Okami came out 2006, just a few months before The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and some might say it is the better Zelda game of that year. As Twilight Princess became a Hd overhaul back in 2016 for the Wii U, now Okami got the same treatment for our modern console generation (before it also was re-released for the Wii and PS3).
So does it still hold up today and does it deserve this high praise it got back then?
In Okami you are playing as the sun goddess Amaterasu, represented in the shape of a white wolf. You are awakening out of your 100-year long sleep, to yet again fight against the evil that plagues the land.
But in the time you were absent, the people lost their beliefs in the gods of their world and they don`t recognize you, as their long-awaited savior. So you also have to deal with that and bring back the faith of the people into the gods. That is probably the main motive of the story, the plot itself is rather simple and not worth mentioning.
Most of the time you also do not understand what is going on, because they implement new Story twists and characters constantly without explaining them to you. And even in the end, I did not really know what was going on. It is all abstract and silly, but that is an intentional decision that pulls itself throughout the journey. They still execute the story in a really excellent way, through their Humor and silly characters. Those contribute a lot to the experience and either you love them or hate them.
They are the ones that need your help, you are the sun that shines over them.
Piece of Art
Okami is just beautiful and breathtaking. It all looks hand painted and it feels like you are playing an interactive work of art. It is one of the best examples that you don’t have to chase realism and push the graphics to its limit. I want to see more games choosing the route of Okami and think outside the box.
The music is really composed but still solid. It feels great when you are running through the fields and the music accompanies you in the background. It always fits the situation but it is nothing extraordinary. You probably also heard some familiar sounds in other games or mediums that are themed around Japan.
The brush solves all Problems
You as a god have the power of the celestial paintbrush, which is basically your universal tool for everything. It completely replaces the traditional “Zelda tools” and you just add new abilities to your repertoire. You get all 13 naturally as you advance the story, by finding your other god colleagues.
So know you can paint bridges, bombs, vines and other things that all have their purpose. It is also necessary to solve a lot of puzzles or used in mini-games.
Beautiful, but empty
The world is not that big and you don’t have a lot to do in it. They basically guide you through it, because when you first visit a new area most of it is closed off. So you always know where to go next. First, you have to clear it, before you can proceed further and explore the whole area.
You find some chests along the way or you can make it your duty, to feed animals or flourish the area back into its old glory. You earn points for that which you can invest to upgrade your health, wallet, ink and so on. There is of course also the equivalent of heart pieces, but they do not encourage you to search for them because you can upgrade your health much quicker and easier.
Generally, you don’t have a lot to look for and exploration is not really rewarded.
Issun is an issue
And I thought Navi could be annoying…
As a companion, you have a little cheeky gnome called Issun. He has the same purpose as the fairies in Zelda, but also has a lot more personality than them. I did not quite hate him but sometimes he really could get on my nerves. He overexplains everything and gives you no chance to figure out things by your self. The puzzles are not that hard in the first place so they could easily make him shut up at certain places.
But I also understand why they did that. As Okami is really stylised and abstract with its themes and mechanics you sometimes do not really know, what to do with the tools at your disposal. Whereas in Zelda you have the traditional tools that everybody knows how to use, a sword, bombs, a hook shot and so on. You know have your paintbrush which has a lot of options to chose from. Over time you just gather new abilities, but you probably do not know how to use them properly so they have to be explained.
It would be enough, in my opinion, to just explain the core mechanic of your ability and not tell you the solution to the puzzle right at the front. But they chose the conservative route to make sure players do not get frustrated or get lost.
Smaller, Short, Super Designed.
The Dungeons are not that puzzle heavy as you expect them in Zelda games. You don’t have to backtrack in them a lot and go through them in a straighter fashion. But still they are really cleverly designed and I liked the Themes of them. They are easily digestible and not too long.
Sometimes they split one dungeon into more and smaller parts, which is really cool. For example, you are going into a sunken ship and think that this is the whole dungeon, then you finish it after a few minutes without even fighting a Boss.
But then with the item, you found in there, you can proceed further into another area. Now you shrink into the same size of Issun and go through an “insect-themed” dungeon, where you have to dodge spiders that are now ten times bigger than you.
To top all of that, you are fighting the Boss inside an infested human Body.
Those parts separately are all too small, to consider them a Dungeon of themselves. But Put them together, you basically know have one big Dungeon with three different themes. Just Great!
That’s not how a wolf should fight
The battle system is a big weakness. It reminds me more of a Jrpg because you always see the same silhouettes of the enemies roam freely in the overworld like in Dragonquest or Ni No Kuni. And once encountered you are dragged into a battle arena. It does not really fit this type of game. The battles themself feel smooth and responsive but are far too easy. Also, the camera can get a bit annoying at times. Overall I did not really enjoy fighting enemies if not necessary and skipped battles most of the time.
When a new enemy is introduced they showed them in a nice”Japanese style” painting. The enemy variety was not big but each of them were designed really well. Only in the latter half they reused some designs and just gave them a new coat of paint.
The Boss fights, on the other hand, were all different and had unique mechanics which forced you to utilize your abilities. They too were really easy but enjoyable to watch and fight.
But one boss, in particular, you had to fight three times and this one was really boring and did not even have you to think about, how to use your abilities. He is way too long and forces you to wait until you can strike. Even worse than that, he has two phases which do not set apart from one another.
So it felt like fighting, the same long and boring boss for six times.
Okami stands on its own (four) feets
I see the references to Zelda but I do not think you can compare both games directly. It is a different experience playing Okami.
Okami is much more guided and linear and not so puzzle heavy. But because of that, the pacing is excellent. It shines with its Art style and strongly stylized graphics. It does not takes itself seriously and has a lot of humor and funny characters. It executes its abstract themes and mechanics brilliantly.
Okami tells a story about friendship, hope and that you can achieve anything if you believe in it.
Even if it all seems dark and hopeless, don’t give up, because one thing is for sure, on the next day the sun will rise again.