to scour the land in order to regain your powers and go demon-slaying.
Each of these abilities is controlled by an innovative painting system. By hitting R1, you freeze all action. As you collect the game's various powers, you can use a brush (well, actually Amaterasu's tail) to paint various symbols to make things happen. By drawing lines from ice blocks or fiery torches to objects, you can freeze or burn them. Painting a circle around a dead tree causes it to bloom. Putting one slash across an enemy hits it with a powerful blow, while two horizontal slashes slows the movement of time for a few seconds.
The blooming ability will become extremely useful if you intend to travel much beyond Nagi's old village. The lands beyond have been cursed by the darkness and are impossible to navigate unless certain trees, called Guardian Saplings, are brought back to life. Doing so dispels the curse and gives you the ability to freely travel through that part of the world -- and opens up a horde of things to do and places to go.
Traveling through these "non-cursed" lands is perhaps the most enjoyable part of Okami, as there are a seemingly infinite number of "godly" deeds you can perform to earn praise, which is necessary to gain more life, more ink to paint with and other goodies. To get praise, you have to do good deeds, whether it be feeding animals, blooming trees, helping people in distress or many other feats. There are tons of things to do and secrets to find all over the world, making it a good idea to explore every nook and cranny you come across during your journey -- a godsend to players like me who love finding well-hidden treasure troves.
Not that the game's dungeons aren't fun, also. Here, the focus is definitely on puzzle-solving, as you'll be expected to use Amaterasu's paint techniques to get through these places and topple their bosses. Some dungeons also do memorable jobs of balancing on the line between epic and comedic, with the vast cavernous fortress Orochi calls home being perhaps the best example. The battle with the great serpent is an awesome clash that's topped off with cowardly warrior Susano finally accepting his heritage as the descendant of Nagi and realizing his heroic potential. Leading into this.....you're running around with a mask covering your head and fetching ingredients for an imp chef so it can concoct the perfect side course to Orochi's virtuous maiden supper.
Unfortunately, the puzzles in this game do fall short of challenging for two reasons. First, with every puzzle being solved through use of painting techniques, all you have to do is hit R1 and experiment a bit to get through just about anything. And if that doesn't work, odds are that Issun will blurt out an all-too-obvious clue as to what needs to be done the instant you make even the slightest mistake.
Speaking of Issun, if Okami has one true failing, it's that little twit. If Amaterasu is a standard-issue silent protagonist, Issun's a NEVER silent one. Not only does he chatter constantly about every little thing that goes on during the course of the game, but he also comes off as a stupid, immature, obnoxious brat. Take the negative fan reaction to the presence of Jar-Jar Binks in the second Star Wars trilogy. Now, make that thing the main character of those movies and have him in every single scene. That's Issun in a nutshell. Cut his dialogue in (at least) half and don't wait until the very end of the game to give him a shred of dignity and I'd have no real qualms with this game, but his overbearing presence consistently got on my nerves.
Other than that little creep, my problems with Okami were minor. I'd have liked more variety in monster designs, as you tend to fight the same general classes of foe repeatedly throughout the duration of a 40+ hour game. However, like in the average Zelda game, the only reason to fight non-mandatory encounters is to get various forms of currency. So, unless you're obsessive about buying every ability and item in the game, odds are that won't be much of an issue. A number of tasks, like fishing, racing and digging for treasures, didn't exactly enthrall me, but you only have to do some of these things once or twice, with the main reasons to continue enduring them being to collect goods to sell for money or get a stray bead. Collecting all 100 of those beads just gives you a game-breaking accessory that greatly enhances your power while making you impervious to harm -- not the most essential item in what's a fairly easy game. And having the final dungeon be nothing more than a boss gauntlet was a slightly anticlimactic way to end things, although the final adversary in the game was a suitably epic battle as it steals all of your brush strokes and you have to beat them all out of him in a five-part confrontation.
Those issues still weren't enough to really blunt the enjoyment I got from Okami. This is an immersive game with tons of things to see and do scattered over a vast world. While the vast amounts of dialogue in this game might be a bit of a turn-off for some players, with the exception of Issun's mindless babbling, I enjoyed it. The assorted characters in this game told an epic tale of people overcoming their innermost flaws in order to challenge the forces of darkness to protect what and who they hold dear. A tale that makes this an enjoyable game, even if it also is a flawed one.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 14, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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