Here is a song from the soundtrack. Listen as you read if you like.
Clover Studio, Ready At Dawn (Wii Port)
PlayStation 2, Wii
September 19, 2006 (PS2), April 15, 2008 (Wii)
Wii Control Method:
Wii Remote and Nunchuk
A game that did so poorly in sales that it was thought to have bankrupted its wonderful development studio (Clover Studio; Viewtiful Joe, God Hand), and yet was so amazingly well made and a joy to experience, Okami exemplifies the term ďUnderrated Classic.Ē
Okamiís current state of ďunderratedĒ comes mainly from its release date and marketing. It was released around the same time as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and the similar gameplay between the two coupled with the enormous fan base that Zelda has (not to mention the rising excitement of the looming next generation consoles) almost ensured Okamiís domestic failure. Life is perpetually unfair it would seem, because while Twilight Princess was a good game, and this generation has produced some amazing experiences, no game I have played in recent years has come close to the level of inspiration and artistry that lies in Okami.
To dwell on the Zelda comparison for a moment, Okami undoubtedly takes much from Nintendoís acclaimed series. Okamiís designers were even quoted as saying that the game is essentially their own version of the Zelda formula. It more than shows in the gameís overall design, and if youíve ever played a Zelda game in your life, Okami will feel very familiar to you. Gameplay is generally divided between exploring the huge overworld, interacting with and helping the memorable characters you meet on the way, crawling through dungeons, solving puzzles, and fighting enemies with your many gained abilities. Certain things are even copied and pasted from the Zelda book of game design, such as collecting a certain number of a specific item to increase your life energy, and epic boss fights that are often more puzzles than actual battles. If the idea of a company besides Nintendo making a Zelda game (which is what Okami basically is) seems ridiculous to you, or like a cheap way to make a game, or just in any way turns you off, know this: Okami isnít Zelda. There are many similarities, but the overall tone and direction of the games are very different. Okami uses Nintendoís tried and true formula not as an instruction manual, but as a basic frame, with the developers filling in the spaces with their own ideas and unique take on the genre, resulting in game that is, really, unlike any other despite its obvious influences.
A huge overworld full of fun towns and locales all with an emphasis on exploration are some of the many cues Okami takes from Zelda.
A big reason for this is the gameís art style. Whether your definition of art is broad enough to include games, there is no denying that games can at the very least be artistic. Okami is one of the few examples where a gameís art is almost perfectly synchronous with its gameplay. The main objective of the game (bring life back to the scarred land) is both a result of and catalyst for your quest, whoís humble beginnings as a journey to rid the world of evil grow into a testament to and reverence for a countryís heritage.
For Okami is at its very simplest a game about Japan. Its story is steeped in Japanese folklore, taking plots and characters from ancient tales and seamlessly weaving them together to create an epic adventure rich with the culture. Its themes are of duty, honor, reverence, and faith. Its art style even emulates Japanese water-colors and wood-cuts. It is a game lovingly crafted by its makers, made for and about their land, and it more than shows in the gameís beautiful, vibrant world.
And the world is indeed beautiful. One of the most gorgeous you will ever play in. The art style as I stated earlier, is merged perfectly with the gameplay, letting you inhabit and romp through a fantastical ancient Japan stylized to look like artwork from that countryís history. The visuals essentially have the look of an ancient Japanese painting, such as black outlines on everything that shift around objects as you rotate the camera, or visible wind gusts that are represented by swirling lines in the air. Matt Casamassina of IGN astutely pointed out in his video review of Okami that at essentially any time you can take a screenshot of the game, and you will basically be left with a painting. Thatís how well crafted the visuals are.
See? A painting.
But Iíve gone on about the style and aesthetics long enough. Iím sure youíre wondering, ďHow does the game actually play?Ē Thankfully, Okamiís gameplay is just as fresh as its art. The setting is as mentioned a stylized ancient Japan, here called ďNippon.Ē The story begins in quaint Kamiki Village, which was once terrorized by the fierce demon Orochi, but was vanquished by a brave warrior and a mysterious white wolf. Now 100 years later the demon is back, and its up to you to stop it. You control the reincarnation of the Sun God, Amaterasu, whoís previous form was the very same wolf who saved Kamiki so long ago. Now she is tasked with restoring life and faith to the diseased land, turned black by the evil of the revived Orochi. In order to accomplish this Amaterasu must regain her thirteen lost lost brush techniques from her fellow gods.
This brings up Okamiís main point of gameplay. The celestial brush, your tool for actually performing these brush techniques, aids you in everything you do, from combat to exploration to puzzle solving. When the Celestial Brush is activated, the entire game world freezes and the screen appears to have been layered with parchment, turning the 3D world into a 2D drawing for you to sketch on. The different brush techniques involve you drawing specific doodles on the screen, and each one has its own ability and appropriate use.
Gameplay takes place on two planes; the 3d overworld and the 2d brush screen.
Draw a straight line over a tree and it will be cut down. Draw swirling lines in the air to bring a wind gust. Even drawing a circle with a line intersecting the circumference creates a bomb, which then promptly explodes. The result of the brush and its control is a fun and interesting way to interact with and have a direct effect on the world, leaving you with not only a feeling of accomplishment, but with a sense of worth and duty as you restore the land. Even despite its apparent gimmickness at first, the system fits perfectly with the painting theme and the storyís emphasis on artists and their legacy of tradition through their art.
I really could go on and on about how much I love this game, but I donít really want to do that because Iím afraid of spoiling the many wonderful things it has to offer. I also need to point out a few of its problems before I completely fall on my hands and knees worshiping it. The game has an almost unbearable slow start, which will turn many gamers off right away, and the erratic pacing of the long story, which lasts almost 40 hours, will alienate even more with its sometimes minutes of text reading.
There are a lot of cutscenes. Lots of cutscenes means lots of text.
I like a long game myself, but I might have to call this out on Okami. The story just seems to run out of steam and meander about for the last ten hours or so, suffering from actually being too long. Not to mention the game feels artificially lengthened with backtracking and some boss fights that are repeated up to three times, and thatís just in the main quest. There are side quests that involve even more rematches.
But the biggest problem of all, and the one most likely to cause you to throw your Wii Remote in rage is the actual drawing mechanic. Yes, the very same facet of gameplay that makes the game so interesting and fun to play is also its biggest problem. The game is just way too picky with which doodles count and which donít. There will be many times where you will die or miss a jump thanks to the game not recognizing what you drew, even when you are absolutely positive you drew it correctly. The fact that this problem still exists in the Wii version of the game is just ridiculous, not only because it has been a full two years since the gameís original release on PS2, but also because the Wii Remote makes drawing so much faster and easier than on an analog stick, that you simply arenít going to spend the time making sure every line is perfectly straight. There really just isnít any excuse for it, and it amounts to an avoidable annoyance.
The game is also incredibly easy, providing next to no challenge for veterans of the action/adventure genre. But in Okamiís case, and this may sound insane, but the gameplay really is secondary. The experience of just existing in this awe-inspiring world will negate nearly all complaints. When itís a joy to simply watch Amaterasu move about, going from a moderate walking pace into a full-out sprint, with flowers sprouting up from behind her where her paws last touched the ground, and the wind sparkling as she flies through it, you have come across a special game. Come for the amazing environments and interesting game mechanics, stay for the magic, the humor, and the work of art that is Okami.
It isnít for everyone, but if you are a Zelda fan and/or can appreciate the finer things in a game and an amazingly crafted experience, then do yourself a favor and pick up Okami. The Wii Version is only 40 dollars, and is worth every penny.
- da Beef