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{TGE} Okami - Review

The Gaming Experience

Okami

Okami Cover Art

 

Whether it is the story, the gameplay, the basic premise, or perhaps just the visual direction, there are always a few games that really stand out. Okami is one such game, for its rich story is blended with its stylized visuals to deliver an experience that not only looks good, but plays well. Inspired by The Legend of Zelda, this game takes the genre and delivers it with its own unique flavor. The Japanese themes may seem exotic or strange at first, but they are approachable by the player and help to work alongside the art direction and story to make the game one solid piece.

 

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Premise

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Demons run rampant across Nippon, and so many of its inhabitants have forgotten about the gods. It had been one hundred years since Nagi ended Kamiki's sorrowful tradition, in which its fairest maiden was delivered to the terrible beast, Orochi. Just before the anniversary of Nagi's victory, a mysterious man unwittingly frees the terrible spirit Orochi, and the world is plunged into darkness. Into this accursed world, the great goddess Okami Amaterasu awakens in form of Shiranui, the white wolf that had helped save Kamiki.

Like The Legend of Zelda, the game begins in a small corner of the world and slowly expands until you can finally encounter your nemesis. You'll cast out demons, restore the world to its former beauty, and help out those you encounter. Unlike The Legend of Zelda, your powers rely not on the weapons you carry- though they help- but on the faith of those who you will encounter. You can then use the power of their faith to increase your life force, the amount of ink you carry, the amount of money you can carry, and the amount of times you get a second chance after being defeated.

Before you begin the game, you receive a spunky little helper by the name of Issun. He basically does all of the talking for you, though not without expressing his own playful humor, dropping innuendos, and making his own feelings quite clear. He's not merely your voice and helper, but he's a character in his own right, who sees perhaps more development than anyone else you'll run into.

The game takes many twists and turns, certainly too many to detail in a way that would do them justice. However, its story is darker than the average fantasy game. Faith, loyalty, betrayal, sacrifice, destiny, and more lend themselves to the story. When the game finally reaches its conclusion and all these come together at last, the game makes up for its often heavy themes with a truly uplifting scene. Unfortunately, the Wii edition of the game omits the credits, which means you'll miss out on a lovely vocal piece and an easter egg that comes after the credits. Nevertheless, as a player who who is not afraid to look for inspiration in the story of a video game, the last chapter of the game had a profound effect on my own life and it is unlikely any player who is looking for a thought-provoking and inspirational story will be dissapointed here.

The game may not be one for the younger or more sensitive audience, but it still has its own humor. Issun shows no compunction about speaking his mind around you, never mind the fact that you are a goddess. And then there is the quirks of many of the NPCs you'll meet. There are a few curveballs that don't necessarily mess with the game's consistency but definitely show you something more ridiculous than you expected. Don't worry, as Okami doesn't appear to have a centralized fanbase, none of these have been elevated to memes, nor are they really that ridiculous.

 

Susano Cutscene

It's time for.... Susano-style SLICE

 

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Gameplay

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You start out in a dark ethereal world where you get the chance to get a feel for the game. Before long, you'll meet one of the celestial gods, who'll greet you and give you their powers. Each of these divine powers will correspond to a celestial brush technique. By tracing a shape on the screen (either with the wii remote or the analog stick) you can control the flow of the water, the voice of the wind, the reach of the vines, and even make summon forth the moon and the sun. At first, some of the elemental abilities are very situational. However, later in the game you can learn a symbol that will summon the element, or you'll receive weapons that offer a handy source of the element. Keep a close eye on the ink you carry, as using up all your ink will cause you to lose all of your divine powers, including your melee weapon.

The controls are generally straightforward. As you progress through the game, you'll also have the chance to learn new abilities. Most of these will be helpful, but those with the Wii edition of the game will find themselves better off without "fleetfoot", which allows you to dodge by shaking the nunchuk. Not only doesn't it work properly, but its hard to keep your nunchuk steady enough to not be dodging every couple seconds. The Wii edition also offers a few tradeoffs with the brush technique. It is much easier to swap back and forth between the celestial brush and normal combat, but some of the more complex symbols can be unforgiving. In the PS2 original, its far more precise, but it takes a little bit longer and doesn't quite lend itself to spamming celestial brush powers on your foes.

