Okami PS2 Review
This one’s special, folks. I may as well tell you that now because you’ve probably already scrolled down to look at the bloody score anyway. And yes, Okami genuinely deserves it. Released in the UK as the PS2’s lifespan draws to a close, Okami is without doubt one of the best reasons yet to grab a PS2 if you’re one of the five people in the country who don’t already have one. Read on if you’d care to find out why.
At first, the game’s introductory hook comes across as being a bit predictable and bland. A giant, evil, many-headed serpent called Orochi has been re-awakened from a 100-year slumber, and is going around causing havoc and corrupting the land itself, making it grey and lifeless. You step in as Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who has been reincarnated as a wolf and charged with the task of restoring the land to its former beauty, defeating Orochi, and allowing everyone to live in peace again. So far, so dull. But this is only what the intro sequence would have you believe, and to sum up the story of Okami in such a manner is like telling someone that Metal Gear Solid is about some guy who blows up a robot and that. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much storytelling from Clover, as the narrative in the Viewtiful Joe games – as funny and charming as it is – is pretty thin. But they’ve seriously nailed it this time.
Now, let’s not beat about the bush here – Okami is basically a Zelda game. Nobody wanted to say it, but everybody has, because it’s pretty much true. You’ve got your fighting and your exploring and your dungeons and your bosses and your gaining new abilities which allow you to access new areas. And, y’know, that’s fine. Hell, it’s not like anyone else has come close to effectively replicating Zelda’s unique formula, so it’s nice to see someone else have a shot at it. But it does raise an important question – is it better than Twilight Princess? That’s not to say they’re not both classics, but if you were literally held at gunpoint and had to pick one, which would it be? Luckily I was in that exact situation this week, so I’ll give you my answer at the end.
Thankfully, Okami’s not just a straight copy – it adds its own little twists and quirks to the formula. Weapons and health-related pickups aside, you don’t really gain any new items. Instead, you get new abilities in two ways – one of them is visiting the local martial arts trainer, who’ll get you dodging enemy attacks, mastering the double-jump, and so on. Then there’s the celestial paintbrush. At any point in the game, you can hit R1 and a canvas drops over the screen. You then guide your paintbrush (which you soon realise is actually Amaterasu’s tail) over the canvas, and paint stuff into your surrounding environment. As you progress, you learn new brush techniques which allow you to affect the environment in different ways. It’s easy to go on a spoiler-ridden rant about how wonderful this idea really is, but suffice it to say that you go from filling lakes with water so you can swim across them, to pulling lightning out of storm-clouds to shock your enemies. On top of this, instead of messing around choosing an inventory item to carry out the task you want, the game knows which technique you’re trying to use purely by looking at the shapes you paint, and the places you paint them. It can be a tad fiddly at times, and it’s bloody impossible to paint a decent cock and balls with it, but for the most part it works a hell of a lot better than anyone expected it to, and it’s one of those ideas that no other game developer will ever be able to touch for fear of people saying “Yeah, but they just stole that off Okami, didn’t they?”
Now, let’s be shallow and talk about the aesthetics for a minute. As much as we might like to go on about how visuals aren’t really important in video games, just look at Okami. You can keep your incredibly-detailed fat-necked marines and your footballers with visible beads of sweat on their foreheads – Okami’s running on a PS2, the least powerful of the last-gen consoles, and yet it’s by far one of the most stunning-looking games ever made on any platform. Clover have taken the already unique art style of Viewtiful Joe, and turned it up to 11. Keeping with the celestial paintbrush theme, the whole game genuinely looks like a moving painting. The screen is textured like a sheet of canvas, and the environments and characters have a distinctive watercolour look to them, while shadowed areas flow around the screen like ink. The screenshots will give you some idea, but you really have to see it moving to fully appreciate it. On top of the painting theme, there are tonnes of wonderful little touches – the flowers that sprout from beneath Amaterasu’s feet as she runs around, the extensive use of Japanese calligraphy in the environments, the breathtaking cut-scenes when you restore an area to its former glory, and watch the wave of animal and plant life flow back over the land. And so on.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the music is superb as well. Why is it that so many game developers are scared of getting a proper orchestra in to do the soundtrack? I’m sure it’s not cheap, but when you’ve got a game like Okami serenading your trousers off, while the affluent chaps at Square-Enix expect you to put up with mostly-synthesised crap (which is apparently fine as long as they get a J-pop star in to record the main theme), you can’t help but wonder what the hell is going on. At any rate, Okami’s traditional Japanese soundtrack will make you wish they actually bloody sold game soundtracks in the UK.
I should probably point out a few flaws in the game for the sake of balance, although I can’t stress enough how much none of it matters. First up, Okami is really easy. I finished the game without dying once. It still took me a while to do, but the puzzles are pretty transparent and only a couple of the fights really had me worried, until I realised I had about twenty healing items stocked up in my inventory. Second, the celestial brush system, as wonderful as it is, isn’t truly allowed to shine. You expect the game to slowly open you up to situations where you’re using loads of different techniques to complete a certain task, but that never really happens. Finally, there’re no widescreen or progressive scan options. To be honest, the game looks incredible anyway, but those of you who’ve forked out for an HDTV might feel a little cheated.
Still, what we’ve got here, ladies and gents, is a game truly deserving of the term ‘adventure’. It’s a game that really feels like it’s taking you on a journey. And once you’ve finished that journey (and that’ll take longer than you’d expect, trust me), you will look back on it, and you’ll realise what a magical experience it really was, and you know you won’t have another one like it for quite some time. I haven’t even mentioned half the wonderful things about this game. But you’ll remember the characters, the locations, the story, the music… and you’ll begin to realise that the only real problem with Okami, is the fact that it doesn’t last forever.
So. Better than Zelda?
The most incredible swansong a console could ever hope for.
9.5 out of 10