You know, this game has eluded me for months, as a review, but no more. I'll just come straight out and finally state what I think of Okami. Warning, there will be spoilers.
A lot of people tell me that Okami is, and always will be, a masterpiece. I...disagree. While I still enjoy the game, I certainly don't find it to be perfect. Sure, a lot of ideas worked in execution. About as many sort of crashed on takeoff.But before I really get into the bad of this game, let me give you a little history. My first experience with Okami was mostly through everyone telling me how amazing it is. How it's the diamond jewel of the PS2 and Wii. Xplay wouldn't shut up about it, Gamestop clerks everywhere told me to play it. But I, in my naturally skeptical state, held off on playing this game.
It wasn't until a couple years laters when I found the game on a half off rental sale at Blockbuster that I decided "You know what? Let's give it the old college try." So I took it home, popped it into my wii, and gave it a go.
I will admit, the game did hold my attention. There was good, genuine humor, the characters were all memorable and bright, although I really don't know what everyone finds to be so awesome about Susano. The art style was amazing, and for someone who adores Japan's many styles of art, I found myself sucked into the graphics and loving every little paint brushed image.
These enemies have to be my absolute favorite enemies in video gaming period. The monsters all have amazing designs, that still fit in with the japanese mythology I grew up familiar with. Each enemy had its own look that stands out, and I was utterly fascinated by some of the ideas.
Although I will admit, Crimson Helm looked really stupid.
I got about as far as post-Orochi before my rental period was up, but I was really enjoying this game. So I renewed my rental period and continued on. And then I was starting to notice this game's problems. Repetitive bosses, some jokes that really didn't even come off as funny and at times even felt a little forced, and The reskinning of enemies and trying to pass them off as something new. I was still enjoying the game, for the most part, but I was starting to wonder if a different team took over here, because this was not the Okami experience I was having up to this point.
Why Okami is not perfect! :
Let's start with a basic one. The always common "God, the brush controls are awful" complaint, which for the most part, I have to agree. But not for the reasons most people think, I actually quite liked the idea of using my arms to draw my attacks.
The hit and miss attack command detection:
What was my gruff with the controls is sometimes the game would get confused on what I wanted done. I would try to restore a tree and I would make a bomb. I tried to make a vertical slash and I'd stop time. One time I spent 15 minutes trying to learn the new lightning brush command and I'd make Inferno instead. This one doesn't even make sense. Inferno's brush command is the symbol of Infinity. The command I was drawing was a lightning bolt. Those don't look even remotely similar. Why was the game fucking this up so hard?
For the most part, the controls were working in my favor. But it was those few moments where the game wouldn't cooperate, or got confused, that sort of sucked the fun out of combat for me at times.
Reskinning of the imps:
Again, the reuse of enemies is always a breaking factor for me. The game was doing so well in delivering new and memorable enemies that were all unique to fight, and then it just cops out and reskins the imps, making them look like statues now. This broke my heart. I was hoping to have a consistantly fresh and wonderful story, but now we're going the direction of copy and pasting.
This wouldn't have ruined the game for me, if the game didn't keep doing this. Once you go back to 100 years in the past, the imps are now clay dolls. Still for the most part, the same enemy. Just a new design now. And then, in the northern snow lands, they're jungle tribal warriors. In the snow lands! Why are there jungle people in the snowlands anyway?!
And then there's the ever idiotic move of taking what was once a level boss and turning him into a common enemy. This...yeah, that's a little lame. Really kind of shows this idea that the developers weren't devoted to making a completely amazing experience. Which is sad, because up until the second arc of the story, this game was incredible. Although admittedly, you did see a new enemy on occasion, but not to the degree of the first arc of the game.
And don't even get me started on the fact you fight Orochi 3 times in this game. With no variations in each battle.
Poorly connected story arcs:
I heard the original idea behind Okami was that the game was actually supposed to end after you kill Orochi, and the rest was made up only after the Orochi arc was decided, possibly an idea for a sequel, like this was meant to be a multi-title series. But for some reasons, probably because Clover studios wasn't doing so well financially, they just slapped the sequel into the prime title.
Yeah, that really wouldn't surprise me. The game goes about the typical finale, Orochi's dead, the great evils are defeated, everyone's celebrating. And then Issun gets this sudden idea of mentioning that, despite the game for the most part being pretty much over, you still only have like...7 of the 13 brushes. Or something like that, I can't really remember. So it's off to find the rest of them, and you just happen to stumble upon a new land that just happens to have it's own evil, that just happens to be stronger than Orochi. Or so the game claims, this villain was pretty much a joke to fight. I didn't even get hit.
