Games with a unique art style aren’t always received very well by gamers. Take, for instance, The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker. While many expected it to be more like the demo video shown for the Game Cube with realistic graphics and such, the game ended up using cel-shaded graphics. While some (myself included) really liked this change to the style, others absolutely hated it. Names like “Wind Wanker” and “The Legend of Celda” popped up all over the internet and fans of the series completely boycotted the game, missing out on one of the more fun adventures Link has ever been on.
However, unique graphics don’t always ruin a game. To the contrary, they sometimes net the game large amounts of positive press. That’s the case with Okami, a game developed by Clover Studios and produced by Capcom. Okami follows the story of Amaterasu, a Japanese God. You’re playing as a wolf here…with a magical paintbrush. Said paintbrush also sets a theme for the game’s graphical style – it really does seem as if it was painted on a canvas as you play through it. Graphics don’t necessarily make a game though – does the rest of Okami prove to be a fun experience?
Okami’s gameplay is very reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda series. You’ll do lots of action-based fighting but won’t go around getting tons of weapons like boomerangs, bombs and such. Instead, you learn new celestial paintbrush techniques. You see, you’re a God, and have tons of powers. These techniques you learn will vary in use: one will repair things that are broken, another will execute a powerful sword slash, yet another brings the sun out in the sky and one will even create a huge bomb. Drawing these shapes with the paintbrush is simple, too – hold down the R1 button and the screen shifts the angle and puts down a canvas-like overlay. Then you just hold down the square button and move the analog stick around. It really is a pretty simple design and that lends itself to making for a fun experience – and you can use most of the powers anywhere in the world. Chop down trees, bomb stuff or bring out the sun to make things brighter out; it is really up to you. The paintbrush really feels like an essential element of the gameplay and not just some gimmick that you’ll occasionally break out that doesn’t feel like it should be there.
The game’s combat is fairly simple overall. When roaming around, you’ll see enemies. If you run into them, combat will be initiated. You’re not going to have a ton of moves, but that really isn’t an issue since what you have is fun enough. You have this fire disc thing on your back that is your main weapon – use it to beat the tar out of enemies, though be careful. Sometimes, enemies won’t be able to be harmed by the disc because they’re blocking or some such. In that case, you’ll have to break out the power slash or some other paintbrush power. Combat will pause while you do this, too, which is nice. Just draw the line and slash the enemy. Run over to them, collect the ink pots, solar energy and yen and boom. The simple combat doesn’t force you to learn tons of techniques (any brush techniques can be found in the pause menu) and just plain lets you have fun.
The story in Okami is also well done and, a rarity in RPGs, well translated. The graphical style really helps to tell the story, too – while there is dialog in the game (and lots of it), none of it is spoken. You’ll instead get a Sims-like nonsensical noise while a character talks. While this isn’t bad most of the time, some characters have horribly annoying tones – the narrator’s tone, for example, almost made me not even want to review the game. Thankfully, most of the tones won’t get that annoying, but an option to turn them off would have been incredible.
Of course, being a wolf presents a problem for our hero Amaterasu. Wolves, well, can’t talk. However, that doesn’t get in Ammy’s (your little companion Issun’s name for Amaterasu) way – she’ll get upset, bored or excited and show that emotion through animations. Particularly funny are the times she gets frustrated with Issun and tries to bite him or hold him down with a paw. While she never really says a word, the animations are more than enough to get her opinions across. The quality of animation doesn’t stop at Ammy, either – other characters that actually do have dialog also animate in a way that makes what they are saying seem more real and alive.
There is a lot to do beyond the main story, too, and you should look for these side quests. They will net you praise (essentially, experience points with a different name) that lets you go about increasing your life total, the amount of ink you have and such. A lot of them are pretty simple, too, so avoiding them really makes no sense.
The graphics, animations and sound really are what set Okami apart from the rest of the pack of PS2 RPGs. While other games have tried cel-shading or using realistic graphics, Okami uses a style all its own – with painting being a theme of the game, the style of graphics, well, feel like a painting. It helps to tie the whole experience together while providing a graphical style that really hasn’t been seen before. The whole world feels so full of character, too. The areas of cursed land truly feel dismal until you bring life back to them – and when you do, the change is drastic. Clover has really done a good job with the graphics here in Okami. They’ve also done an excellent job with the music and sound effects. The music has an overall Japanese theme to it, very appropriate to the world. It’ll set the tone for the area you’re in – the real goal of the music in most any game. The sound effects are also very Japanese, keeping with the game’s overall theme. Okami manages to totally succeed on these more technical aspects that can be issues in other RPGs.
So, in closing, Okami is definitely more than just the unique graphical style that will attract games to it. While the graphics will definitely pull you into the game at first, but the Japanese inspired world, the unique gameplay elements, the fun story with some roots in mythology and the excellent music will keep you there. Whether you are using the celestial paintbrush to repair a bridge, fighting a huge boss that has some mythological roots or simply enjoying the music, Okami is an experience on the PS2 that shouldn’t be passed up. If you haven’t already gone out and grabbed it, put it on your Christmas list – this is one end of the generation game that you shouldn’t miss.