With Okami due out on the Wii this year and the PS3's backwards compatibility going the way of the dodo a review of Okami for the PS2 just seems right. For Zelda lovers looking to capture a Link adventure experience on the Playstation, Okami is like a Ho-Ho: it will leave you happy and sate the craving all without that pesky, full feeling. You play as a godly canine Amaterasu with a tiny bug companion Issun, known as the Wandering Artist. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Amaterasu's godly brush techniques far outstrip Issun's capabilities, so mostly the little speck is there for sass factor.
Nippon, like most locales in peril, is being thrust into dark evil badness. The Celestial Brush serves as your weapon, tool, and general magic-making device. From prompting trees to blossom to changing night into day, most gameplay of consequence is tied to the brush. Concerns about the control scheme are unfounded; the ease with which the game teaches and implements the brush techniques is remarkable.
The brush strokes are based on circles and lines, which will reassure those that were feeling a bit daunted by the painterly prospect of elaborate techniques, and pretty much disappoint the rest of us. It makes the fifteen techniques manageable, even easy, but it also means a definite lack of diversity. While holding down R1 you use the left analog to paint leaving the right analog free to pan the camera. Holding down square paints a simple line, or you can use the pressure-sensitive triangle button for a thicker line. Even better, time pauses while you paint which takes the pressure off more self-conscious artists.
The things you can accomplish with the brush are pretty darn satisfying. Nearly every action, whether it's chopping things down or calling in the winds, results in goodies. What can sometimes feel not-so-satisfying is that the larger changes like creating a bridge or similar pathway only work in certain, very limited, places. This sort of predetermined specificity is a little bit prodding, but at least you don't feel like you're missing the boat and leaving areas of the already vast landscape unexplored. After all, for lack of a bridge just make yourself a lily pad and a nice breeze to move it along.
Just as noteworthy as the brush stroke innovation is the game's unique and captivating style. The art direction is magnificent, and more than anything you will feel like you are moving through a work of art. Amaterasu's animation is a pleasant surprise. It's true, video games have a long legacy of creepy animals, and Okami is a gust of fresh doggy breath. Amaterasu has fluid movements and smooth controls. Also gratifying is that the longer you run the faster she goes leaving a veritable cloud of blossoming field in her wake.
Traveling through the game is a treat for the eyes as you progress from village to village with the option of returning to any prior location with relative ease. Side quests, per tradition, reward you with items, money or "praise" which is the game's system for upgrading Amaterasu's health and ink. In addition to quests from characters around town, you can find buried treasure, statues in want of offerings or restore cursed areas to bloom. If you are a play-every-inch gamer, you will be satisfied. If, however, you are a straight to the big baddie type rest easy; Okami is a no-grinding-required title.
Like many of Okami's Japanese predecessors, some missions are a little hazy. Sure, you know what you need to accomplish, but the how of it can get muddied particularly when multiple missions must be in progress for the whole thing to resolve. These little overlaps are frustrating if you happen to miss the tiny link that connects the two. Handily enough, you can spot characters with useful information by the green arrows over their heads. You may still find yourself wandering around a prior village, looking for clues, but at least the view is nice. What places these confused quests in sharp contrast are the ones that get served to you half done. Puzzles are just less puzzling when you are told exactly what to do.
For those that loathe all things randomly generated I have good news: in Okami, random means spirit flags that can be spotted, and subsequently avoided, from quite a distance. Most of these enemies roll over pretty quickly. Once you know the best techniques for defeating them, they won't take you any time at all. There's so darn many of them that it's just too bad they aren't more interesting; the majority of enemies are so straightforward you won't find yourself in mortal peril very often. Fortunately, The boss battle are diverse, offer more of a challenge and will really test your techniques. Adding another small strategy component to battle is your ink supply. It regenerates, but it is not infinite, which means you cannot ineffectually slash at an enemy successively without paying the price. You do have some brute force techniques at your disposal, but they pale in comparison to the brush techniques where both power and intrigue are concerned.
I know I will get a fair bit of disgruntled protesting on this point: where Okami suffers is the storyline. Giant goal, little quests, this is all standard adventure fare. The mission doesn't lack importance, or even satisfaction for completing parts of the quest, it is all just...hard to care about. Saving Nippon seems good and right and all, but there isn't that same Zelda fire of longing for conquest or exploration. As simple as it sounds, I think a fair bit of this can be attributed to playing as a dog. A compelling story needs characters you can identify with, and while everyone in the game has some fun dialog you will likely tire of it - especially since it's all mumbly noises with text.
The flaws are few and far between, so it is really unfortunate that a lackluster storyline is among them. If, however, you happen to be keen on the story you will breeze through this title well chuffed. Overall, Okami really is a great game, and it is nothing short of mystifying that so many successful parts just don't add up to a truly awesome whole.