Okami Review (Switch)
Release Date: August 8, 2018
File Size: 9.2 GB
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
I can’t help but feel a certain degree of trepidation at sitting down to write a review for the marvellous work of art that is Okami. For one, it’s a game that immediately stole the hearts of critics and players alike when it first launched on the Playstation 2 nearly fifteen years ago, winning numerous awards and being heralded at the time as one of the greatest games ever created.
Actually, let’s dwell on that for a second. It is perhaps a bit odd to be reviewing a game so many years after its release. Even the HD-remastered version of Okami has been out on the Nintendo Switch since 2018. Alas, I was something of a hold out, a skeptic-turned-believer only during the past couple of months when I finally relented and gave this Capcom classic a shot for the very first time. What was I skeptical about? For now, let’s just say that I had my reservations about the game’s unique art style and the canine manifestation of its lead protagonist—but more on that later.
Hence, on the one hand, I have to consider that an abundance of praise and minute analyses has already inundated the sphere of discussion in which Okami still has relevance. On the other hand, as a new initiate into the world of Okami fandom, I have to ask myself: How can I do a game of this caliber justice with but my meager command over the English language?
That is the conundrum in which I find myself. If you are like me and somehow slept on this behemoth of a game over the past decade and a half, I hope the following exposé will persuade you to give Okami a second look. And if you have already thoroughly enjoyed this timeless saga, channeled through the action-adventure genre under the guidance of Hideki Kamiya (director of the original Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Bayonetta, and co-founder of the reputable PlatinumGames, responsible for titles like Star Fox Zero, Nier: Automata, and Astral Chain—yeah, you get the picture), then I can only aspire to pen something that you’ll find valuable on this trip down memory lane.
Thus, without further ado, I offer my best attempt at doing Okami justice.
A Modern Folktale
The story and setting of Okami take place in a fictionalized version of feudal Japan (Nippon) and borrows heavily from the mythologies and folklore of Japan’s indigenous religion, Shintoism. The game incorporates characters and tales from real-life legends of old in much the same way that a series like God of War, or Supergiant’s masterful roguelite Hades, unfolds within the backdrop of ancient Greek mythology.
You won’t need any prior familiarity with the deities and heroes of the Shinto tradition to fully appreciate the narrative that is told here as the story is completely self-contained and is, insofar as I can discern (being as unacquainted with Shintoism as your next average Westerner), only an ostensible retelling of its time-honored epics and dramas. That is, don’t expect to come out of Okami well-versed in Japanese mythology.
While the game is loosely based upon these ancient tales, the developers have taken a fair amount of creative license, introducing a number of their own characters and plot devices and changing the source material to produce a wholly original and unique narrative in Okami. That being said, if you have no knowledge of Japanese history and the gods and goddesses once revered throughout the island nation, Okami is at least a useful and enjoyable introduction.
The game begins in Kamiki Village with a bit of dialogue explaining how the peace and stability of this humble habitation was annually interrupted by a nearby, eight-headed, cave-dwelling demon named Orochi. Every year the foul beast would require a maiden from the village to be sacrificed upon its altar to quench its thirst for blood. One particular year, the helpless victim chosen by the demonic monster was a poor young girl named Nami. However, the village hero, Nagi, who had a secret infatuation with Nami, would not stand idly by while his prospective lover was cruelly devoured.
At the same time, there was also a white wolf (the Japanese word for wolf is ‘okami’) that would peruse the village at night, acting as its protector though the village’s inhabitants believed this wolf was a familiar of Orochi, sent to remind them of the constant threat posed by the flesh-eating fiend. The wolf—dubbed by the local villagers as Shiranui but in truth the mother of all life, the goddess Amaterasu incarnate—was repeatedly challenged by Nagi, but always swiftly fled before the warrior could engage it in combat.
