Developer: Ready at Dawn
Date Published: 4/16/2008
: Playstation 2
Okami was originally released for the Playstation 2 games console back in 2006. While it released to amazing critical acclaim, the sales numbers were disappointing. The release came towards the end of Playstation 2 (and Xbox and Gamecube) lifetime and a lot of hype was building for the next generation of gaming hardware--the most innovative of which was the Nintendo Revolution / Wii and its unique motion sensing input technology. At the time, Okami was only destined to come to the Playstation 2 with its ancient dual analog input from the days of yore. While this control scheme has served, and still serves, the gaming populace at large, Okami had a very interesting gameplay mechanic of using a brush to draw or manipulate objects on the screen. The poor sales of the Playstation 2 version could be attributed to the awkwardness or simple lack of enthusiasm for using your thumbs to draw lines and circles on a TV while other new and exciting control schemes were in the pipeline.
Fast forward to April 2008 and we have Okami in all its new, shining glory. The developer for the overhaul, Ready at Dawn, went to great lengths to replicate the original experience with a new control scheme. Some graphical differences exist between the two versions but they are the result of the different hardware platforms and not stylistic changes introduced by the developer. The result is an amazing gaming experience that allows a new audience to paint the world back to life one adventure at a time.
Okami has a very captivating story and art style that must be seen to be appreciated. The artwork and character design all have a definite Japanese origin but the character interactions are entertaining to American audiences all the same. The story and dialogue is relayed via text but each character has a blurred, incomprehensible "voice" that plays while text is being spoken which is a refreshing creative detail. The main character is a white wolf that does not speak, but an aspiring artist follows you around to provide a communications link with the world's inhabitants.
The intro is quite long, but gives you the tale of a great white wolf that goes with a young warrior to fight an evil, eight-headed serpent that terrorizes a small village. The wolf enters the fray to save the young warrior and engage the serpent until the warrior can return to battle and strike a deathblow against the serpent. Unfortunately, the wolf is mortally wounded and dies after the battle. The nearby village erects a statue of the wolf for her heroic efforts and sacrifice. The young warrior's blade, driven through the serpent, is left stuck in the ground where the battle took place.
One hundred years later, the sword is disturbed and the eight-headed serpent, Orochi, is loose upon the world again. As Orochi regains power, a curse spreads across the land sapping the vitality of the earth. A guardian spirit expends the last of its fading power to awaken the statue and bring the white wolf, Amaterasu, back into the world. Together Issun, the companion artist, Amaterasu must defeat Orochi and revive the world. By rediscovering the thirteen godly brush techniques, Amaterasu can write her will across the world once again set the drab world into full bloom.
It's All In The Wrist
Aside from the enchanting art style, the biggest draw for the game is the outstanding and unique gameplay. Even if your Wii experience only extends to Wii Sports, you can appreciate the fun to be had in motion sensing controllers. Some of the motion sensing input is a simple wiggle or snap to dodge, dash or attack during the heat of battle. However, the painting is what makes the game outstanding.
Before Amaterasu was slain one hundred years ago, she held all of the divine brush power. Upon her physical death, the power separated into thirteen distinct techniques and scattered across the world and cosmos, guarded by lesser gods until the return of Amaterasu, the mother of all. As you progress through the game, you awaken the lesser gods who have awaited your return and supply you with their brush technique. The techniques range from powerful slashes to manifesting bombs or lily pads.
Thankfully, the techniques are very easy to remember despite their varied results. A circle drawn around a wilted plant will set it in bloom; a circle drawn on water produces a giant lily pad. A circle drawn in the sky will conjure up the sun itself; a circle dawn on land, with an added diagonal line to resemble a fuse will yield a lit bomb useful for attack or demolition. There are several more techniques to use, but at least half of your techniques has to do with reconstruction or revitalization of the land or nature. You'll spend about as much time reviving the world as you will fighting the various imps and demons that wander across the world.
Although your powers are always used for good, they are not always used in anger. For instance, one village has its pathway through a valley sealed by a giant boulder. The village has-been (or never-was) swordsman decides that he will clear the path by splitting the boulder with sword stroke. When you watch the swordsman attack the boulder, a prompt appears for you to use your Power Slash technique by painting the sword stroke across the rock. To the villagers surprise, the path is miraculously cleared by the swordsman's power! At least they got the "miraculous" part right.
It isn't all about divine intervention either--you'll encounter many animals along the way who are foraging for food. You can carry some food stuffs in your inventory so if you so choose, you may feed the animals seeds, herbs, meat, etc. In return you'll receive Praise which can be used to enhance Amaterasu's abilities. Not that you don't get Praise from helping people, but after you help animals they wander around with hearts over their heads whenever you come nearby. Having a troop of striped baby boars milling around with caricature hearts held high is arguably more rewarding than helping someone find their missing clothes hanging pole.
It's worth a moment to touch on some of the complaints about the controls. Some people complain that the game has little mercy about translating your scribbles to game commands. I have to say that it took some effort to get the first few lines or circles right but that learning curve is quickly overcome. Here's a hint: hold Z to draw a straight line at any time. I had the small epiphany that the game's leeway for registering the brush strokes actually adds to the gameplay. This isn't Wii Sports nor Super Smash Brothers Brawl. You are trying to paint the world back in to order. Therefore, you must paint it reasonably well. Sound surprising to you? Me either.
If you couldn't guess, I heartily recommend this game. The controls are enjoyable and a great example of potential uses of the Wii's input mechanisms. The art style and story telling are fantastic. Most games will have a story that results in good beating out evil, but Okami's delivery is something that stands out from most every other game. Yes, you work for the forces of good to vanquish the forces of evil, but there is a deeper mechanic at work than smiting the evil doers. As you travel the country side, you help the world's inhabitants overcome their own unfortunate events, like a bridge collapsing or a mill wheel breaking. As previously mentioned, you have a chance to feed all manner of furry or winged animals roaming the world. When you encounter small spots of cursed land, you simply brush vitality back into them. Every time you rejuvenate a spot cursed land, or a tree or a four leaf clover, there is a small cut scene where lush green grass and thick plots of flowers explode in the world, bringing color back to the barren landscape. The story may not the fight of good over evil but rather an epic story of bringing goodness to a world at the edge of darkness (and I do mean epic, as the game is surprisingly long). This does not mean the story is simple.
Matter of fact, if you want simple, here goes: Take $40, drive to the store and buy the game.