The game features an inventory as well as many different weapons to choose from. The inventory is useful early on when you don't have many powers, but at the end of the game and particularly if you choose to start the game over with some of your stock from the previous playthrough, you'll find it far too abusive in the game proper. However, some of the sidequests feature enemies that will test your mettle regardless of how much junk you carry. The weapons are divided into three categories, each of which play differently. The standard divine mirror deals out moderate damage but can be hard to land combos, while the rosary is really good for building up combos but a single hit doesn't deal much damage at all. The glaive is by far the most powerful weapon in the game, but slow and chunky. Players that favor speed will probably opt for the rosary, whereas those that like to take their time setting up a few solid hits will want the glaive, however the difference in damage even among the top-teir weapons is so dramatic that you may find yourself using the glaive just to make the fight easier on you.

The game's combat system is very effective. Unlike The Legend of Zelda, you don't encounter enemies while exploring, but instead you may run into demon scrolls which throw you into a furious confrontation, not unlike the battle system of a Japanese role-playing game. Defeating enemies in a particular way will net you demon fangs, which will allow you to receive some of the more interesting tools. Also like RPGs, if you choose to avoid all encounters, you'll find yourself a little short on cash compared to someone who's been grinding half the game. What the game does feature in common with the aforementioned series is a gimmick-based puzzle boss. For example, there is a boss which you'll need to use the divine wind to extinguish the flames once you damage his armor, and another where you need to use vines to expose its weak spot.

The difficulty curve is different for every player. The more sidequests you focus on, the less challenging the main game will be. However, the sidequests often feature their own challenges, making it a fair tradeoff. Overall, the difficulty curve is quite standard all across the board except where the last boss is concerned. If you're the kind of player that needs to have a real challenge, then you'll want to look for it elsewhere. Fortunately, the boss is anything but anticlimactic, thanks to the presentation and the music.

The game's progression is more story-based than its counterparts. Rather than follow a general pattern of "overworld-quest-dungeon-boss", you'll find a more traceable pattern between the story of each act of the game. Generally, it will favor the overworld and associated quests above most other aspects of the game. However, when you finally do come to a full-fledged dungeon, it is always a memorable experience. The game will take you about thirty hours, depending on how long you spend on sidequests and just wandering around lost. This does not include restarts, and if you're planning on getting 100%, then you'll be spending at least twice as long searching every nook and cranny.

Even after you've finished the game proper and have become too powerful to meet a real challenge, there's still plenty of excuses to come back for more. First of all, the game offers you the opportunity to play through the game again with most of your treasures intact and a few new interesting- though not necessarily useful- powerups that can change your appearance. Besides treasure, there's also a ton of sidequests to improve your divine powers and collect stray beads. You can also find stray beads hidden cleverly throughout each area, but you will not be able to use them until you've reached the end-game at least once. For the most devoted completionists, you can also try to take care of 100% of each and every animal, find all of the hidden clovers, encounter and defeat every enemy, et cetera.

 

Orochi Battle

The dreaded legend of Orochi ends with you

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Sound/Music

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The music is hard to miss. From the very beginning, it has Asian-themed instruments and a remarkable soundtrack. There is a huge number of unique themes and motiffs, such as Issun's quirky "sproingy" theme, Susano's rousing "hero" theme, or the menacing "curse" theme- to name but a few. Each character or group of characters that will play a major part in your quest will have their own theme which effectively captures the presence of the character. The music swells with the story and gameplay, giving it the immersion of situational ambience but the noteworthy aural quality of stage-by-stage background music.

The sound effects are very cleverly interwoven into the game. Not only does the chime flourish change depending on the value of the item you find, but there are many smaller details like a small drum playing when you face a demon carrying a drum-shaped weapon. The dialogue is accompanied with strange nasal sounds, which manages to avoid the awkward silence in games like Zelda without forcing you to listen to them "talk".

 

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Visuals

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The game is visually astounding to say the least. Every single aspect of the game looks like it were drawn on parchment with brush and ink. This includes projectiles, effects, the menu, each animated character, your own powers, and even the sweeping landscapes. This not only gives it a definite style, but it also gives it a sense of consistency, so that when you weild the brush it really feels like you are creating something within that world. Every item at least looks like you could draw it with your brush if you wanted.