When the night of the annual ritual arrived, Nagi cloaked himself in the sacrificial garb meant for Nami and snuck into the Moon Cave where Orochi awaited his human meal. A fierce battle ensued and, as great of a warrior as Nagi proved himself to be, his efforts to slay the eight-headed demon were in vain. However, just as all hope seemed to be lost, the white wolf appeared. Together Nagi and Shiranui managed to defeat Orochi, sealing him away in the Moon Cave by the force of Shiranui’s ‘Celestial Brush’ (her divine creative powers used for restoring order to the natural world) and Nagi’s legendary sword, Tsukuyomi.
Unfortunately, their victory came at a price as Shiranui was mortally wounded. As a result, the powers of the Celestial Brush were dispersed throughout Nippon, taking the form of deities that represent the twelve animals of the zodiac, plus a thirteenth (the cat, which, according to Chinese mythology, was apparently tricked by the rat and hence ultimately excluded from the traditional twelve that comprise most zodiac lists). The saddened villagers erected a shrine to the white wolf Shiranui and eventually the momentous events that transpired faded into the collective memory of Kamiki’s fabled past as the decades drifted by.
If you have ever wanted to play a video game as a female Sun deity masquerading as a wolf—with an ability to use a paintbrush that can manipulate nature so as to strike enemies with lightning bolts or ghastly winds that have the potential to inflict heavy damage—then you’ve found the perfect game in Okami. However, you won’t be able to flaunt your godly powers right away.
All of this esoteric-sounding background information that I have provided (and it really isn’t as confusing as it may seem once the adventure gets moving, or, at least no more so than your typical JRPG) establishes the primary objective that you are given when you first take control of Okami Amaterasu within the initial moments of booting up the game.
You will immediately learn that one hundred years have passed since the battle with Orochi. The sword which kept his dark powers at bay in the Moon Cave, the blade called Tsukuyomi, has been disturbed from its resting place, causing the demonic menace to awaken once again. Fearing for the people of Kamiki Village and Nippon at large, a wood sprite named Sakuya, who makes her abode in the Konohana tree–the guardian deity of the village–visits the shrine of Shiranui which the villagers of Kamiki erected all those years ago. There Sakuya uses all of her powers to bring Amaterasu back to life.
There is only one problem: Amaterasu, having been asleep for one hundred years, has lost her memory and no longer possesses the Celestial Brush techniques that once made her so formidable. Thus, you must set out to recover the thirteen missing brush techniques and put a stop to Orochi before he begins to wreak havoc upon the maidens of Kamiki Village as he did the century prior.
But you are not on this journey alone! At the moment that Sakuya is informing Amaterasu of the situation at hand, a bug-sized sprite jumps out from Sakuya’s dress and decides to accompany Amaterasu on her mission. You’re introduced to the ‘Wandering Artist’ Issun, of a race of people known as ‘Poncles’, these hominids standing no more than a few centimeters high. Issun rides around on Amaterasu’s head and is the comic relief of the game; though no larger than an insect, he has the libido of your typical fifteen year old and falls head over heels for practically every woman you meet along your adventure.
I’ve said enough with regards to the story (though no more than you will learn within your first ten minutes of playing it), but this is only a cursory introduction. The narrative is spread across three main story arcs, of which the confrontation with Kamiki Village’s eight-headed scourge is the first. The tale that Okami weaves is one that will take you dozens of hours to complete, across a variety of terrains in its uniquely styled, old-fashioned vision of Nippon which involves dozens of intriguing and magical characters. It is, of course, best that you discover all of this for yourself, so I’ll only make a few additional comments on the storytelling, chiefly as it concerns the quality of Okami’s writing.
A Goddess In Wolves’ Clothing
Over the course of the first ten or fifteen hours, I wasn’t sold on the dialogue of Okami. At least, the English translation felt somewhat juvenile, too cliché and simplistic, its elements of humor are at times genuinely funny, other times merely crass (this was specifically the case with the ever horny Issun). Nonetheless, when I got further into what can appropriately be called ‘Act II’, I began to feel myself growing more attached to the various characters that I met, and more engaged to the story that began unfolding in increasingly unpredictable ways.
