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Friday, January 22, 2010

Okami - Retrospective

Stop me if you've heard this one. A wolf, accompanied by an annoying character that rides around on it, speaks for it, and taunts it repeatedly, runs around an ancient land, battling creatures of darkness in an effort to purge the shadows from the land. Along the way you collect new items and powers, that help you access previously inaccessible areas of what would otherwise be a truly free-roaming world.

Yeah, comparisons between Okami and the Legend of Zelda series (specifically Twilight Princess, also on my list) are inevitable. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Zelda's formula has been duplicated, copied, cloned, modified, and ripped off numerous times ever since it first exploded onto Famicom systems in the mid 1980's. You could even argue that Metroid, which came out 6 months later, even ripped off the concept, but in a side-scrolling presentation. Perhaps Metroidvanias should be called Metroidzeldavanias.

This style though, has proven to consistently yield extremely positive results. Games like Shadow Complex, which pay tribute to the style are excellent examples of what an unashamed clone can be. The Zelda and Metroid games are all among the highest rated of any game on the console. Even on the CD-I, the Zelda games hold the #2, 3, and 4 slots in popularity on Gamespot. Axis and Allies must be a pretty good game.

It's unavoidable to compare it to similar games, but even allowing for that, Okami is a damn fine game in its own right. I'm not going too much into the actual gameplay, because anyone reading this has likely already played the game, or at least heard enough about it. But for the uninitiated, you play as the goddess Amaterasu, who has come to Nippon in the form of a white wolf to fight demons. There's a deep story behind all of this about an evil eight-headed dragon named Orochi and a legend that goes back 100 years of a similar wolf fighting and defeating the same dragon, but in the end it all boils down to: "You're a god. Fight evil."

The thing that really sets Okami apart from other games aside from its Katsushika Hokusai visual style is the Celestial Brush mechanic that has you drawing representations of powers on screen in order to activate them. While this sounds fun in theory, it begins to get troublesome when you realize it's impossible for the game to walk the line between "simple" and "distinct" with all 13 powers' brushstrokes. I don't doubt the advanced technology that programmers must have pulled their hair out over when creating the Celestial Brush, but it's not perfect. You will end up using the same gestures for several different attacks, and others that use very similar gestures. The problem with context sensitive controls is you will almost always run into a time when the same context is happening simultaneously. This can result in creating a useless waterspout circle when you're trying to form a lily pad or gust of wind, or causing a trail of fire when you only want to use the slash ability.

The overall presentation of the game is enjoyable, and you can tell a lot of care and humor went into creating all of the memorable characters. If you can begin to actively HATE someone who doesn't exist, it's always a testament to the skill of the writers. One thing I could have done without, though, is the annoying nippon-ese that the characters speak in. It's okay for letting you know what a character sounds like, but it gets VERY annoying VERY quickly, especially when you don't want to skip the text because you actually want to read the story. This is actually a considerable detriment to the game, because I found myself skipping what I was fairly certain was a very well written story simply because I didn't want to hear the gibberish anymore and just wanted to get back to the gameplay. PLEASE, Capcom, put an option to turn the speech off in Okamiden, or omit it altogether.

Okami is a very good and very long game. This is the kind of game a kid who only gets one or two games a year could get for their birthday or Christmas and it would get them through many, many months down the road. If I were younger, I could definitely see myself devoting many weeks of my life to this game, seeking out every hidden bead, powering up every weapon, playing through multiple times to unlock every hidden reward and then looking back on the time with fondness 10 years later, just like certain gamers do now with games like Ocarina of Time or even the original Legend of Zelda. Okami is the kind of game that defines "instant classic."

The Good
  • Classic Zelda-esque free-roaming/dungeon diving gameplay
  • Unique Celestial Brush mechanic
  • 40+ hour epic; very good value for the price

The Bad
  • Game might be a bit TOO long for the average gamer.
  • Nippon-ese gibberish gets grating after a while
  • Celestial Brush is not perfect

The Defining Moment
  • The second celestial brush appearing during the battle against Ninetails. I almost shit myself.

The Burning Question
  • Okay, so what exactly is the point of the whole time travel subplot? I'm usually really good at figuring these things out, and I'm pretty sure it's explained somewhere else in the game, but the nippon-ese kept me from reading too much further into it.

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