Almost a decade ago, a child-like version of myself wandered into the local game store, glancing at unfamiliar games, searching for one that would occupy his attention for days, maybe weeks, just as Devil May Cry 3 had done. This child loved long play times, memorable protagonists, creatures of myth and lore, reincarnated into frustrating boss battles granting a rewarding sense of self-accomplishment once completed. He glanced towards a title, Okami, which he picked up, peering at the white wolf on the cover. Full of hope, he thought, ‘You couldn’t be as good as my last game... Could you?’
How very naive.
Nine years later, I revisited the nostalgic world of Nippon, with its compelling story, entertaining and thoroughly lovable characters, stunning visuals, unforgettable plot twists and turns, tense boss battles, slapstick humor, divine powers, and most of all, its inseparable duo, Amaterasu and Issun, who engrossed me in one of the greatest gemstones of gaming for years - just in 1080p this time.
Okami is set in a classical world of the Japanese past, an era where people lived in little settlements, where emperors and monarchs ruled, traditions and customs were celebrated, and rural life was enjoyed. Peace and tranquility inhabit the region, until one day, a dark evil is set free thanks to a mysterious individual, who thought rubbish of the legend of the warrior Nagi, and his white wolf compatriot Shiranui, who fought alongside him to banish the very manifestation of dark power itself, Orochi. As a result, our said individual pulls out the sword, which had sealed Orochi for 100 years. The world is plagued by evil, and the famous white wolf, reincarnated as Amaterasu the sun goddess, must restore Nippon to its natural order.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always longed to play Pokemon in like, open world. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Except, its very difficult to pull off, so playing as Amaterasu was the next best thing. In fact, it was amazing. There’s just something about a game where you play as a beast, that offers a different dimension of gameplay entirely. Style her up with a snow white coat of fur, splashes of crimson markings, a divine instrument for fierce battle and godly powers: summoning gusts of wind, bending fire, lighting and water to your will and even painting the sun or the moon to change day or night. That’s a pretty attractive idea for a protagonist if you ask me.
Amaterasu interacts with a wide variety of characters, and none of them are boring, or introduced for the sake of having more people to come across. You have your favourite wandering artist Issun, your descendant of Nagi - Susano, the inhabitants of the village you start out in, Kamiki. You have priests and priestesses, brush gods, sparrow people, talking dogs, imps (the baddies of the game!), emperors and empresses, kings and queens, a slip of paper (his name’s Tobi), a bamboo dude, a princess from another galaxy, this game has almost everyone! Each character was so well thought out, I couldn’t help but feel attached to them. There was never a dull moment, as your emotions were constantly manipulated throughout. Feelings of anger, tension, sadness, laughter, heck even fear (some of those bosses were terrifying) are all experienced, and for many titles today, that is very very difficult to do, even more so with so many characters. Personally, I loved Issun and Susano, as well as the entire village of Kamiki. I felt a sense of protectiveness, as I found myself going back to the settlement from time to time to check on everyone.
Amaterasu is a celestial brush goddess, namely, the goddess of the sun. Your journey across Nippon sets you on a quest to find a total of 13 celestial brush techniques, from power slashing, to creating blizzards, to drawing lily pads. Yes, drawing. You’re allowed to use your celestial brush to help you complete quests, fight enemies, and even bosses through clever puzzles. Holding down R2 would take you into brush mode, and you had to draw lines of ink to complete tasks, whether it was mending bridges, cutting your opponents into two, or attaching yourself to a cherry blossom. This never interfered with gameplay, as each brushstroke felt necessary, although it would get a little frustrating when your cherry bombs didn’t form, or you drew the sun by accident. Ugh.
Although the probability of a sequel is non-existent, even game mechanics similar to Okami would be lovely. We have touch pads for the Playstation 4 now don’t we? Like the Wii version of the game, where you could paint using the Wii remote, using the touch pad to summon (draw, basically) all sorts of powers would be amazing. I mean, we don’t use it in that many games do we? I’ve used it on Infamous: Second Son and it works with Tearaway Unfolded, but imagine triggering your celestial canvas, and swiping across the pad to slice and dice enemies, or conjure up blizzards by drawing lines from the source to the target. It’d certainly give the touch pad more use than it has currently.
Sure you had your characters, but boy does Japanese mythology offer up a mean bunch of baddies. Battles never stagnated, enemy variety was always refreshing, and made ample use of your celestial powers to defeat them. You had imps, dead exploding fish, cyclopes, centaurs, chimeras, headless statues, elemental wheels and many many more. Summon gusts of wind to fan out enemies shrouded in flames, slow down time using the mist to match the pace of your foes, bloom evil flower buds to reveal a weak spot (don’t ask me why). Every new enemy you faced had you working out a way to defeat them. But what’s more fun than fighting your ordinary underlings?
Despite having a fun boss to play against, having to wrap your head around its attack patterns and finding ways to beat it, sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes, the bosses we play against should feel like a nemesis, a dark lord, a harbinger of doom. This is where Okami excelled. Each antagonist had proper character development, and felt truly evil. Where you felt you’d faced the baddest of the bad, you’d come to realise that later on you had to fight an adversary higher up in the hierarchy. And they legitimately FELT more nefarious and sinister than the previous.