I was particularly charmed by the mystery and uncertainty of it all, the journey taking Amataresu and Issun through lovely countrysides, profuse with wildlife and quirky NPCs that ranged from your standard merchants and fishermen, to roadside prophets and temple priestesses. More importantly, I began to appreciate every new encounter more and more as I learned to take the game’s dialogue less seriously.
In fact, I believe the game itself demands this. Rather than attempt to tell an epic tale with a central moral or sagacious tidbits sprinkled throughout—the game is in many ways but a story about a wolf and a boy, an adventure that forges an unlikely friendship, and is really (in my view) aiming to accomplish little more than elicit and spread mere delight. And as I began to think of the game as such, and let myself be absorbed by this joy ride that is meant to be taken for little more than light-hearted fun, I thought to myself that perhaps I had been unfairly critical of the game’s writing in its earlier sections.
And yet, the strange thing about all of this, is that when I had finally reached the game’s finale—after around 50 hours (which was nowhere near completion though I did acquire quite a few additional items and enhancements that are entirely optional)—I found the story veritably touching. I was moved by it. And only now has it just struck me what I actually loved so much about the writing in Okami when all was said and done:
The game totally lacks any pretentiousness. Everything about the game, from the interactions and relationships between its characters to the brush strokes that form every rock and flower, is seeping with—what’s the word I’m looking for here?—sincerity?
Yes. That’s where Okami derives the earnestness it possesses. It is simply a story and an experience that feels… wholly sincere. I’m not sure if that makes any sense to you but that seems to be the sentiment that I took away from the game, especially now as I seek to understand what it was about Okami that gradually enthralled me so completely.
Well, whatever the case may be, sincerity in a game is one thing, greatness is another. To ask whether or not Okami is a great game is sort of like asking whether or not one can find anything cute to bring home the next time they visit Japan. But what makes Okami great isn’t primarily its story (though it is); for that we must discuss its gameplay.
A Wolf’s Life
Above I mentioned that one of the reservations I had going into Okami was controlling a wolf as the game’s main protagonist. The one other experience that I can recall playing as a ferocious four-legged brute was in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (coincidentally, the two titles were released only months apart in North America), and the instances in that game where you are transformed into ‘Wolf Link’ were always my least favorite sections. As it happens, there are a lot more similarities between Okami and the Zelda series of which to speak but this was one point of contact that I was less than enthusiastic about prior to my actually playing the game.
Thankfully, assuming the role of this feisty canine goddess turned out to be immensely satisfying, largely owing to the game’s responsive and intuitive controls (for the most part). There is a lot of ground to cover with regards to gameplay, from the game’s large territories that conceal a vast amount of collectibles, to its dungeons replete with puzzles, upgrades, platforming segments, and of course, combat. Let’s begin with the latter.
Like the game’s writing, it took me some time to fully come to grips with the combat in Okami. Towards the beginning of the adventure, before I acquired the first few brush techniques, its enemy encounters felt a bit too ‘button-mashy’. The game’s fighting sequences are something of a cross between typical action-adventure fare and more traditional RPGs. Enemies roam the field in the form of floating demonic scrolls and getting too close to one will cause it to attack you, initiating a battle screen.
When you enter into a fight, mystifying dark walls pop up around you and your foe, forming a bounded arena in which the battle commences, containing space to freely move and evade or attack. The demonic scroll takes the shape of one of the game’s plentiful monster types, creating a sense of randomness as the different scrolls you see while traversing the map initially all appear the same while the opponents that emerge in the actual fight always fluctuate in number and kind.
Before Amaterasu recovers her magical painting capabilities, your primary actions in combat will revolve around evading, jumping, and dashing at the enemy to target it with your weapon or ‘divine instrument’, the first of which you receive is called a ‘Reflector’ (a disc that can also be used to block incoming attacks).
Over the course of the game, along with ‘Reflectors’, Amaterasu can equip ‘Rosaries’ and ‘Glaives’, different weapon types that include their own special abilities. These comprise the three variant categories of ‘divine instruments’ that Amaterasu can procure, with five divine instruments available for each category, resulting in a grand total of fifteen different weapons located throughout the game.
