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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Okami.


I'm going to suggest that anyone reading this also looks at the Trauma-Depression Theory of Okami post. The theory wasn't my idea, but it adds an interesting dimension to the plotline of the story.


Okami.



I've been somewhat reluctant to review Okami. That's partly because it came out years ago and when there's a new release, those necessarily take priority. It's partly because Okami makes me a little bit sad: As with any art form, there are video games of great and unique artistic merit that for one reason or another fail to garner the popular approval they should. That's not necessarily a failing of the audience: Despite a certain segment of people endlessly and smugly crowing that people (other than them, of course) are only interested in quick, formulaic fixes of empty crowd-pleasing, things that are unique and artistic regularly seize the attention of a wider audience.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen with Okami. An adventure game in the mould of Legend of Zelda, Okami has you play as Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, reborn as a white wolf in the Japanese mythology kitchen sink. world of a sumi-e painting. Amaterasu's old enemy Orochi has cursed the land, so Amaterasu sets out to cleanse it and defeat Orochi. Unknown to her, though, there is something even worse than Orochi lurking behind the scenes.

So pretty.

As I said before, it's a game very much like Zelda, enough so that when I first watched somebody play Twilight Princess, I kept remarking on how much it reminded me of Okami (and not just because you spend long sections of that game as a wolf too). That's no bad thing: Zelda games are popular for a reason, and part of that is that they have something for everyone in terms of gameplay: Fighting, platforming, puzzles, RPG elements. It's a style of gameplay that works well for sweeping, epic games, both because the variety allows a longer game to remain interesting (especially when you consider that they can be combined in various fashion - bosses often combine fighting and puzzling), and because all of the elements are easily adaptable for a range of locales. 

Whereas in Zelda you have items, Okami usually sees you solving puzzles with brush powers, a set of abilities in which you paint shapes to cause certain effects. Some of these are very finicky: The crescent moon, for example, can be a nightmare to get right until you've had some practice with them. Most of them are very easy, though, although I do recall with some distaste when I watched a self-professed artist struggle to draw a circle. These powers include creating the sun and the moon; manifesting several types of plants; conjuring bombs; slowing time; guiding fire, ice and lightning from a source to a destination; creating wind; and cutting objects and beings in two, by literally drawing a line bisecting them. 

It's a really nice idea, and since you're literally inside a painting, it makes perfect sense as a magic system.

What power are we meant to use here? It's impossible to say. There are just no hints.

But the gameplay isn't why Okami is such a good game (and one of my personal favourites), although it doesn't hurt at all. 

A large part of why I adore it so much is its storyline, a sweeping, epic journey across the world of the painting. Okami knows how to draw you in to the conflicts that are going on around you, and how to make you feel like what you're doing really is epic, world-changing stuff, and it doesn't hold back, letting you go under the sea, inside two different kinds of living beings, into a spaceship, into the frozen North, and through a portal into the past. It lets you meet the Emperor and Empress of this world, the leader of a group of merpeople, demons, aliens and gods; as well as farmers, brewers, guards, and so on. It's very good at forming an emotional connection between audience and character in a short time, too, such as when you encounter a flying scroll of paper - his death, shortly after you meet him, is very emotional. The vast cast size and the sense of time and weight to your actions pays off at the end when it culminates in an intensely emotional moment.

So pretty.

But probably an even bigger part of why I liked this game is that it's beautiful. The painted world is like nothing else in video games, and it's always amazing to look at. The developers clearly wanted to show it off, too, as the range of characters and settings, each one looking completely different, is vast. The beauty of the graphics is backed by one of the best video game soundtracks I've heard, made up predominantly of traditional Japanese instruments, and always perfectly suited for the occasion.  

It truly is a shame that Okami's sales were so poor - poor enough that Capcom has more or less ruled out the possibility of a sequel, leaving fans with a handheld spin-off Okamiden, instead (which I've never played, but have heard good things about), and a HD re-release on the PS3. Still, Okami remains a rare gem in video games.

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