Official website: http://www.okami-game.com/
Okami is an action adventure game developed by Clover Studio and published by Capcom. It was initially released on April 20, 2006 for the Playstation 2, but has since received multiple ports featuring updated controls and graphics for the Wii, Playstation 3, PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. It was highly acclaimed, receiving over 30 different awards including Game of The Year, Best Overall Story, Most Innovative Design and Best PS2 Adventure Game.
The game is set in the context of classical Japanese history and uses elements found in Japanese folklore to tell the story of how the land was saved from darkness by the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, who takes the form of a white wolf. This doubles as a pun on the title of the game, as both 大神, or great god, and 狼, or wolf, are read as Okami.
The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad
Okami’s world is set in a beautiful, cel-shaded environment with a water colour style that was designed to resemble traditional Japanese ink wash paintings. As Amaterasu runs, flowers spring forth in her wake, brushstrokes that symbolise the wind flow past occasionally, and the very aesthetic of the painting ties in to Okami’s most unique mechanic.
Okami contains a mix of action, platforming and puzzle gameplay. Like many others of the genre, Amaterasu can run, jump and fight in real time. She has health points that when depleted, results in a game over, an inventory to store items and currency, and stats that she can level up.
In addition, Okami’s most unique mechanic and Amaterasu’s signature ability is to be able to use her tail, the Celestial Brush, to draw patterns on the canvas that is the screen. This lets her use 13 different techniques to solve puzzles, manipulate the environment and defeat enemies. The patterns players need to draw are easy to execute, consisting primarily of swirls, lines and circles. Amaterasu only starts with one of these techniques, and players are allowed to slowly get used to her different abilities as she learns them throughout the game. By using the proper technique, players are able to cause the Sun to rise, restore broken objects, slow down time or call upon the elements to smite their enemy, amongst others. Given the power and versatility of the ability, Amaterasu is limited by a slowly regenerating resource of ink to discourage players from carelessly using the brush, as running out of ink cripples Amaterasu all around.
100 years prior to the game’s present day, a great white wolf, Shiranui, and a swordsman, Nagi, sealed away the eight headed serpent demon Orochi. In the present day, Susano, Nagi’s descendant, unwittingly sets Orochi free. Orochi curses the lands, and drains the life from Nippon. Amaterasu, the goddess of the Sun and the reincarnation of Shiranui, is called forth to remove the curse and to restore the land to its normal state. Amaterasu, along with her companion Issun, set out to regain the powers of her Celestial Brush and gather Praise from the people of the land, eventually going back in time to stop Orochi at his peak and defeating the symbol of Darkness, Yami. Throughout the story, Okami takes elements from Japanese mythology, such as having Kaguya, from the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and the Celestial Brush Gods representing the 12 animals of the Asian Zodiac.
The cel-shaded artstyle and simple aesthetics is relatively less graphically intensive as compared to many other games of its time, and helps it age very well even into the present day. One of the challenges I found that Okami faces is its controls and how to make drawing using the Celestial Brush effective for the player. When I played on its original release on the PS2, I found having to use the analog sticks a little awkward at times. Even though the patterns have been made simple to make it easier for the player, I found the ports on the Wii, which uses motion controls on the Wii remote to serve as the brush, and on the PC, which uses the mouse, to be much more natural and more comfortable for drawing.
The lens of character transformation:
At the start of the game, Amaterasu is little more than an intelligent wolf. With nothing but her basic attacks and her only Celestial Brush technique being Sunrise, many of the villagers throughout the land are sceptical of her status as a goddess. However, throughout the game, as Amaterasu helps out the people of the land and regains her powers, not only is she a more adept combatant, she is also seen by the people in a new light, and becomes a goddess that people can truly put their faith in. At the end of the game, as Yami strikes down Amaterasu, isolates her from her companions and siphons all her power, it is the prayers and the belief of all the people that Amaterasu has changed the life of along the way that allowed her to rise once again and vanquish Yami for good.
The lens of freedom:
The player can, at any point outside of menus and cutscenes, bring up the canvas to use the celestial brush. Instead of having them relegated to specific zones, players are free to experiment with the various Celestial Brush techniques at any point and see how they interact with the environment and with the enemies. Certain techniques, such as Bloom or Galestorm, can have different effects on different targets.
The lens of problem solving:
Being partially a puzzle game, Okami has its fair share of problem solving to be done. This mostly takes the form of sidequests where Amaterasu helps the people of Nippon and helping Amaterasu traverse the environment. While not extremely challenging, especially with Issun giving Amaterasu and the player advice on how to solve them, I found the slower pace of puzzle segments to be a refreshing change from the combat segments.
The lens of help:
Both the main quests and sidequests in Okami involve performing miracles and helping the people throughout the land. While this does have inherent gameplay benefits, as Praise is needed to increase Amaterasu’s stats, I found being able to make a change to these character’s lives, and convince them that Amaterasu isn’t merely a friendly wolf but a benevolent goddess watching over them to be very satisfactory. The final moments of the game, where the prayers from the people of the land that you’ve helped throughout your journey saves Amaterasu from certain doom at the hand of Yami, is also one of my personal highlights of the game.