PS2 review: Okami

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Though they’re the conversational touchstone, Okami’s brushwork visuals aren’t the game’s strong point. They’re uniquely realized, certainly, both distinct and daring, but they lack the attraction of a cleaner style. Everything looks flattened out, and nothing’s as vibrant as another style would allow. Objects are dark and muddied, the tones overly earthy. They blend into one another. The textured-paper look seems added at the last second, overlaid, pushing colors down under its weight.

But this world. It’s beautiful, expansive, yearning for the gift of life. The gods are scattered, trapped, absent. The serpent demon Orochi has cast it into darkness, shrouding the land in black mist, turning men to stone. A village waits in fear for Orochi’s arrow to steal away a sacrifice.

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This broken world is Okami’s glory. With every quest and good deed, Okami’s world returns to life. The darkness recedes, men return from torpor, animals emerge. Grass springs up under Amaterasu’s feet as she lopes through the fields, a diminutive artist sitting between her ears, watching as the lupine sun god returns the world from the grip of death.

Okami’s world is full of characters. The alcoholic hero Susano, bumbling through life in the shadow of his great ancestor. The half-baked prophet Waka, spouting nonsensical fortunes and teasing Amaterasu for her lack of progress. The tiny artist Issun, Amaterasu’s voice, travelling the world with her in search of celestial brushstrokes and beautiful women.

And the wolf-god Amaterasu herself, the player’s avatar. Even in a medium teeming with otherworldly experiences, we so rarely play as anything but human. Amaterasu is a relief. She bounds along, gaining more and more speed as she runs, jumping high in the air before descending, legs splayed out, landing on all fours. Playing as Amaterasu is liberating, a new experience, and on all fours we’re closer to the earth than ever before.

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This sense of communion with the natural world pervades the entirety of the game. We’re connected with Okami’s world. We’re helping to shape it. Amaterasu causes trees to grow and flowers to bloom; she feeds forest animals and starts the wind howling. There’s a beauty here that goes beyond what’s seen. It becomes what’s felt.

Some aspects of the game aren’t as strong. The battles, for instance, are nowhere near Clover’s best, feeling basic and barren compared to Viewtiful Joe or God Hand. Likewise, the enemies are uninspired. And the dungeons feel overly similar, indistinct in design.

But the world and its characters stick with you. Not often does a game cause you to feel pride for its characters, and not often do we look forward to how they’ll change over the course of the story. Okami is enormous, and it takes its time. There are story arcs, with endings and beginnings throughout. Characters change, and grow.

The strongest praise I can give Okami is that, as the game ended and the credits rolled, I felt I’d known the characters, as if we’d had a conversation, as if we’d grown together. There’s beauty in Okami’s world, and there was a welling in my chest as the screen faded out, and that feeling stayed with me even as I lay in the dark, and closed my eyes, and dreamed.

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3 Responses to “PS2 review: Okami”

  1. alexislives Says:

    I still have a sealed copy of Okami that I haven’t gotten around to playing (so sad) I really need to start it.

    • catstronaut Says:

      Unfinished games are bad, but sealed games are the worst! Get on it 😀

      Seriously though, starting Okami was really intimidating for me. It’s a damned long game, but I’m really glad I saw it through. Like any long game, there’s a period towards the middle/end of the game where you’re not quite as into it as you were. But I made that final push, and it was so worth it.

    • alexislives Says:

      The length is the thing that intimidates me. Most of the games in my backlog are RPGs and a couple are the really long ones. Someday Okami, someday.

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