Oh my God I loved boss battles to death. My favourite boss battle had to be with the eight headed serpent, Orochi. The story line at this point reached a climax, and there were still 6-8 bosses I hadn’t faced! I remember being terrified shitless as a child, and I spent 40-50 minutes with one of the greatest arch-enemies ever encountered. For every head Orochi had, it could summon an element, and this is where you used your arsenal of celestial brush techniques. Power slashing heads, blowing away twisters, balls of fire and poison, drawing lily pads when flooded, blooming evil buds, pouring sake into the serpents’ mouths and finally dealing damage to each head until all eight were defeated - this was a worthy example of a puzzle in a boss fight, and this is just one of 10. Unfortunately, in most games nowadays, bosses are mainly killed using guns, guns, and more guns. Not to say it isn’t fun, but it’s just not as memorable.
Of course there are many exceptions as well, with the most recent battles being those in the Souls’ series and Bloodborne. For some games, like Gears of War, and Dead Space, I didn’t mind having to use an arsenal of guns to dispose of the beasts that stood before me. But that’s also because bosses were more of a challenge, not a forced necessity.
For Okami, quick time events that triggered during the cutscenes after fighting bosses were a blast. You didn’t have to press buttons and see the hero doing all the work for you. You would have to use a celestial brush technique, and that meant drawing what you had to do, like helping Susano slice Orochi’s heads (Don’t tell him you’re the one doing all the divine work, he looked really brave!). For the finishing blow, you’d call upon the moon to like, bless Susano’s sword which he himself used to sever up the final head, from the head all the way down the neck. Neat. (He did that one himself though)
Eight out of ten times a title is released, the story or dialogue comes up short, and while it isn’t a major problem, many people appreciate good storytelling, without it being monotonous and mundane, without terrible dialogue, with a thickening plot with twists and turns, and without hesitating I can say that Okami had been at the forefront for a longtime.
*Mild spoilers ahead*
I won’t go into too much detail though, because I’d much prefer if you played the game for yourself. The story of an evil plagued world, with forces of darkness and cursed zones covering the land, you can easily write up a generic story where you basically have to save the world, no questions asked. But that’s not what happens here. Amaterasu meets many characters - Susano, a cowardly warrior, but a descendant of a brave one, who doesn’t want to fight monsters and save the land, but laze at home drinking sake. Waka, a half-baked prophet, who appears suspicious throughout, but indeed plays a very important role in the story, as he says he’s been looking for Amaterasu for a long time. Issun, your wandering artist, who’s run away from home in hopes to learn all brush techniques.
Throughout the game, you’ll have to restore valleys and forests, villages and cities to their former glory and beauty. This is where your adventure begins. Saving a dog from a temple inhabited by the fierce Spider Queen, banishing Orochi before the next annual festival, where an offering has to be made from Kamiki Village, a live sacrifice, preferably a fair maiden. To heat things up, she is the girl Susano loves. Susano’s bravery shines through this arc of the story, and it only gets better from there. From diving into the belly of the Water Dragon, to visiting the underwater Dragon Palace. From curing a city of a poisonous mist, the source being the bedridden Emperor’s belly, to meeting charming characters who later betray and deceive you, and murder innocent people. From returning to Issun’s tiny mushroom home, to finding Oni Island, a place where evil thrives, and changes location everyday. From being thrust back into time to witness the first battle between Orochi and Nagi and Shiranui, to discovering the secrets of where Amaterasu actually came from.
*Mild spoilers end*
In recent years, games have had stories that maybe started off strongly, but ended poorly. Some plots were forced, boring and uninteresting. Some are just plain awful, and are just incorporated into a game because people like story. It doesn’t work like that. You need to toy with the user’s emotions. Make his/her jaw drop, stab them in the heart because holy shit, that really important character just died and now I don’t know what to do with my life. Oh Life is Strange..
There ARE games that are made just for storytelling though, and I’m not saying they aren’t good. The aforementioned title, Life Is Strange was fun to play through, but that didn’t end too strongly. Telltale games are also an excellent example of games with a great story, but Okami combines that with spectacular gameplay and boss fights.
This article is mainly a tribute to the game, and I’ll fondly continue to remember the great experiences I had playing the game. Capcom and Clover Studio did an amazing job with this, and I doubt a sequel is in place. But I’d really love for a new game to release on next gen consoles, something similar to this. I think the most anticipated upcoming game of the sort has to be The Legend of Zelda on Wii U. Its open world, and its Link, and its another Zelda game, and the hype is real, and a guy can dream can’t he? Maybe this’ll be as good as Okami?
Please let me be naive.
What do you guys think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Okami, or any other game that may have impacted you as strongly as this did to me. It could’ve been a game you played as a kid, or even recently! Maybe recommend a game or two you feel might be similar, and I’ll be sure to give it a try. I’ve got The Witness and Firewatch on my list right now, anything else I should play?
Thank you TAYers for your overwhelming feedback on my first post! The second one is a little late, because I’ve been slightly busy, but here it is! Also, a special thank you to those of you who provided positive responses, they ended up making my week! Reaching almost 8.0k hits in a little more than a week is INSANE, and hopefully I’ll continue to post more of the same for all of you out there in the TAY community!
-The barelyfanatical blog