SIMPLY THE BEST
Maybe gamers don’t want innovation, despite what they say…
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I told Fatsquatch that I thought my next little project for this site would be to reevaluate the FragFX controller for PS3 by trying it out in Unreal Tournament III. It was my plan to try both a gamepad and the FragFX to see if the FragFX could handle the fast pace and quick-twitch style gameplay of the UT series. That’s still coming, and will be made even better by UTIII’s ability on the PS3 to utilize a keyboard and mouse. A head-to-head comparison of the FragFX against both a gamepad (which it was designed to replace) and a keyboard and mouse (the gold standard for FPS games) will establish the final word as to whether the FragFX is worth the money. That project has been derailed up to this point, however, as I have been engrossed in one of the best games I have ever had the privilege of playing: Ōkami, for the PS2.
I’ll start where I usually end, with my overall impression. Ōkami is simply one of the best games, ever. It is an adventure game that easily stands up to the Zelda franchise; and this is from someone who still considers TLoZ: Ocarina of Time as one of his favorite games of all-time. The next time you are in a store that sells video games, check their PS2 section and grab this one if you can still find a copy; or order it online. If you don’t, well, if Shakespeare had been a gamer, and had missed this game, he would have written something about his manhood being inadequate. I got completely lost in it (the game, not Shakespeare’s manhood), and it has truly been years since I enjoyed a game so fully.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF ANIMAL
The very basis of this website is that gaming has little innovation, the vast majority of titles being “me-too” entries into existing genres, barely-imaginative MMOGs, and yearly updates to franchises and games that plain suck. Well, Ōkami bucks all of those. The most well-known way this game is different is also the most striking: the Japanese calligraphy art style. It makes for a game that is beautiful in a way rarely seen, in gaming or anywhere else. The still shots you may have seen are hardly sufficient, and you have to see this one in motion to realize just how cool it is. (Here’s a good example that doesn’t contain spoilers.)
But even the art style cannot match the beauty of how well the game plays. If you have read anything about this game, you will have read about the Celestial Brush. No write-up on it can capture how well it is done, though. I was honestly worried about this feature as I’ve seen games try stunts like this in the past only to do it half-assed, leaving what should have been a great game lying flat on its face. No need to worry there, though; the Celestial Brush is very well done, and very much essential to the game (instead of feeling tacked on). The video that I linked-to above barely captures it, but the combat marries the brush techniques and Amaterasu’s (the game’s [wolf] protagonist) weaponry a great deal more than was demonstrated. The combat is also very deep; something that was also touched on in the video. You can play it straightforward if you want, but if you get creative, Amaterasu can kick ass in ways that make one think of Jet Li’s films based in Ancient China; she’s almost too effective (see the part on difficulty, below).
The music is also very well done, particularly if you like traditional Japanese music. It never detracts from the game and most of the pieces are really good. The game is paced very well; it took me a little over 50 hours to play through it my first time, and I never got bored with the story. Indeed, I could have finished it a lot faster if I hadn’t spent so much time just running around, making sure I hadn’t missed anything (which didn’t work, by the way). I would say that I completed about 88-90% of it on first play-through.
Even the instruction book is well done. Besides containing the standard instructions for the PS2 and the game itself, it also goes into such things as the mythology behind the game’s story and the meanings of the kanji characters used in the game. That may be a waste on some, or even, most gamers, but for someone like me, it was icing on the cake. A lot of thought and effort went into the whole package of Ōkami and it shows.
TAKE IT EASY
It isn’t perfect, of course. It’s a fair bit towards the easy side –- I didn’t die a single time on my first play-through and only once did I utilize an astral pouch (an auto-recovery device; think “fairy in a bottle” in the Zelda series). Some of the brush techniques are close enough together that you activate the wrong one (Bloom, Water Lily and Galestorm come to mind as frequently being mistakenly activated), and I had only about a 70% reliability rate for activating Inferno, one of the more complex techniques. (Though, that might have been my clumsiness with analog sticks.) Overall, the game is very forgiving regarding how close you have to get to the “correct” picture to get a brush technique to activate. And even so, the brush technique problems are minor quibbles; other than difficulty, I can’t think of a single glaring weakness the game has. If they added multiple difficulty levels, this game would be near-perfect. That complaint seems well-voiced in reviews of Ōkami, so maybe they will do so in the upcoming Wii version.
You know what this game is? It’s the Firefly of video gaming. Excellent writing, compelling characters, overall very well done, but largely ignored. (Does that win me Brad’s “nerd” prize?)
If I had been Sony, I would have called up Capcom and offered to help bankroll any additional advertising and media attention they could drum up. Hey, maybe they do that, the game flops anyway, and they end up minus a lot of cash. But you know what? If it works, and Ōkami sells well enough to be a hit, Sony then has a Playstation-exclusive Zelda franchise.
But they didn’t…and it didn’t sell. Capcom dissolved Clover, Ōkami’s developer, so despite the ending leaving an opening for a sequel, this is probably all we’ll ever see. Ah, well. Missed boats and all that.
Get this game before it disappears forever, or becomes yet another super-rare title that sells on eBay for ridiculous prices (Suikoden II, anyone?).