Tuesday, October 10, 2006

VG REVIEW: Okami


“OKAMI”
Capcom, for the PlayStation 2
rated T for Teen (blood and gore, crude humor, fantasy violence, suggestive themes, use of alco­hol and tobacco), $39.99.

“Okami” is utterly unique and at the same time reassuringly familiar. It relies upon popular video game tropes you’ve seen a billion times over, but reuses them in such inventive and lovely ways that it doesn’t feel like a mere rehash. Combine that with an innovative and thoroughly delightful new mechanic and you’ve catapulted the game into “instant classic” territory.

“Okami” draws heavily from Shinto mythology and Japanese folklore to tell the story of the sun goddess Amaterasu. One hundred years ago, Amaterasu took the form of a wolf to defeat the dangerous, eight-headed Orochi.

Now, however, Orochi is back and his evil ways have spread throughout the land like a plague, destroying vegetation and paralyzing townsfolk. It’s up to you as Amaterasu — in wolf form once again — to defeat Orochi and restore the land to its former glory.

How you do that is the game’s central and most ingenious conceit. As Amaterasu — or “Ammy” as her friends call her — you have at your disposal the “Celestial Brush.” By pressing and holding the R1 button, you can pause the action on the screen and draw directly on it, thereby altering the reality of the game.

Drawing a circle around a dead tree, for example, brings it back to life. Sketching a quick straight line, produces a slashing motion that can stop enemies in their tracks. Painting a loop can bring a powerful breeze that blows fire and other hazards away.


No mere add-on, the game’s developers (Clover Studios, best known for the “Viewtiful Joe” series) make the brush an integral part of play, giving the game a greater interactive quality. Most games are content to let you merely explore their world. Few actually let you modify it.

The game’s painterly aspect continues right through to the design. “Okami” looks as though it was made only with India ink and watercolors. Flowers spring up behind Ammy as she runs. The wind circles over mountains like Japanese calligraphy. To an extent, the game bears a resemblance to past “cel-shaded” titles, but only in the same way that the Mona Lisa bears some resemblance to the cave paintings of Lascaux.

Lest you get bored painting stuff, “Okami” offers plenty of side quests and alternative missions to fill up your time. You can collect items, go fishing, improve your skills at the local dojo or just feed the animals. As with “The Legend of Zelda” series, which “Okami” most strongly resembles, the virtual world here is rich and detailed enough to keep you busy for weeks on end.

Some may no doubt quibble about certain minor aspects of the game: the camera sticks occasionally, it’s not always clear what or where the next goal is, but these problems melt away in consideration of what Capcom and Clover have accomplished here. “Okami” is a work of exquisite craftsmanship and one of the best games of 2006.


Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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