Okami combines a Zelda-like structure with elements from Japanese folklore and the result of such a unique concoction is an experience that feels familiar yet remarkably fresh and original.
During the PlayStation 2 era, the now defunct developer Clover Studio created some truly unique titles. The Viewtiful Joe series, for instance, combines a cel-shaded visual style with movie-inspired settings and mechanics. Action beat ’em up God Hand, on the other hand, puts you in control of a martial artist that wields a pair of divine items to defeat demons. Okami maintains the trend of unconventional titles, since the action-adventure game combines a Zelda-like structure with ink-illustrations techniques and other elements from Japanese folklore. The result of this concoction is an experience that feels familiar yet remarkably fresh and original.
What can you expect in terms of story? A long time ago, people revered a god known as Shiranui, a white wolf that took care of the fields from Kamiki village. White wolf Shiranui and swordsman Nagi defeated a demon known as Orochi to save both the Kamiki village and Nagi’s lover, Nami. 100 after those events, eight-headed demon Orochi is resurrected and the monster starts cursing everything in its path again, so a sorceress known as Sakuya performs a revival ceremony to bring goddess Amaterasu back to life.
In the game, you assume the role of Amaterasu (who’s remarkably similar to Shiranui.) As such, you have the power to command the celestial brush, a divine item that lets you dispatch powerful enemies, repair destroyed structures, summon bombs out of thin air, revive vegetation and so on. Soon after starting the journey, Amaterasu meets Issun, a tiny calligrapher who decides to accompany the white wolf and participate in this epic adventure.
Like most of Clover Studio’s games, the most immediate element that will catch your attention is the game’s eye-catching visual aspect. Okami makes use of the cel-shaded technique which makes the game look like Japanese ink-illustrations. The unique visuals bring this adventure to life and every time you complete a new constellation, revive the vegetation of an entire village or defeat a gargantuan boss, you’ll feel like you’re inside an ancient painting.
In terms of gameplay, Amaterasu can jump, dig, bite, tackle, run and headbutt, but apart from regular moves, the white wolf can also perform special abilities granted by the spirits of the brush. By pressing the R1 button, you can use the celestial brush which pauses the game and transforms the screen into a sort of a drawing tablet. Drawing different gestures has different effects: the rejuvenation technique lets you repair broken structures, power slash lets you slice items and enemies, sunrise lets you make the night into day, bloom brush makes flowers blossom and cherry bomb summons a giant bomb, to name but a few. Overall, there are 13 different techniques and mastering each one of them is a must if you want to finish this adventure. One of the best parts about these techniques is that not only can you use them to defeat enemies, but also to solve light puzzles. A boulder is blocking your path? Slash it. A constellation is missing a star? Draw it. The bridge ahead is broken? Fix it.
Interestingly, defeating enemies in certain parts of the world, blooming trees, feeding hungry animals, interacting with people bring the landscape back to its natural beauty and this you gives you praise. The more praise you get, the more people will believe in you, but since praise also represents experience, you can use the points you get to improve Amaterasu’s equipment and enhance abilities, such as life points, the amount of ink you can use and so on.
In terms of structure, Okami shares a lot of similarities with The Legend of Zelda series. Most missions follow the same pattern: you explore an area and interact with several NPCs until you unlock a new dungeon. In the dungeon, you move forward until you reach the final section and unlock an ability that opens a new section of that dungeon. Since the game adopts this structure, most missions tend to be slow. First, you need to talk to everyone in town. Talking to NPCs usually grants you access to a major mission and a series of small, optional side-quests. While main quests take place in a traditional dungeon where you unlock new abilities and fight bosses, side-quests take place in dungeons, cities or inside villages.
Despite all its strengths, Okami isn’t without some issues. One of those problems is controlling the camera. Although the camera adjusts according to your location, you’ll find yourself constantly moving it to a more comfortable position, since it doesn’t know how to display the best view of the action. Another problem is related to the gesture-system. Drawing gestures is usually quite precise, but if the game doesn’t recognize the drawing you’re trying to make, you’ll have to repeat the process until it does. It’s worth pointing out that while the game stubbornly refused to recognize specific gestures (such as bloom brush,) this problem wasn’t pervasive enough.
But Okami’s most serious problem isn’t related to its gameplay, technical aspects or audiovisual elements. Okami’s most serious problem is related to sexism. Most of the female characters in Okami are portrayed as nothing but sexual objects whose only purpose in the game is being eye-candy. This is worth mentioning because some of sexual remarks are quite overt. For instance, Issun is constantly referring to most women as “busty babes” and whenever a lady enters the room, the game insists on zooming on their cleavage.
Despite this unfortunate problem, Okami is a modern classic. Its unique sharp visual design, unconventional mechanics, Zelda-like gameplay, and slew of missions make this game one of the best action adventure games the PlayStation 2 has seen. Even after years of its release, Okami stands out as one of the best games in the action adventure genre.