Released: April 15th, 2008 in North America for the Nintento Wii
Developer: Clover Studio
Platform(s): Wii, PS2, PS3 (HD version)
*Did y’all know that okami means both “great god” and “wolf” in Japanese?*
Okami has got to be one of the most underrated hidden gems of the previous generation of gaming. I can’t imagine why. It came to my attention that this game had less-than-stellar sales on the PS2, Wii, and possible the PS3. This was one of the many factoids I picked up while watching one of those “Top 10 Underrated/Hidden Gem” videos on WatchMojo’s youtube page . . .It absolutely blows my mind that one of my favorite Wii games was so unpopular with the general gaming public and it makes me kinda sad that something as wonderful as Okami never got the recognition or praise it so richly deserves. I refuse to let it go quietly into that dark night of complete and total obscurity.
Okami is basically an homage to The Legend of Zelda, which works to its advantage. It takes that whole ‘Wolf Link’ thing from Twilight Princess and just runs wild with it. The game also takes the best of what other classic action-adventure series have to offer and gives those features a whole new spin that’s heavily steeped in Japanese art, folklore, and mythology. Monsters, deities, legends, mythical figures −all are well represented within the colorful and often surreal world of Okami. Want specific examples? Gaijin Goombah here has some answers for you. He has several videos dedicated to a lot of the major players in this title. But as informative as his videos are, I’d be willing to bet that he’s only just scratched the surface when it comes to the historical origins of everything you’ll see during a playthrough. Or you could click on all the links I’m about to start dropping. Happy reading, y’all!
One hundred years before Okami’s main story begins, the land of Nippon was a dark and terrible place plagued by monsters. None was more terrible than the dreaded Orochi, an eight headed serpent . . . thing. Its rein of terror continued until it was defeated by Nagi, the Greatest Warrior Who Ever Lived, and Shiranui, the White Wolf of Mystery. They manage to get it drunk on sake and then chop off all eight of its heads. (Spoiler alert: You will get to see exactly how this all went down very late in the game.) Peace returns to the land, the people rejoice, and the slain Orochi is sealed within the Moon Cave at Lake Harami with a sacred sword.
Susano, a descendant of Nagi, removes said blade from the cave a century later. (He’s kind of dumb like that.) It is an act that frees the serpentine beast to resume its dark designs. That’s when Sakuya, a wood sprite, seals the people of Kamiki Villiage away to shield them from the ensuing chaos. She then uses the last of her power to summon Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun/origin of all that is good/mother to us all, who takes the form of a reincarnated Shiranui to once again send the fiend back from whence he came. But one hundred years is a long time to be encased in stone and Amaterasu (Ammy, for short) has lost nearly all of the celestial powers she once wielded.
Now Ammy must travel across Nippon to recover those powers in order to destroy the dreaded Orochi for good as well as vanquish evil wherever it decides to rear its ugly head. Of course, a whit wolf traveling all over the land by herself probably wouldn’t be all that interesting. Enter Issun the Wandering Artist, our in-game companion, ‘navi’, and voice for our silent protagonist. He’s a rather . . . diminutive being, spending the vast majority of the game as a little bouncing ball of green light. However, Issun has the biggest personality I’ve ever seen in a companion character. Brash, bold, a bit of a perv, and with confidence that often borders on arrogance, he’s a riot from start to finish. Aside from our main white wolf, he one of the most interesting back stories out of anyone you’ll meet on your epic adventure. I won’t spoil that here, but I will show you what Issun really looks like. Not to bad, eh?
I have never seen a game more culturally atmospheric than Okami. I like to think of it as what you get an already-good action-adventure game and marinate it in Japanese history, mythology, and folklore for several years. The whole thing looks like one big Japan-style watercolor painting in which the colors are usually vibrant and dynamic but retain a certain . . .softness. The soundtrack is very well crafted and seamlessly blends both historical and modern influences in music. Traditional instruments are featured prominently in every track.
It’s more than just pleasant background noise; it is an integrl part of the world you explore, changing right along with the environment and events in-game. I always enjoyed how there was something on the soundtrack for every single situation.
The World of Okami
The world of Okami is, in a word, impressive. It’s practically crawling with memorable characters and plenty of interesting things to do and places to see. There’s all that sweet, sweet treasure that’s just waiting to be found and plenty of mini-games to blow it all on. It’s also kinda huge. A thorough play through of this title will most likely take anywhere from thirty-five to forty hours. And it’s probably impossible to get a %100 completion rating with just one run. Seriously, good luck doing all that.
Anyway, the impressively sized world of Okami is divided up into three major regions. The first is known as Eastern Nippon. That may not be its official name, but that’s where it appears in relation to the second major area on the map. This is where Amaterasu begins her epic quest with Issun and where all of the basic enemy types you’ll be battling against for the entirety of the game are introduced. Notable locations include: Kamiki Village, Shinshu Field, Hana Valley, Agata Forest, Taka Pass, the Tsuta Ruins, Kusa Villiage, and the Moon Cave. Notable enemies: Spider Queen, Crimson Helm, and Orochi.
The next area visited in the game is called the Ryoshima Coast which is, in my humble opinion, is the largest region in Okami. It’s also my favorite region. It takes me longer to get through this section than both the first and final sections . . .combined! There are just so many important characters and events that occur in and around Ryoshima. Notable locations: Sei-An City, City Checkpoint, Dragon Palace, and Oni Island. Notable enemies: Blight and NineTails, the big-bad of the Ryoshima Coast.
