» GH Review: Okami (PS2)
Let's face the facts; the PlayStation 2 will be virtually dead this November when the superior PS3 makes its worldwide debut, so one could easily assume that the rest of the PS2's future is rather bleak. Not all developers have thrown in the towel yet, though, as we can see with the release of an innovative game known only as Okami. Based on an old Japanese legend, gamers take control of a white wolf that can utilize divine powers in order to save the land from the terror incurred by a multi-headed dragon. Delivering an adventure that is easily comparable to titles like The Legend of Zelda, Okami combines an authentic watercolor presentation with an intuitive control interface that will certainly help the PS2 finish on a good note.

What is Okami?
Okami follows the legend of a reborn Japanese god named Amaterasu that returns in the form of a wolf in order to restore life back to the land. 100 years ago a great warrior was able to defeat a merciless eight headed dragon, and now that it has returned hopefully history will take its course again. A tiny bug named Issun will help show you the ropes and is responsible for most of the dialogue in the game, and as always you can expect the pint-sized side kick to have a humorous tough guy attitude. Traditional Japanese themes are delivered in a mythological anime manner, and the art style is like nothing we've ever seen before. Okami delivers a captivating storyline while also bringing out the artistic side in normally unimaginative gamers.

Japanese Art at its Finest
Right from the start it’s clearly noticeable that Okami looks nothing like your traditional PS2 game. Instead of being plagued with rough edges and ugly textures, the developers created watercolor environments that make the world your canvas. The game feels like one giant painting, except for the fact that every object imaginable is teeming with life. The trees dancing back and forth, the sun shining down from the sky, and the running rivers all make the entire experience much more involved simply because everything you do effects the world in some way. For example, defeating a group of enemies will cause flowers to blossom while gliding off a cliff will leave a trail of leaves in your path. As a result, it’s very easy to spend hours simply admiring Okami’s unique visual style. 

Likewise, the soundtrack also fits in flawlessly with the overall Japanese theme, but it would have been nice if a little more work was put into character dialog. Basically, typical Asian instrumentation fills the air to create an overall soothing sound. Sound effects, such as rustling leaves and splashing water, all help build on the illusion that the world is at your disposal. The only real problem in the sound department is that instead of having characters speak with words, the same sounds are repeated over and over again. This can be especially bothersome when your puny companion squeaks for screen after screen of text, but luckily the dialog his dialog is humorous enough to make up for his voice.

Let the Legend Unfold
It's clearly evident that the artistic appearance plays a huge role in regards to visuals, but don't think that's the end of it. Okami's gameplay is based around the use of a Celestial Brush that can be utilized based on divine powers you've earned along your journey. Powered by your fellow Gods, this brush allows you control practically every element in the game such as changing night to day or providing with a much needed gust of wind.

Using the brush can be a little tricky at first, but once you begin to practice different techniques the controls feel almost natural. By holding down the R1 button, time freezes as the current screen transforms into a canvas. Using the left stick to control your brush, tapping the square button will allow you to cover the world in ink. The pressure-sensitive triangle button further allows you to choose between thin or thick lines, but this feature isn't totally necessary but charming nonetheless. For the most part, it can be difficult to draw a circle for a sun or to even draw a straight line if your thumbs are shaky, so there is plenty of leeway in regards to your artistic endeavors. Rather than having to draw a perfect circle for the sun to rise, oblong ovals and even some weird box shapes will more than likely get the job done.

Ammy (short for Amaterasu) can learn more than a dozen brush techniques by the end of the game. Earlier skills allow this wolf to break through heavy objects and rejuvenate broken materials, and as you progress further you'll even be able to create bombs and explode any nuisances. The best part about the inclusion of the brush is that you never feel forced to use it, but instead it's seamlessly integrated to make the adventure as a whole much more rewarding. Any developer could've simply commanded gamers to "go through the motions" of painting, but in Okami it's easy to be overcome with a sense of self accomplishment after thinking of the right skill to use.

Eventually your goal is to defeat Orochi in an epic showdown, but your path to the final battle is ultimately your decision. Technically it's possible to travel through several different worlds, defeat the evil spirits there, and then move on, but a lot of the fun in Okami resides in exploring and completing side missions. Tons of hidden items, such as food and special weapon accessories, will make your journey much easier in the long run. Side missions consist of basic mini-game elements to provide short changes in gameplay every once in a while. Furthermore, completing such quests will earn you Praise, which allows Ammy to level up and increase in areas such as health and available ink for painting. The lands are covered with people in need, and by showing them the Light good things are bound to happen.

The beginning of the game consists of fairly straightforward puzzles and a substantial amount of battle sequences to keep you busy. The initial puzzles are obvious simply to familiarize you with what the Celestial Brush is capable of, but as the game progresses you need to use your past knowledge to figure out how to move on. Seeing Ammy develop from a lone white wolf to a powerful god should invoke some self-pride and just using your brain occasionally is a nice change. Surprisingly enough, the typical minion battles aren't quite as in-depth as we expected. The brush can be used to perform ghastly finishing moves, but otherwise all you can do is jump around and press the same attack button repeatedly. Moments can become pretty heated when several enemies swarm you, but as a whole most of the entertainment lies within puzzles and boss fights.

On the contrary, battling it out with any of the game's bosses requires a lot more work then typical fights, and as a result they are much more fun. Boss fights combine brush techniques with physical demands that require you to think and act hastily in order to survive. Often you'll have to combine several skills Ammy has learned up to that point in order to exploit a boss's weakness, and the only real problem here is that Okami could've used more of these epic battles. However, the included boss fights are tons of fun and really highlight this game's true capabilities.

Okami in the Long Run
Okami is just one of those enthralling titles that grabs hold of you right from the start and never lets go. Even if you've already gone through the storyline, chances are there are treasures, quests, and even bosses still waiting to be uncovered. Okami should last you at least thirty hours, and if you love exploring environments and experiencing everything available then Okami can have so much to offer. This could very well the PS2's last hurrah, and this is incredibly distinct title is definitely worth a purchase by any means.


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