Anyway, the problem with this idea is that it kind of feels tacked on. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but execution is key. And the game executes badly here. It doesn't feel like I'm going through 3 acts of one story, but rather I'm going through 3 stories in one game, trying to justify that "No, these are connected, we swear!" instead of actually feeling connected. Especially since you go through the 3 act structure each time. Establishing the plot, the adventure and preparation for the plot, and the climax and resolution. These don't feel like the same story. Rather, one game absorbed its two sequels and became one rather detached series of three stories that all just happen to star Amaterasu. I know that the final story ties them in, but a little more effort before that point to transition from the Orochi arc to the Ninetails arc would have really made this seem less obvious.
The game was already in the midst of resolving itself. We heard no mention of Orochi being only a smaller essence of a greater threat, so for this second villain to pretty much come out of nowhere? It seemed like desperate padding. This is why a game needs to make good use of foreshadowing and implications. Give us the idea that Orochi might not be working alone here.
Thankfully, the game's a little more professional about this when it becomes Ninetails' time to die, and Yami is revealed to be the true villain. Because Yami gets a mention. A slight one, but a mention nonetheless. This sets up Yami's presence, and the second twist that we must go hunt and kill Yami is made a little less forced.
But then again, it goes back to this entire flaw when we're, for whatever reason, forced back into the past. 100 years to be exact. This could have been used to the game's advantage, but instead, it feels like forced padding because we're basically forced to revisit the Orochi boss scene again, with only a few differences to an otherwise identical scenario.
This feels a little unnecessary. We already knew the events of 100 years ago, when Nagi slayed Orochi the first time. And I understand that in a visual medium, showing the events works better than just telling us about them, but when you take an interesting area of the plot and just make it the same thing we went through earlier, right down to using Sake to get Orochi drunk, it sort of makes the player bored and uninvested. And like the game's just trying to be as long as it possibly can. This whole section of the game would have been better if it was delivered better. Or just not there at all, even.
That one Mini-Game:
Although one thing I hear people complain about is the fact that Okami forces you to play a mini-game that's incredibly boring at several points in the game. Okami fans, you all know the one. And this does seem like a little bit of laziness on the part of the game developers. The main point of a game is entertainment. So you're going to want to make sure that if you make something mandatory in a game, it's not dull.
This minigame is dull and difficult, and it actually made me stop playing for about a day. So, Okami sort of loses points on having a lame minigame that's mandatory and also impedes progress.
Lack of difficulty at the worst possible times:
Probably the worst offense to the game design is that this game is soooooooooo easy! And this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the game's difficulty is an absolute joke at the worst times. Take for example, the fight against Ninetails. We're told that Ninetails is a bad motherfucker. Ninetails has the power to challenge the Sun Goddess herself. Ninetails makes Orochi look like a joke. Ninetails is shooting for godhood itself. You get the idea. Ninetails is supposed to be incredibly powerful. And a frightening foe.
So...Why is Ninetails even easier than Orochi? If the game developers wanted you to think Ninetails was a great enemy to Amaterasu, to the point she (Yes, Ninetails is a female) is convinced she can battle even a god...Why isn't she that difficult? This is where you need to make a boss monster hard. Or else the player loses their sense of immersion. Ninetails is supposed to be difficult to Amaterasu. The hardest thing that she's ever faced to this point. But Ninetails isn't difficult to the player. It's this gap in difficulty in accordance to the character itself that breaks your sense that you ARE Amaterasu. Not just the one controlling Amaterasu. And thus, this game starts to lose its identity as an immersive medium.
The jokes don't always work:
One other thing I'll just state about this game is sometimes it feels a little too japanese, particularly in the humor. Japan and America have different ideas of what is funny. And some of the humor, like Issun's infatuation with Rao's breasts, while amusing to the Japanese youth culture, who for some odd reason find huge breasts interesting joke material (Probably because it's not very common on females there), this doesn't really transfer well to the American audience, who might find this as more perverse or in some instances, shallow, seeing as the game is drawing attention exclusively to her cleavage, and not working on her personality. So yeah. Some dialogue and humor doesn't really localize well in this game.
Also, when making a joke, you want to make sure that you can make jokes that appeal to a large audience. Not just a particular type. Not everyone finds explosive poop funny. In my opinion, that's just gross.
Why Okami is an amazing game regardless! :
Now, as we stand now, you probably assume I don't like Okami, just like Mateus, who jumped to conclusions down there in the comments. That is not the case. There is still the workings of an amazing game in all these flawed ideas. Let's discuss why I still adore this game.
So you're probably wondering why did I not just give up on this game? Well, I'll share a little bit of wisdom with you. Even if a game fails in game design, it's artistic side can still save it. The art is the make or break side of a game. A good story and atmosphere can rescue a game with faulty mechanics (Silent Hill 2, Asura's Wrath, Shadow of the Colossus) and a bad story and atmosphere can kill an otherwise decent game. (Metroid: Other M, Heavy Rain, Saints Row The Third.)
