Now why would I tell you that a game in which you’ll spend most of your time running around as a white wolf—doing wolf things—is among the best games to ever grace the PS2? Simply put: because this game exudes elegance. A rare thing for a video game to exude but here it is, with absolute attention to detail and obsessive polish that Okami has been treated to make up the backbone of this wonderful gaming experience. Okami builds a world unto itself, and in it you’ll find an atmospheric, real and growing locale. Clover seems to have been able to capture Mother Nature and cram her onto a compact disc. And have they ever done it well.
During the course of Okami you’ll come to learn a few things. The first, and most obvious, is that you play as a wolf. A Goddess wolf. You will also learn that one hundred years ago, you were implicated in a battle against a meanie named Orochi that had shattered the peace in Nipon. Orochi was defeated and as such your presence was no longer so needed, and you became little more than legend.
The foreboding cutscene that opens the game will fill you all in on this, and should you really get into the storytelling, you can seek out the actual Japanese legend that Okami is based on. As per usual in these sorts of thing, the bad-guy-from-before has returned and is looking to see through what he started last time he popped up: to encompass all of Nipon in his evil energy. Not wanting to miss your cue, you are reanimated, as your spirit has been preserved in the form of a wolf statue, by your soon to be constant companion, Issun, a sarcastic little guy that takes up residence in your fur.
Okami, at the core, is very familiar. To liken it best is to compare it to the Legend of Zelda series. I’m sure on that note a lot of you have run out the door to snap up the rare shot at having a Zelda equivalent on your Sony machine. I don’t blame you. As for everyone else, this means that the majority of the time you spend in Okami’s universe you’ll be interacting with hundreds of characters, exploring massive amounts of terrain and performing tasks ranging from helping with the gardening to saving the entire island. You’re a Goddess after all, you can make time for everything, right? The result of all this business is a very full game. At any given time you’ll be charged with a handful of quests that can be taken care of however you like, or ignored altogether if you’re just hellbent on living out the legend and defeating Orochi. The numerous quests and characters in the game simply serve to keep the game feeling as alive as it does, and Okami is spilling over with life.
The absolute stand-out aspect of this title is its visuals. The art style is incredible, even outside of the fact that it’s a videogame. Every aspect is designed to look like Japanese watercolor. The bright colors outlined thick with black “paint” make the game look like a living painting, and make it seem that much more like you’re playing through the Japanese legend. These colors also emblazon the landscape and make every tree and river seem hearty and alive. The main drive of Okami is to bring life back to a deadened land, and this art style was the fit for the job. A more perfect example of form fitting content would be difficult to find in the videogame industry.
To add to this, the developers have completely clued in on the devices available to them in a painted landscape. As you’ll learn within the first few minutes of play, as a Goddess, you have the ability to alter nature and the landscape. By holding down R1, the world is drained of color and only the black lines of the “painting” will remain. A brush will swoop in from offscreen and at this point you get to go nuts. By holding down the X button and gliding the brush around with the analogues, you’ll be able to grow trees, slice enemies in half, paint bombs into existence, paint lily-pads to jump on, bridges to cross—any number of things, really. The landscape is your painting and not only are you encouraged to use it, it will be absolutely necessary that you do. Boss fights all require use of your “Celestial Brush,” and it will also become useful in solving many of the game’s more difficult puzzles. The inclusion of this technique, however, is nothing short of amazing.
Every angle of this title has been treated to the utmost in terms of polish and respect. Every character exists plausibly in the game world, and they exist in relation to each other and you. The trees and flowers in any given area can be altered and will alter throughout the course of the game. Animals can be fed and befriended. The gameplay is fun, though entirely character driven and the puzzles are tough but satisfying. The music is soulful and can have you welling up at times. Having a run through the countryside in Okami is an experience in itself just to hear the fluted orchestral bliss that is this game’s soundtrack.
The one and only sore thumb issue I have with Okami is the way that the dialogue is handled. While it is expertly written, funny and full of intrigue, none of it is voice acted. This, by itself, isn’t a huge issue. A lot of games don’t have voice acting, usually due to space restrictions, and it rarely hurts a strong game. In Okami, however, the sound effect that plays as the dialogue appears (in an attempt to mimic the speaker’s intonations) is really way past annoying. It can make playing Okami for long periods fairly taxing if you can’t shut it out. This, however, is just me being nitpicky for the sake of honesty. It bothered me, so I decided to write about it, but it won’t do a thing to harm the overall atmosphere of the game.
In short, Okami humble and beautiful, and if any title could ever make the claim that videogames can be regarded as art, this one is it. Clover has a classic on its hands, and while Capcom would be of right mind to package up a sequel to Okami for sales, I, for one, would prefer to have this title live on as a one-and-only and not risk having its integrity flawed. Okami is the perfect centerpiece of any good PS2 collection, no bones about it.