Ōkami (PS2)

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.

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.)

Okami for the Playstation 2
Okami originally started out with more photorealistic visuals. Thankfully, that was changed.

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.

Okami for the PS2
Hungry like the wolf.

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?).

Kalinsias Written by:

I have been gaming since 1980. And yes, I am jaded...


  1. VagrantSpace
    February 21, 2008

    I have been pushing Okami on everyone I know and everyone loves it. It is innovative and original and beautiful and I will play it again on the Wii.

  2. February 23, 2008

    I’ll have you all know that I searched high and low for Ōkami tonight…to no avail.

    Highlight of the evening? The mid-to-late 20s sales associate at GameStop who had no freaking clue what I was even talking about: “Okami? Is that with a K?”

    • Kalinsias
      February 23, 2008

      I’ll have you all know that I searched high and low for Ōkami tonight…to no avail.

      Thus it begins…

      Here. Since you don’t know about Amazon, this will help you.


  3. zfunk007
    March 3, 2008

    I heard this was coming out for the Wii which I was excited about. I heard about this game when it first came out but never was able to get it because I have never owned, and will never own a PS2. So I’ll be waiting and picking up the Wii version when it arrives.

    So about that Firefly reference… This Wii release for Okami is like the Serenity movie right? It is getting a second chance at life so to speak. So lets hope it doesn’t flop like Serenity did and we get a sequel…

      • Kalinsias
        March 5, 2008

        Hate to burst your bubble, but the chances of an Okami sequel are slim to none. Clover, the studio that created it, is no more. I don’t think the lead designer even works at Capcom now. So if we did get a sequel, would it be any good?

        Also – I saw Serenity as a ‘farewell and thanks for being fans’ type of movie – a kind of wrap-up of the major story so that things weren’t left hanging forever. Joss Whedon and Tim Minear remain “interested” in the intellectual property, but I don’t think either of them see any chance of it emerging again. Plus, all the actors have moved on. *sigh*

        And they killed Wash, damn them!!!

        • March 5, 2008

          “Also – I saw Serenity as a ‘farewell and thanks for being fans’ type of movie – a kind of wrap-up of the major story so that things weren’t left hanging forever.”

          Yeah, me too, and I can’t imagine we’ll ever see another one. Fox screwed up the success of the TV series by running episodes out of order, providing lackluster advertising and changing the show’s night around; the effects of which spilled over into the success of Serenity (which tanked at the box office). Despite the property having a rabid fanbase, it’s still a rather small one, so no studio will probably ever want to greenlight another multi-million dollar Firefly motion-picture.

          Ya know, there for a while we were hearing that the Sci-Fi network was gonna produce a follow-up movie, but apparently that has fallen through. I wonder why? After all, that network has no qualms about investing tons-o-money into cheesy movies about mutant garden slugs and whatnot. Seems like a Serenity follow-up would be a no-brainer.

          And yeah, killing off Wash was certainly a powerful plot device, but damn…he was one of the best characters on the show. 🙁

          • zfunk007
            March 10, 2008

            Well I guess a sequel for Okami would obviously have to be done by a different set of guys. Doesn’t mean it would be bad, but those types of projects normally are.

            I could talk all day about Firefly and the tragedy of it. I agree with all the things you guys have said. If your a serious sci-fi fan, you generally have at least heard of the series. And a fantastic series it is.

            There is some small talk of another movie but it is doubtful. I read that Josh Whedon attempted to sell the show to the Sci-Fi Channel when it was first canceled and it fell through. Why???? Sci-Fi has picked up other shows in the past such as Stargate (and look at the phenomenom that has turned into, some of the Firefly cast have even ended up on it). I wonder why in the world they didn’t pick up something as brilliant as Firefly…. Strange… and sad.

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