Aside from the style, the locations are breathtaking. There are bamboo groves, underwater realms, mountains, seas, lands frozen under a flourescant snow, and so much more. Watching each world spring back to life at your feet is quite a rewarding experience. The world is also populated not only by NPCs but by animals of many kinds, which you can generously provide for if you choose. (or you can use your divine powers for mischief)

The visual appearance of each character is well fleshed out and like their theme, helps to bring out their personality. Issun looks like a little bug, Sakuya looks like an enchanting deity, and Susano looks like a rugged buffoon. The creatures are also very well fleshed out. You'll meet imps, tengu, oni, kitsunes, and many other rogue spirits and not only do they all look like fanciful beasts, but there are a few whose appearance actually offer visual cues for disposing of them effectively.

 

Celestial Rejuvenation

Use your powers to restore Nippon to its former glory!

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Personal Experience

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Okami was my first introduction to the Japanese culture, so I understandably felt a bit awkward playing it for the first time. With that said, this foreign aspect of it became part of the appeal. Among the things that stood out were the emphasis on spirituality, and the emphasis on natural themes.

The game itself was ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences I've played. Comparing it to The Legend of Zelda again and again is hard to avoid, due to the fact that even the game's producers admitted that it was his favorite game and one he looked to often for inspiration. However, it was a deeper experience than what I'd been used to seeing from games like it.

Its hard to say how I felt at first about the idea of a game where you play as a goddess and one of the most significant methods of increasing your powers is restoring the faith of the residents of Nippon. Due to my own religious convictions, the game's themes of faith and spirituality approached me on a personal level, and as such many of the stories only ever became more meaningful.

As I have said before, this game actually has had a tangible influence on my life. To celebrate the new year, I came back to relive the endgame to reinforce some of the values I had drawn from it the first time. Furthermore, many of my interests in Japanese themes were first cultivated here, which has understandably had an impact on what I've been willing to approach since then.

 

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Score

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{TGE} Grade: A

* Editor's Recommendation*

  • Story - 9 (Dialogue-heavy but the story is exceptionally good. the pacing fits the gameplay even as the game's progression follows the story, and its themes are delicately interwoven as it reaches the climax)
  • Design - 7 (The design of the game isn't so much of a novelty as the game it takes its cues from, but the way it handles them is what is really exceptional. With that said, not all of the updates to the Wii version were polished)
  • Gameplay - 8 (The gameplay is familiar, but the brush techniques are an interesting way to handle progression. While there are quirks in both the PS2 and Wii, there are no flaws that truly detract from the experience)
  • Presentation - 10 (The music, the artwork, and the story arre interwoven very effectively and even by their own qualities, are nothing short of perfect.)
  • Total - 8.5

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  • Difficulty Curve - Depends greatly on how much time you spend collecting powerups. If you spend plenty of time in sidequests, the final boss won't be too difficult to defeat.
  • Audience - Just about any fan of "The Legend of Zelda" will find something to like here. Furthermore, those looking for an experience that feels unique and those looking for a deep story will also find this a worthy buy. Sensitive, younger audiences may find some scenes frightening, and there is some suggestive humor.
  • Replay - There is a ton of content for those who look for it. The game is very generous about showing you secrets, but finding them all is a different matter entirely. As for replaying the game itself, you'll probably wait until its been on your shelf a while.

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Whether in the artwork, music, gameplay, or story, Okami delivers an extraordinary product. There are a few quirks, mostly revolving around the control scheme. If you're trying to decide between the two, here's a basic look at the differences.

 

PS2 version was the original, made several years back. It includes a parchment filter over everything and the ink canvas is a little bit more detailed. Drawing with the Celestial Brush is more precise but far slower. The PS2 also includes the credits sequence along with an easter egg related to a design you give an NPC late in the game.

The Wii version is the remake, and has the parchment filter removed and the ink canvas simplified. While the visuals don't suffer for it, it does make it more accessible. Drawing with the Celestial Brush is very easy from start to finish, but the more complicated symbols are difficult to pull off. Furthermore, while it is easy to use the brush, it is hard endure some of the longer fights. Additionally, Fleetfoot is totally useless, as it doesn't work except when you don't want it to.

 

Both are definitely worth getting. These smaller flaws aren't enough to make me recommend the game any less heartily, but may influence your choice between the PS2 and Wii version.

Also, there is a sequel coming out for the DS. Given how the stylus just lends itself to that kind of gameplay, I personally have high hopes for it. You can count on TGE to give you a detailed impression when its ready. Until then, keep your eye out for more features and reviews from The Gaming Experience.

 

Links:

 

Home-Page - http://www.okami-game.com/

Store - http://tinyurl.com/Capcom-Store


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