Stunningly beautiful and amazingly engaging.
For many Nintendo gamers, Okami will have a very familiar feel to it. Since its initial release on Playstation 2, comparisons have been made to Shigeru Miyamoto's Legend of Zelda series. Indeed, Okami and the venerable Zelda series share many similarities in design and pacing as well as polish, challenge, and entertainment value.
Okami is loosely based on various stories of Japanese mythology; the first tale told in the game is a very faithful envisioning of the story of Orochi. Following that tale's completion, the game expands into its own overriding storyline that incorporates a variety of myths while also constructing its own characters, locales, and plot points. You play the role of the ancient God Ameratsu, a white wolf brought back to life to save the world from the forces of darkness.
In line with its influences, Okami is presented in a way that gives it the appearance of a living, hand-drawn, cel-shaded story board. When looking at the visual depictions of Japanese mythology, it is obvious that one of the goals of the Okami project was to bring such pieces of art to life. Matching its gorgeous, authentic graphical presentation is an amazing compilation of music. The beautiful pieces bring out the sounds and themes of ancient Japanese culture and match the game perfectly. The sound effects are equally excellent, never sounding out of place or poorly composed.
As mentioned earlier, the game has been compared on countless occasions to the Legend of Zelda series, and rightfully so. The game world is built as a collection of points of interest on a large overworld map, chock-full of life and side quests. In Okami's case, these points of interest are solely cities and structures as opposed to the cities and dungeons found in Zelda. Okami has some locales that resemble dungeons, but nothing on par with the rigid dungeon structure typical of most Zelda games. This departure gives the game its own flavor and pacing that separates it from the Zelda series; players will notice other similarities as well, including the helper character Issun, who parallels Zelda's Navi quite well but is much less annoying.
Okami's gameplay also sets it apart very distinctly from Zelda. Unlike Zelda (in which players engage enemies as they're wandering through a field or dungeon), Okami takes a more RPG-style approach to combat. Enemies are represented in the overworld as a floating scroll. Upon touching the scroll players are encased in a magical perimeter wall (which can be broken out of if necessary), in which they faceoff with their enemies.
Players use a combination of brush strokes (using the "Celestial Brush", a paintbrush that can be used to effect the game environment) and physical combat moves to defeat the enemies. Conquered foes drop life, yen, and ink pots. The game rates your combat performance based on technique and time, assigning you points accordingly. These points become what are essentially distributable experience points that can be used to upgrade ink capacity and life, amongst other things.
Aside from battle, Okami incorporates brush stroke usage throughout the game for solving puzzles and accessing hidden areas. Because the brush strokes are a rough equivalent of Zelda's inventory, their functionality is quite similar in the overworld. There are some instances when drawing the brush strokes feels better because it provides for more tactile puzzle-solving. The brush stroke system also partially replaces a conventional item inventory. Instead of stocking bombs, players can activate the paintbrush and draw a bomb on the screen using the Wii Remote's pointer functionality.
Players can also do things like slashing and "blooming" (bringing life back to a dead plant), and different strokes have different effects and purposes depending on the enemy you’re facing. In some cases, a certain brush stroke will be necessary to defeat an enemy. General attacks require rhythmic movements with the Wii Remote, causing Ameratsu to attack with her body or an equipped weapon such as a sword or beads. Each weapon has its own rhythm and attack strategy, giving the battle system further depth. The unique brush stroke system and rhythmic combat movements makes the game feel very tactile and, with mastery, quite enjoyable.
Controlling Okami can be frustrating at first, because players must master the rhythm controls of combat as well as the brush stroke mechanic. However, once players learn both it is smooth sailing. Admittedly, some events that require brush stroke drawings can be frustrating due to finicky recognition; one improperly-drawn stroke means redoing an entire sequence. There was initial debate regarding the Playstation 2 version's analog control versus this version's Wii Remote control, but players will ultimately find it more satisfying to use the Wii Remote. Brush strokes are quicker, and use of the Celestial Brush feels a lot more realistic.
Okami is a stunning game experience through and through. It has depth and longevity, as well as beautiful art direction, graphics, and music. The Celestial Brush is both an engaging battle mechanic and a novel puzzle-solving tool. Every facet of Okami is enjoyable, and Wii players that don't experience it are doing themselves a disservice.