The final leg of Amaterasu and Issun’s quest takes place in Kamui, the snow-covered lands to the north. It is also referred to as the Land of Darkness several times in the game. Finding this place took me completely by surprise when I played Okami for the first time. It was never mentioned and I had no idea it even existed until it was time to go there and straighten out the chaos the lands to the north had fallen into. I totally understand why Issun never brought it up during all of our crazy adventures in Eastern Nippon and on the Ryoshima Coast. It’s because (spoiler alert!) that’s where Ponc’tan, his home village, located. Notable areas of Kamui include: Wep’ker Village, Yoshpet Forest, Wawku Shrine, Laochi Lake, and The Ark of Yamato. Notable enemies: all of the big-bads from the previous two regions, twin mechanical demons Lechku and Nechku, and the lord of all evil himself: Yami.
All right. NOW let’s get into the gameplay. There are plenty of things to do in the wondrous world of Okami, but the activity you’ll engage in the most is exploration. As I mentioned earlier, there are treasures and untold riches hidden throughout the landscape(s). Grab as much loot as you can; it can really pay off later in the game. You’re gonna need to be filthy, stinkin’ rich by the time you reach your ultimate destination.
Using and restoring the power of the Celestial Brush is the whole reason for Ameterasu and Issun’s little trip across Nippon. With it, Ammy can bend the fabric (or paper) or reality to her will, command the forces of nature, and screw with people to her heart’s content. Shiranui (Ammy’s previous incarnation) once wielded a complete Celestial Brush which was powered by all 13 Gods of the Brush, which are based on the animals of the Eastern Zodiac with the cat making 13. They were all lost and scattered to the four corners of the world when Shiranui met her end at the . . .um . . .heads of the evil Orochi. Many suffered terrible fates. For example: Yumigami, the god of the moon, was swallowed by a huge fish. I could go into great detail about each god, what power they bestow, where they ended up, etc. But there’s a perfectly good wikia page I found that explains everything beautifully.
When I really think about it, the whole “Okami” experience is built entirely around the Celestial Brush mechanic. All of that exploration stuff I was talking about, finding new brush powers, using the ones you already have to find new ones, fighting through hordes of monsters . . .Oh, right! That’s the other thing you’ll spend a lot of time doing: ripping through creatures that look like they crawled right of a book of Japanese folklore. Your brushwork is often the key to ensuring they have a bad time.
You will have plenty of weapons to choose from to get the job done. They are divided into three distinct types:
- Reflectors. They are the first kind of weapon you receive in-game and look a lot like mirrors.
- Rosaries. Strands of sacred beads that are almost whip-like when used in combat. I think they’re the best weapons in the game because they can deliver the most hits in the shortest amount of time.
- Glaives. They’re basically swords. Sorry I don’t have much to say about these. I just didn’t like using them very much and couldn’t get into the swing of things. (Hint hint.)
And you can find these weapons all over the place. There are a few given as rewards for taking down certain monsters. There are even some that require you to shell out some serious yen to purchase.
All of the weapons you find can be equipped as both main and sub weapons which changes how they function during battles. They can also be powered up with a substance called gold dust that is only available in limited quantities. You can buy it at certain shops or receive it for completing specific side quests. Please keep in mind that each weapon can only be powered up once so choose wisely. Or just don’t bother using the gold dust on the first couple weapons you get. They kinda suck.
If any of you lovely people reading this review would like the pleasure and challenge of experiencing this hidden treasure of a game, then here are a few things you should keep in mind.
- You gon’ be in it for the long haul. Okami is NOT a game you can just breeze through. Be prepared to spend at least 30 hours or more with this game . . .especially if you want those delicious presents from Issun at the end. That guy gets his hands on some pretty good stuff.
- Remember what I said about that gold dust. There’s only so much of it you can get during any given playthrough. And once you’ve used it all − that’s it! No more for you! So start a new game file and remind yourself that the first few weapons are gonna be garbage whether you power them up or not.
- Be open to the idea (and the tedium) of grinding monsters for cash. I suggest getting your grind on in the Ryoshima Coast area. There are decent payouts for quickly and efficiently taking out every monster you find.
Even though everything starts off at a snail’s pace and can drag at times, Okami is still one of the most memorable games I have ever played. I love the rich story, the colorful characters, and the living, breathing environments. And thanks to its stylized, cel-shaded graphics it has aged remarkably well despite being nearly eight years old. I once heard someone say that “cartoony” graphics hold up a lot better over time than more “realistic” ones.
I would urge any fan of adventure games to check this game out if the opportunity ever arises. I can almost guarantee that you will not be disappointed. There’s just so much here to like, especially for all of those Legend of Zelda fans out there. That may be why is so thoroughly enjoyed playing through a game like Okami for the first time. I was reminded of everything I have come to hold dear about Zelda . . .only Okami puts more emphasis on exploring the world rather than puzzle solving. Come to think of it, it don’t recall encountering a single brainteaser in all eight of the years I’ve been playing this game. Huh. Kinda surprised at myself for not noticing that sooner. Oh well. There’s still so much awesome adventuring to be had.