A game can still make it's mark, despite technical flaws, if it leaves you with a feeling of "Wow. What an amazing experience. I'm glad I got to go through that."
Incidentally, a game that makes good use of its technicals can kill itself if all you can remember was "Oh god, that plot was stupid/boring. I never want to sit through that again".
Okami falls into the former. Sure, it's not spectacular on the gameplay, and some of the technical choices were the kind that made me facepalm a few times, but the style of it's graphics, and amazing soundtrack, and it's clever writing dodged the bullet.
So let's talk a little about these things, shall we? I'm going to skip talking about the soundtrack because there's no arguing that in itself is a work of art. The music is incredible, hands down. Nah, let's start with the lore.
For starters, the little touches of Japanese mythology really hooked me in. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of things about Japan. We got a lot of Japanese television, having satellite TV and many channels, so I'd often grow up watching japanese plays, or hearing about japanese mythology, and I was really sucked into it. I also had a japanese friend in school, who loved talking about stories from her homeland. She, loving to talk about this topic, and me being the curious sort, we spent many hours discussing this topic.
So I was able to see that Okami honored a lot of these stories. The most prominant example being the characters of Orochi and Issun.
Get ready for a mythology lesson here. Orochi is an actual monster from Japanese Mythology known by his full name Yamata-no-Orochi. Yamata-No-Orochi terrorized a family, demanding that they sacrifice their daughters to be devoured by him, or he would kill them. The god Susano-O was passing by one day when the current sacrifice was to take place, and found the family. In their desperation, they begged Susano-O to save their daughter Kushinada from Orochi. In exchange, they would have Kushinada marry him. The god agreed and came up with a plan. One phase of the plan was to brew powerful sake, which Orochi could not resist. When the time came to battle, Orochi foolishly drank the sake and became so drunk, he passed out. Susano-O then eliminated the foe.
With some minor changes in story, the battle against Orochi is basically this legend. Only difference is that Susano-O is not a god, and he and Kushinada were already in love, which with the absence of the old couple, was the reason Susano agreed to confront Orochi in Okami's take. The sake still plays a big element in this. This was cool. I liked this reference.
Now how is Issun a reference to something? Well, he's basically an alternate take on the tale of Issun-Boshi, the story of a boy that about the size of one's thumb. Issun, to anyone not aware, is about that same size.
And this is a cool idea. If you're going to base a game off ancient Japan, a few references to ancient Japanese lore are a nice touch. Might even get people invested in the country's culture more. You know...Outside of assuming Japan is just a utopia for nerds.
But it also needs to be mentioned that Okami isn't just a walking mythology reference. The designers still took some liberties with characters in this story. I already mentioned how Susano-O is now a mortal man instead of the god Japan knows him as. Now let's look at the big difference. Amaterasu herself. Amaterasu in Japan is still the Sun Goddess that Okami shows her as. However, there is a particular difference in the fact that Amaterasu in Japan is a beautiful woman, often portrayed to be in her 30's or so. The Amaterasu in Okami is a wolf.
So the game takes familiar characters from Japanese mythology, and remakes them, giving a creative spin on a classic myth. That's kind of nice. Way to throw in some reference while still keeping to the original material as well.
Although despite my vast knowledge of Japanese mythology, I don't have a clue what the hell Yami is supposed to be. He can't be a product of the designers, because I've seen that type of creature before. There was a digimon like that.
I think another really good defining point of Okami is that well...Okami looks like Okami. Yeah, I know that sounds silly out of context, but the art style of Okami is its biggest strength. The fact that it looks like no other game. The particular japanese water color art style sets it apart from anything else.
I actually did an experiment with this. I got a whole bunch of my friends over for something, and in the meantime, I showed them all screenshots of 4 different games. I showed them a battle from Battlefield 3, a shot of a town from Left 4 Dead, a river from Skyrim, and Kamiki Village from Okami. Although in the last one, I airbrushed Amaterasu out of the picture in photoshop so it wasn't obvious.
Out of the ten friends, only 1 of them recognized Battlefield 3, everyone else thought it was Call of Duty, only 3 of them recognized the Left 4 Dead shot (Admittedly a little disappointing,) and 6 recognized the Skyrim river. Every single one of them recognized the Okami screenshot, even the ones who've never played it.
And that's one of the things that makes Okami so memorable. It's unique. You can look at a picture of it and immediately know that's Okami just from how the game looks.