Moreover, you have two slots in which these weapons can be equipped: Your main and sub weapon slots. It was a pleasure to experiment with different combinations of weapon types as no single choice or grouping is necessarily better than another, depending on how you wish to approach an opponent. This all becomes more relevant later on, however, as it takes some time before the game really opens up to include these alternative options which, for me, made the game increasingly fun and interesting the further that I got.
Aside from the Reflector, you also get the brush technique ‘Power Slash’ near the start of your journey. This is by far the most potent and useful attack at this point in the game but I’ll speak more on the brush techniques in a moment. For the time being, you’re forced to mostly rely upon your melee attacks. Now, as I said, this felt somewhat ‘mashy’ and repetitive and, coupled with my unfamiliarity and skepticism about commanding a wolf, didn’t immediately capture my attention.
On top of that, though the controls in Okami are on the whole very good, it did take me some time to adjust to them. I think it boiled down to having to grow comfortable with the fact that I was directing a wolf, which simply felt quite different than anything I usually play, especially in the action-adventure genre. There were times during the first few hours that I found the combat frustrating and preferred to merely avoid enemies. However, once I got the hang of it, and, as I said, the game opened up more, fighting became an experience that I relished rather than dreaded.
The most unique feature of Okami, both inside and outside of its battle sequences, is the ability to use a paintbrush to manipulate the effects that occur on-screen. The Switch version of Okami also fittingly takes advantage of both touchscreen and motion-control functionality via the Joy-cons, which is a nice addition but one that I rarely utilized.
Basically, apart from the weapons and move sets that you obtain (moves like ‘Fleetfoot’, which allows you to quickly and conveniently jump away from an enemy attack, or double-jump, which is exactly what the name implies, among many others), you also acquire powerful skills called ‘brush techniques’. As the Sun goddess, or ‘origin of all that is good and mother to us all’, as the other deities you meet are disposed to remind you, Amaterasu has the special ability to use a paintbrush by which you can literally draw lines and shapes on your Switch or TV screen to produce devastating blows against your adversaries.
‘Power Slash’, for example, one of the first techniques you will learn (or re-learn, as part of Amaterasu’s quest is recovering her memory and identity, including her scattered powers), consists of holding the R button—which brings up the ‘drawing screen’—and then using the left joystick (or touchscreen, or left or right Joy-con, depending on which one you assign) to draw a line across the screen. This will cause a ‘slash’ to inflict your target. You also acquire a technique called ‘Cherry Bomb’, which involves drawing a circle and then a line for the wick, creating a bomb that detonates after a couple of seconds.
The size of the drawing, in this case a circle, will vary the location or potency of the assault. For example, drawing a smaller bomb will place it further away from you while drawing a larger one will place it closer. Likewise, once you have gained mastery over the forces of nature and can usher a powerful gust of wind against your opponent, the larger the symbol you draw on-screen (in this instance, a swirl), the stronger the ‘Galestorm’ will be.
All of the brush techniques that you come by possess numerous ways in which they can be employed, and if it sounds terribly intimidating at first, fear not! The game is extremely user-friendly in that you have a compendium that contains not only your entire move set and different brush techniques, complete with detailed instructions on how to use them, and to which you can refer at any time, but the game also records every enemy you meet. Your ‘Bestiary’, as it is called, offers useful tips to help you remember which brush techniques may be required to take down any given foe (sometimes elements are involved, e.g. water might be needed to annihilate a fire-based enemy, and so on).
Outside of combat, the brush techniques are also useful (and sometimes necessary) for reaching areas previously unattainable, obtaining new items, and gaining ‘Praise’ points. For example, the first technique you recover, ‘Rejuvenation’, allows you to revive wilted flowers found throughout Nippon that reward you with ‘Praise’. Speaking of ‘Praise’ points, these can also be gained by feeding any of the numerous wild animals that you find spread across the land, though for this you will need to buy the right kind of food for your ‘Feedbag’ (seeds for birds, herbs for rabbits, fish for bears, etc.).
