To be perfectly honest, before being assigned this game, I didn’t know much about Okami. I vaguely remember seeing the artwork/cover of the game from when it was first released back in 2006, but besides that, I didn’t play the game. It’s not that it didn’t interest me, it was just difficult for me to play a wide variety of games back when I was a broke teenager. As a result of that, this game was new to me and that greatly affected how I viewed the game. I usually know a few things about a game before playing/reviewing it, but I didn’t know much about it at all. At the same time, playing through this game made me realize that playing old games (even if this is an HD remaster) well after it’s been released will greatly affect how you view the game. What was possibly considered new or even groundbreaking back in 2006 is already standard, outdated, or even bothersome in 2018. This in general was something I experienced during my play through of this game. I think it’s a very good game, but at the same time it’s not perfect and it could’ve been improved upon in some ways.
Okami is a third person adventure game that can be compared to the Legend of Zelda franchise in many ways. Its gameplay, visuals, combat, and its system for unlocking abilities/items/weapons is very much like a lot of Zelda games. The game is so much like Zelda that it has been described by some as Capcom’s version of a Zelda game and it even features multiple levels that involve going into the belly of a beast/person. The game’s currently available on various platforms, but I played the Nintendo Switch version while docked.
You play the game as Amaterasu, a recently reincarnated god in white wolf form. Though the game is based on Japanese mythology and is interesting for that reason, the overall story is fairly basic. It can be summed up as good attempting to triumph over evil in a setting similar to ancient Japan. There’s a lot of recognizable Japanese mythology in this game, especially if you’re an anime fan. There are surprising twists throughout its forty-hour length, which is much vaster than I originally thought. There are certain moments in the game with a huge sense of finality, but in reality, it’s just one more step in a 10,000-step journey. Even though I have described Okami as having a fairly basic story, there’s nothing basic at all about the game’s visual style and one very particular game mechanic.
One thing that’s immediately noticeable about Okami is that it doesn’t look like many other games. Sure, it has the familiar cel shading art style, much like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Jet Set Radio Future, but for the most part it’s all based on classic Japanese artwork. What’s great about this style of art is that you can practically see all the brush strokes made by the artist and in general it appears to be moving. This is especially noticeable during the game’s cut scenes, especially during the epic intro that gets you interested very quickly. It’s worth noting that the cut scenes reminded me of classic storytelling and the theater, maybe something you’d see being told with the use of puppets, but not childish at all. This visual style is very important because one of the game’s main mechanics is the ability to draw images on-screen with the use of Amaterasu’s magical brush techniques.
Initially, you start with pretty much no special techniques, but by the end of the game you’ll have collected thirteen that allow you to manipulate your environment, cause damage to your enemies, and allow you to reach places you normally wouldn’t be able to reach. What’s interesting about these brush techniques is that at times you can combine them to bring about unexpected results. At times it reminded me of being able to get creative with the powers in Breath of the Wild. It wasn’t as improvisational in nature, but it was still nice being able to combine totally different brush techniques.
An example of this was how you’re able to use lily pads on water. Seeing as how you’re not able to swim for a long time, the lily pads allow you to recover your swim meter, use them as a sort of stepping block, or simply as a makeshift raft. The last one in particular was when being able to combine different brush techniques brought about unexpected results. This is clearly something that was obvious/recommended in Breath of the Wild, but in Okami it wasn’t obvious that brush techniques could be combined. By placing the lily pads on water and continually using the wind brush technique, you were able to travel on water at a quicker rate instead of trying to swim. Even though this was useful, it was difficult to control because the wind symbol had to be drawn in very particular places, depending on in which direction you wanted to travel.
The lack of control when it comes to using the brush stroke techniques is clear when attempting to use the lily pads and wind to travel on water. You can use the wind technique to travel down a body of water, but it’s pretty random and you’re better off just making more lily pads and using them as platforms or just trying to swim as quickly as possible. If it’s available to use, you’d think it’d be better developed, but it’s not and you’re left being unable to use it properly.
Another thing that’s interesting about this brush technique mechanic is that it makes use of the Switch’s joy-cons to allow you to brush more freely. I didn’t use it because I play with a pro controller, but I’m sure other players will better enjoy this feature due to it allowing a more hands on approach. If anything, I’m thinking that using the joy-cons with this mechanic will be more problematic than with the pro controller I used.