There was also the fact that this design choice allowed Okami to do more with it's visuals. Remember, this game came out on the PS2 before it came out on the Wii. And because it used a painting style approach to it's visuals, it was allowed to get away with using more expansive environments and lively colors over having to bother with difficult textures which probably wouldn't have looked that impressive anyway. So with the fact that less detail was spent on...well, detail, they were able to focus more on the world itself. Making lively villages, flowing winds, unique character designs. And thus, we get character models that look more natural instead of rough models and stiff animations which were still the norm around this point.
More focus was put into the world of Okami, and not the dirt or rocks or other miniscule details that the PS2 wasn't very good at. The art style allowed them to dodge the PS2's choppy, sometimes toy-like character models, and allow for more flowing graphics and lively movements in the world and it's characters. And that's what amazed people about it, I'd imagine. Heck, it still looks amazing even now, compared to other games of it's time on the PS2.
- This section reserved for story once I figure out what I want to write here.
Although where the game really shines is in its characters. Simply put, I adore this characters. Hell, I even adore Waka, as fruity as he can get. And while I don't know why Susano is so great in everyone's minds, I think I have a theory which I want to talk about before I get into the other characters..
Simply put, Susano is human. Not just physically, but emotionally. He's not the kind of hero everyone expects. He's lazy, unconfident, and very much doesn't like being what everyone thinks he is. There's a story of a man struggling against expectations, and his own being. He doesn't want to be a hero. But everyone wants him to be, so he's stuck playing the role he hates while fighting with inner turmoil.
This creates a very interesting character. One who rejects the call to arms, and doesn't think it's fair he's forced into this scenario. He spends the whole first act trying to run away from it, but it follows him everywhere. He sees no way out of his inevitable fate. To fight Orochi, the nastiest creature mankind has ever encountered.
And even when Orochi appears, Susano still refuses to go upon this suicide mission. It isn't until his love Kushi is taken to be eaten by Orochi that he finally mans up and accepts fate. And even when Susano faces Orochi, he's fucking scared shitless of the thing. You can see his body quaking as the intimdating might of the demon literally stares him in the face. But despite overwhelming fear, Susano still has the heart to fight Orochi and he even refuses to allow you to finish the beast off for him.
And that's what makes Susano cool, I believe. That he's human. He has fear, he has an inner struggle between his fate and his better instinct. That maybe fighting a mountain sized eight headed snake isn't exactly the healthiest course in life.
So really, while I didn't really get into Susano, mostly because unlike other characters, he's kind of shoved to the side after the Orochi arc, I can understand why people like him, if it is for this reason. And this kind of character probably could have been better served as a protagonist than a side character. Of course, most people I ask about Susano only tell me he's a great character because he's funny. Which I don't get. He's not that funny, granted, he has his moments, and there's the workings of a deeper character which no one's seeing. And admittedly, even I didn't start seeing until just now. Maybe Susano is a better character than I realized until right here...huh.
Up next, let's talk about Amaterasu. What an interesting choice for a silent protagonist. In that she's one for an actual frickin' reason. Wolves can't speak.
I will admit, Amaterasu is a silent character that I think is done right. Her being a wolf means there is a legit explanation for why she is silent. And with this, comes the need for some interesting interactions.
Now generally, when Amaterasu needs to talk, Issun speaks for her. So more focus is put on her demonstrating her personality rather than her resorting to a means of talking. And to be honest, there's a lot that can be said about Amaterasu through her character interactions. She demonstrates a goofy side, a brave side, she can show annoyance, shock, sadness, and determination without saying a single word. Which is more than I can say for a certain game I won't be naming...
Although there is some implication that Amaterasu's true form might actually be a human, and that the wolf form is just how she interacts with the mortal world. Boy, does that call for some weird imagery when she spends half the game acting like a dog. I hope that's not how she really acts.
But all in all, Amaterasu is a great example of a silent protagonist. She can show all the sides of her personality without a single word.
Time to move onto Waka now. Or Ushiwaka, his name in Japan, and the one I prefer using. I know a lot of people are going to hate me for this, but...Ushiwaka is my favorite character. *Readies hate shield*
Okay, I get it, he's fruity, he's got that obnoxious french accent, and I really don't know why he has a lightsaber, but these things aside, there's an interesting character here.
Unfortunately, I already knew Waka wasn't human when I first saw him, so his big reveal was lost to me. See, in Japanese mythology, blonde hair symbolizes something beyond human. Because Japanese people genetically cannot be born with blonde hair, so back in ancient japan, the very concept of blonde hair represented something inhuman. Keeping with the theme of Ancient Japan this game is going with (And the fact everyone else in this game has black hair), I immediately saw the reveal that Waka was from the Moon Tribe coming. So that was kind of ruined because I can see his frickin' hair!
I'm guessing they just assumed foreigners wouldn't be aware of that bit of mythology.
(I need some time to continue thinking on my points. I'll just post up what I have so far.)