There are few games out there that wow with beauty and imagination, the story of wolf Amaterasu and his fight against the forces of darkness, Okami is a story steeped in Japanese folklore, making it a rarity on these European shores. Originally released in 2006 for the PS2, it’s finally gotten the HD treatment on the PS3 and the results are simply wonderful.
First off it only seems right to talk about the graphics. A beautiful watercolour visual style, the whole game feels like a moving painting, each scene and environment making jaws drop. Everything having a paintbrush style with thick black outlines around everything, it’s no wonder this is considered one of the best looking games on the PS2. It’s incredible really that since Okami’s release many games are attempting the photo-realistic style to add an emotional connection to their characters, and yet the emotion felt playing Okami is stronger than most of these games.
Amaterasu’s facial features and mannerisms showing more emotion than most games you’ll find that favour a realistic style. And this is from a character that has not one spoken line of dialogue. The relationship the wolf shares with the miniscule artist Issun being a particular highlight. Issun, riding along on Amaterasu’s back and often being the comedic part of this double act. Issun joining the adventure in order to obtain all Celestial Brush techniques, something that forms the core gameplay of Okami.
The player can essentially pause the game for a time, and then proceed to use the analogue stick to draw on the unpainted canvas. The brush techniques you learn on your journey range from simple power slashes (drawing a straight line across) to making the sun appear (drawing a circle in the sky). They work really well, and for the most part the game offers a great deal of leeway with your drawing skills. Being able to understand what you’re trying to draw even if your circles come off as a bit more egg shaped than you would’ve liked.
There’s a reason many people call Okami “the best non-Zelda game ever made”, because it is very much steeped in that genre of game. An overworld that opens up as you progress, a number of dungeons to conquer and new items and abilities that will help you progress in said dungeons. But despite this successful formula, the game brings enough different elements to the table. Each new area initially starting out as a cursed zone, where any time spent in the darkness drains energy. Finding each guardian sapling and restoring them using the celestial brush sends the area into a flurry of flowers and beauty. Each act of kindness or restoration results in praise, praise being used as a way to upgrade certain attributes.
If there’s one criticism to be levelled at Okami it’s the dungeons while fun, never tax the brain enough to be challenging. Puzzles seem obvious, and compared to the very best Zelda has to offer, dungeons are incredibly small with the final boss battles while at times being spectacular once again come across as being quite easy. Part of the problem could be the games inisistence on giving the player more items and money than they would ever need. Health restoration items and ones that increase your defence or attack are commonplace, found in many chests littering the land, and can be bought for a reasonable price at all of the nearby stores.
Seven years after its first appearance and Okami feels just as fresh now as it did back in 2006. One of the highlights of the PS2 and Wii libraries now in glorious HD is an offer too good to pass up. While dungeons may lack the complexity one would hope for, this is a minor complaint with an otherwise fantastic game. If only the sales figures had matched the quality.