The main reason I feel this way is because controlling the brush was at times incredibly difficult. Maybe the game’s trying to include pieces of how calligraphy works, but having to be very precise with the brush can get very annoying. If for some reason you fail to make the correct brush strokes in a precise manner, it’ll result in annoyingly having to repeat sequences multiple times. With the brush strokes, it’s not even about “staying inside the lines when coloring”, it’s just really random stuff like having to be precise with where you draw a circle or how you start drawing it, even if you’re drawing it in the room/general angle it needs to be at.
Another thing that’s interesting about this brush technique mechanic is that it makes use of the Switch’s joy-cons to allow you to brush more freely
I guess I can somewhat understand why the brush stroke technique works this way because of what I remember from having studied Mandarin. My teacher would show us that each character had to be written with strokes in an ordered fashion, like 1-2-3-4-5. Honestly, I’d just write characters in the overall way that they looked, completely ignoring that they had a specific order in which they had to be written; it was easier to remember them like that. I guess that’s the approach being used in this game, but I’m not really sure.
For the most part, Okami’s combat system is not complex at all. Honestly, it can feel incredibly easy in the beginning and mainly consists of pressing one button that results in repetitive combat. Eventually, you can unlock special abilities that result in somewhat more interesting combat, especially when you can equip a main weapon and a sub weapon that are very different from one another, but you’re generally using physical attacks, the brush techniques, and items to deal with enemies. It’s also worth noting that manually controlling the camera during combat can be a pain. I generally prefer to manually control the camera, but in certain instances it‘s nice for it to be automatic. This can be especially problematic when the camera doesn’t move as quickly as you’d like it to, which could at times lead to being damaged or falling off a platform, resulting in having to repeat sequences.
Okami offers a wide variety of weapons that fit into three categories, beads which offer long-range combat/high combos, swords that allow you to charge up your attack, and reflectors that allow you to attack as much as you can press the button. They’re all different from one another and offer some differences when they’re used as sub weapons instead of as main weapons. Even though I was fairly happy with the wide variety of weapons that were available, I felt some specific information would’ve made things easier to understand. You quickly realize how the weapons differ from one another and when to decide to use them, but there are no real weapon stats that you let you know by how much the weapons are stronger from one another. This would’ve been useful because you do have the option of upgrading the weapons with the use of a special gold powder. It’s noticeable that the weapon is stronger by how much damage you dish out and by how quickly you destroy enemies, but there are no stats to be able to make a comparison.
I guess it depends on your preferred method, but you can deal with most of the enemies with just physical attacks. It can get boring for some time, but that eventually changes. Even if you do encounter the same kind of enemies on a regular basis, to the point where it gets very repetitive, it’s interesting how at one point the different combinations of enemies alters how to go about dealing with them. For instance, in a single fight you might be confronted by an enemy with a weakness being one particular brush technique while at the same time you could be dealing with an enemy that could easily be taken out by spamming your physical attacks.
About combat, I’d like to note the way the game progresses, particularly with how you’re introduced to more difficult mechanics/gameplay. For instance, having a boss battle that revolves around the techniques you’ve been using in that particular dungeon is great. It’s like the basic things you do throughout the game actually prepare you for the more difficult situations you’ll eventually encounter, like drawing a circle around a plant causing it to bloom. In this instance it’s only causing a plant to bloom, but further down the line it could be what causes an enemy to become stunned, giving you the opportunity to cause damage. It reminds me of the saying that the basics/fundamentals are what count the most. I realize that other games do the same thing, but at times it’s not as noticeable or you’ll be forced to use techniques that haven’t been used for some time.
At the same time, it’s not always obvious what you need to do when it comes to combat, especially during boss battles. Maybe it’s because I’m used to how things are nowadays, but having to take a few minutes to learn how to defeat a boss can be a bit of a nuisance. This isn’t like typical boss battles where their main weakness is very obvious. It usually involves using the technique you gained during the specific dungeon/level, but even then, you don’t know at which moment it needs to be used. It could at times lead to battles being longer than you’d expect. The problem with this is that you can end up feeling misled. From how long one certain boss battle is and from how it’s hyped up, you expect it to be the final boss battle, but it’s not.
