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Gaming is filled to the brim with cult classics. Games that don’t do well on sales but thrive on review scores and audience appreciation are sometimes robbed of direct support they deserve. Sure they have a ton of fan celebration, but at the end of the day, gaming is a business. If you don’t make the cash, then what use are you? Occasionally, when the planets and celestial entities align, these games are given a second chance and shine as they truly should have to the full gaming community, keeping their acclaim and now having matching sales figures. A game that’s come back and back again to achieve this would be Capcom’s art exhibit of a Japanese Wolf Goddess, Okami.
Okami is the journey of Japanese Goddess Amaterasu (or Ammy for short) reincarnating as a wolf to descend to the land of Nippon to purify it from the great evil of the fierce dragon demon Orochi. Accompanied by her wise-guy short-fry sidekick Issun, the two traverse the land, meet a coral of unique and interesting characters from the hard-hitting and equally hard-headed Susano, the over-confident warrior Oki and a plethora of townspeople based on Japanese folklore and mythology. If you do your homework for Okami to see who and what everything in the game is based on, it makes for a very engaging read of Google searches that’ll have you up for all hours of the night. Okami’s story might bridge on overstaying its welcome towards the end, but the level of engagement it kept and has kept me at on multiple playthroughs is undeniable. Okami will take you a good 30-40 hours to campaign through, but damn are those a quality 40 hours.
Despite the deserved adoration Okami’s ‘Zelda-esque’ gameplay receives, the game’s clear as day standout is its presentation. Good God this is one of the greatest looking games ever created, especially in its HD port. Okami’s art direction is based off of Japanese watercolor paintings and it looks magnificent. It’s impossible to describe the level of sublime reached here, everything looks gorgeous. Each area from the vast and luscious Shinshu Field, the exotic sandy beaches and overwhelming oceans of Ryoshima Coast, to the glistening cherry blossoms that decorate Kamiki Village are a masterpiece of graphical style. It’s one of the most distinct standout art styles of any game on any shelf and seeing it in motion is simply breathtaking. The simple colour schemes and thick black emphasising lines make everything pop with a wondrous sense of style. And when you restore one of the divine saplings and watch life and colour wash the demonic fog away from an area as the flowers bloom and water rushes, it’s one of gaming’s most beautiful sights.
But of course presentation isn’t just graphics, and what discussion of Okami wouldn’t involve its blissful soundtrack? Every musical piece in Okami keeps a similar sound but never a distinct tone, making the emotional range of such a score absolutely joyous. You’ll leave an area thinking how mellow and yet inspired it sounded, only to enter a new area with a barrage of instruments for a truly layered and quite frankly epic feeling. Ryoshima Coast, Orca’s theme, The Kamiki Festival, Giving Kushinada a Ride, and of course the much hailed The Sun Rises… it’s nothing short of fantastic. If for whatever reason you’re questioning purchasing this gaming gem, not sold on the gameplay and the art style isn’t your cup of sake, listen to the soundtrack. At least do that one nice thing for yourself. It might even be enough to sell you on this quirky yet roaring adventure.
As previously stated, Okami’s gameplay is most comparable to that of the traditional ‘Legend of Zelda’ set up. Roaming a large world, collecting items, exploring dungeons for new abilities, meeting plenty of fun side characters, all with this sense of adventure sprinkled over it. Okami’s biggest gameplay element is the celestial brush. A divine paintbrush that, when activated, freezes the world and converts it to a canvas. A variety of different brush strokes will cause different effects on the world. These can be a simple as a horizontal line mimicking a sword slash, a spiral creating a gust of wind and a circle around dead plant life reviving them. Just to name a few. They make exploring the world more interactive and engaging then the average adventure game. Unfortunately, the game does have trouble registering the correct brush strokes and it can be very frustrating. Handy tips would be smaller circles are more easily registered and holding the trigger button locks the brush for easier straight lines. It’s a fun mechanic, it just causes unnecessary struggles some of the time.
Combat in Okami is rhythm based. Not guitar hero style but attacks done with a flow and beat to them will do more damage. There’s 3 types of weapons, docs which are offensive weapons and the default starter, whips, which are the best ones no question, and swords which are the most difficult to master. The celestial brush can be incorporated into combat. And while it’s nitrite fly overpowered, it doesn’t stop the battles from being pretty easy. In my multiple playthroughs of Okami I can only recall dying once or twice, and both of those were boss fights. Combat is still engaging and fun, and it can catch you off guard if you get cocky, but enemy weaknesses are easily spotted most of the time and you should have more healing items then you’ll ever need just from exploring. Running out of ink can leave you very vulnerable and if you’re out of items to refill it, it can be a very sticky situation, but nothing you shouldn’t be able to handle.
Okami originally released on PlayStation 2 during the end of its life in 2006, many blaming this time of release being so close to that of the PlayStation 3’s as the core reason for its poor sales. But since then, it has been re-released on the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and 4 and soon the on Nintendo Switch, so grabbing a copy of it nowadays is easier than ever.
It might not be that challenging, there is a lot of text to scroll through and towards the end it starts to overstay its welcome. Especially by having 3 separate ending points throughout the game. One story is fully resolved only for another to spring up. It’s as if the plots of 3 separate games were made to fit in one. But that means more Okami so who can complain? A sequel was made for the Nintendo DS – Okamiden – and while the hardware does limit it, it’s still a good time with a heart wrenching storyline filled with very memorable characters. Ammy has appeared in many other games like Marvel Vs Capcom, so hopefully her new widespread appearances and never ending HD ports lead to future sequels and installments.