okami overwhelms you with its exhaustive emphasis on self-sacrifice, accumilation, and all sorts of rituals and deeds
just_nonplussed wrote this review on .
okami - review
okami is a story-based action adventure game that is themed around ancient japan, and japanese culture.
you play as 'amaterasu' (ammy), with your sidekick 'issun'. amaterasu is the japanese sun god and provides life energy for all of japan.
the evil orochi (demon serpent) has awoken again and rather than the sun god herself being the main protagonist, her spirit has been infused into a dog. you play as this dog who is refered to as amaterasu, or ammy for short. as the player, you take on the power of the sun, but also the responsibility of a god.
okami plays very much like a zelda game, but feels different. the world is constructed of polygons, but it's shaded in colourful way, with thick black marks around everything, like a japanese ink wash painting. there is also a strong glow of light behind the graphics, similar to a bloom effect.
like zelda there is a world map, but instead of a hub area, there are simply a set of regions (of japan) with paths running through them. it's got a bigger map than ocarina of time, because there are quite alot of large areas to wander and run through.
splitting off from the large areas are caves, villages, shrines, and other regions.
generally speaking, each region has a sort of cave that could be called a dungeon.
the dungeons in okami are very similar to zelda's dungeons, but they do feel refreshingly different. for example, they are quite short, there aren't a whole load of different items to get, you don't have to get a map and a compass, and there is a streamlined objective that is always 'purify the surrounding area'. this objective goes for the world map as well.
as a god you have the responsibility to bring life back to the orochi-infected land. japan has been plagued by evil monsters that dance with flutes, rotten fish that throw fins at you, and other crazed demons.
your partner issun is a small bug artist that wants to travel the world to find all the hidden artistic brush abilities. however, the gods grant you this power as well, so you're able to use a holy, 'celestial brush' to create solutions to japan's problems. what better metaphor than the brush!
at key points in the game, after purging areas, you meet other zodiac gods that grant ammy brush techniques. for example, zelda's bombs are now a broad circle with a dash through the middle, drawn like a true artist with the wiimote. the hookshot is now a grasping vine, pulling ammy from lotus to lotus in order to reach something far away.
the ability system is very well done, feeling a lot like a good nintendo adventure game. for example, like link or jade from beyond good & evil, ammy has a main weapon (divine instrument) that is used to fight local baddies, and then a special 'tool' that adds a lot more depth and variety to the gameplay.
my favourite weapon in okami is the 'devout beads', a long, stretchy line of beads that create a number of collisions in the same spot before being sucked back to ammy, like some divine tongue, licking the enemy to death.
but like the ocarina from zelda, the brush is diverse in its application and can aid in tough battle situations as well as solving 'point A to B problems'. after licking an enemy to near death, ammy can chop them in half with a quick slash from the celestial brush. this quick slash can also free enemies that stick to ammy, attempting to kamakazi.
there are also subversive moments where you think you have to hit a switch to open a door, but you actually use the brush slash technique to break the wooden bars holding you in. these moments are very cool as you expect there to be a more 'logical' way to open it.
block puzzles are replaced by 'sphere puzzles', where ammy has to role magical spheres onto switches, or in some cases on to platforms where you then have to draw a sun in the sky to create a sort of photosynthesis effect that often grows plants that were contaminated. it all revolves around restoring life to areas and playing around with the organic environment.
the game gets off to a slow start, but is packed with flavour and detail right from the begining.
the characters you meet are wonderfully animated in a naieve and charming way for more of an impression of how that person is feeling, than something accurate and realistic.
the character design takes inspiration more from traditional chinese art than japanese manga, but it still has a distinct japanese flavour.
a lot of the atmosphere in the game is actually created by you and ammy as you venture through the land. there is a wonderful cumilative effect of your actions on the world.
restore the guardian saplings with ammy's circular bloom technique in the dungeons, and the whole surrounding dungeon area will be cleansed, allowing water to flow, animals to hop around on the green turf, and vegetation to sprout.
then once you are out on the field, you can restore the main guardian sapling, allowing the whole region to be purged, which unblocks the path and allows you access to new areas.
but it doesn't stop there, you can collect feedbags and can feed the animals to make them happy. you can dig up lucky four-leaved clovers, blooming them back to life again. villagers will also notice your good deeds, allowing them to continue with their daily lives.
ammy gives a lot, but his reward for all his good deeds is 'praise'. restore a guardian sapling, recieve praise, feed the animals, recieve praise, restore clovers, recieve praise. help a villager out, recieve praise.
praise allows the gods to know that people still believe in them, so it gives ammy strength (exp), strength that he can use to 'power up' and become more godly. every deed feeds back to praise, allowing more hearts, more ink, etc. it increases ammy's capacity. this is the core of the game, a sort of spiritual journey to make people believe again.
the game is packed with all of these little deeds and ceremonies. it's worth noting the yen coins stuffed in pots that you have to smash, or the little pottery horses that have feedbags stored in them.
combined with all the praise and adoration of the villagers but also the cherry blossoms blowing in the wind (that you created), it gives you a real sense of being 'full'; a satiating feeling of fullfilment and of having contributed to the best of causes, however small the deed.
i also love how okami turns little gaming rituals into real japanese folklore.
for example, saving. issun explains that sacred mirrors are dotted around the land, and if you look into them, it reflects the true nature of the viewer. it's a save point, but it shows how they used such a tiny thing as a narrative device; nothing goes to waste, and it really feels like a japanese ritual.
this kind of turning of japanese folklore into gameplay continues throughout the game. it's a beautiful experience.
the only problems are that wandering around can get slightly boring and although the game is colourful and cheery, there is a heavy atmosphere of evil that makes the story quite serious in a way, less so than say, mystical ninja, which is quite a bit more irreverent and funky.
okami is a great game, it has a wonderful style, storytelling, characters, and gameplay. i do tire of these types of games though, and i prefer zelda because it has meatier puzzles and more 'weight' to the world.
this game is solid and a tribute to japanese culture. go and play it.