On that subject, I’d like to bring up a big problem I had with this game, its pacing issues. What’s interesting about this is that I felt it occurred in a few different ways. In the much more typical way, the beginning and the middle of the game is fairly slow-paced and it feels as if it’s much longer than it needs to be. That’s probably a bigger thing to deal with than the game’s difficulty. I felt that the game wasn‘t difficult at all, it just felt really long. Whenever you felt that you were close to beating the game, it would let you know that you had much more to go by saying things like ”the journey is far from over”. I could understand this not being a problem for other people, but it bothered me because I felt it was unnecessarily longer than it needed to be. The game was 40 hours long, but it could’ve been 35 hours or even 30 hours long, longer isn’t always better.
In a much less typical fashion, the game was made longer than it needed to be by how its dialogue system worked. It may seem strange to complain about this, but it really irritated me. The problem with the dialogue system is that you must manually exhaust certain NPCs before you receive all the information you need to know. I would’ve preferred for all of this to be given right from the start, not having to constantly make sure everything that needed to be said has been said. if the NPCs still have something more to say, why not say it all at once instead of forcing me to keep conversing with them?
The game has a way of letting you know that conversations have or haven’t been fully exhausted, but I feel as if that’s not necessary, just say everything all at once. If the NPC doesn’t have anything of real importance to say, just keep the dialogue as short as possible. It’s one of the reasons why I eventually just skipped non-essential encounters with NPCs. Most of the time they’d just say meaningless comments about the environment you happened to be in. Some of these conversations only last a few seconds, but this is a 40-hour game, multiply that time by the overall amount of conversations you’ll have throughout the game and you’ll see how much time is spent on them. You could easily cut out 1-2 hours if it had been dealt with in a different way.
At the same time, travelling to different people at different places only for them to tell you what you already know is one of the reasons why this game is longer than it needs to be. Even if they do tell you a bit more than you initially knew, they let you know in a way that covers everything you already know. This would be understandable if it were done well after you were already told of the first thing, but sometimes this was done immediately after first learning of something.
In general, my main issue with this is that I wish there were an option for the text to go by faster. There is a way to do this, but it doesn’t apply to every conversation or cut scene. I don’t need these conversations/cutscenes to move ultra-fast, but a balance would’ve been much nicer. You do have the option to skip them altogether, but I don’t want to do that at all. I’m sure many people won’t have a problem with this at all, but to me, it was one of the few problems I had with this game.
In general, my main issue with this is that I wish there were an option for the text to go by faster.
Another problem that I had with this game is that there’s a lot of repetition to the point where certain things feel very overdone. Even if it was good the first and maybe even the second time, by the third time you’re tired of it. This is best noticed with some boss battles, puzzles, and mini-game sections. I’d say repetitive sections of the game can be interesting, especially when some of them were presented in an interesting way/different place, but at the same time it just feels lazy. Some games do make use of having to face a boss multiple times, but each encounter is different, it’s not really handled this way in Okami.
I realize at this point I’ve probably mentioned this a several times, but all of this contributes to the game being longer than it needs to be. I’ve played many games that are incredibly long, but they’re well-paced and don’t feel repetitive at all. If you want to make a game this long, don’t repeat certain moments so many times and if you don’t want to do that, just decrease the overall length of the game. I don’t think this game was bad at all, but it would’ve been even better than it was if some of the fat were trimmed.
Besides the issues I had with the game’s dialogue system, there was one other issue that did in fact negatively affect the game’s performance. Maybe it’s because the Nintendo Switch is not a computing powerhouse, but there were a few moments when this was noticeable, mainly with brief instances of FPS drops, foggy/blurry areas, and low draw distances. At first, I figured low draw distances were just something the PC gamer side of me was bitching about with no real way of affecting the gameplay, mainly because it’s mainly noticed with things like foliage and animals, but I can see people getting annoyed with missing out on vine plants (the game’s way of allowing you to reach higher areas) because they weren’t clearly visible from afar. It can be especially annoying because you’re swinging from vine plants that are high up and they require a bit of effort to get to. Having to deal with this issue many times will eventually get to you.
Even though I had a few issues with Okami, I genuinely believe it’s a good game that at times reaches levels of greatness. I know that this game is beloved by many in the gaming community, it being remastered is proof of that, but I don’t believe it’s a perfect game. It’s arguable that there’s no such thing as the perfect game and this is true, but to a certain extent. I like to believe that games can be perfect on a personal/subjective level. Whether it be nostalgia or the game’s playstyle/overall content touching you on an emotional level, a game can be perfect to you.