It is important to claim Praise whenever afforded the opportunity, as the points can be spent on increasing your Solar Energy or Ink Pots (the equivalent of Zelda’s Heart Containers and Magic Meter, respectively), your Astral Pouch (additional lives if Amaterasu dies), or your wallet size.
I could go on and on about the usefulness of other brush techniques when roaming Okami’s incredibly rich landscapes, so let me just mention two more examples: Before Amaterasu gains the ability to walk on water, you’ll be limited in the duration that she can swim before tiring out and sinking to her death (fortunately, you only lose a unit of health and reset to dry land). To bypass this, you can get a technique called ‘Water Lily’. As the name suggests, draw a circle in the water and voila! A lily pad appears, allowing you to step onto it without fear of drowning. Couple that with ‘Galestorm’ and now you have a makeshift raft!
Okami is full of diverse methods for approaching virtually any situation and is one of the elements that makes its gameplay feel so fresh and compelling, even now in 2021. Just be mindful of your Ink Pots! The ink you have on hand when using your brush techniques is not infinite (unless you have an item that grants temporary infinite ink), and if you run out, you’ll have to wait a few moments for them to refill. In some situations, this can be quite costly!
I’ve said a lot about combat and the ways in which the game’s unique drawing function helps to keep the gameplay feeling innovative and exciting, and yet I have honestly only scratched the surface. However, since I am already approaching 4,000 words for this review, I’ll try to limit my remarks on the other aspects of Okami’s gameplay as much as possible while still divulging enough information to give you some sense of everything that this colossal game encompasses.
After all, most of your time in Okami will likely not be spent in combat and in drawing (though that’s a big part) but rather in exploring the hidden secrets of Nippon, discovering items that can be sold or equipped as improvements to your character (which make the experience more fluid), the occasional mini-game, and finally, the game’s handful of Zelda-esque dungeons that you must clear.
A quick word on the mini-games first: There are primarily three variant mini-games that you’ll come across in Okami. There is a timed ‘digging’ mini-game that involves Amaterasu trying to help an NPC reach a point underground, usually to locate a treasure, by clearing a number of obstacles in the NPCs path using the paintbrush. There is a ‘whack-a-mole’ themed mini-game that requires you to headbutt a specific mole when he briefly pops out of the ground while he and his cohorts repeatedly switch places. This was easily the most obnoxious of the bunch and always served to highlight and remind me of whatever few complaints that I had with the game’s controls and camera movements. And then there is fishing.
Fishing is a delightful distraction that rewards you with sellable sea creatures and probably a great sense of accomplishment if you’re a completionist seeking to 100% your ‘Fish Tome’, but truthfully, I never had much patience for it. By and large all of these mini-games are fairly simple diversions from the meat of the quest, which I appreciated having as options to play but at no point did I ever intentionally seek them out. It’s cool that the developers sought to add such variety to the gameplay but my feelings about these mini-games extend little beyond that.
Next, let’s talk about the game’s five or so dungeons. It’s all but impossible to thoroughly discuss Okami without repeated references to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series, and Hideki Kamiya has made it no secret that A Link to the Past is one of the games that has inspired his creative output the most. Arguably no element of Okami reveals the shared DNA that it possesses with the Zelda franchise more than the design layout of its dungeons.
Like Zelda, Okami’s dungeons consist of a series of rooms, both big and small, wherein you are confronted with enemies, puzzles, and impenetrable doors which require finding keys to open them. Okami’s puzzles never approach the level of sophistication and obscurity that Zelda’s enigmas sometimes present, usually necessitating the use of the brush to overcome, but they can still involve some degree of riddle-solving that demands a bit of thoughtful consideration.
Also familiar to players of Zelda, Okami’s labyrinths eventually reward you with a dungeon map and a new ability that becomes integral to progressing through the remaining challenges posed by each fortress, culminating in a final confrontation with the dungeon’s boss. Overall, I won’t say that the dungeons in Okami were on par with some of the better sequences that Zelda has introduced over the years, at least in terms of the ingenuity of their construction, but they are also less central to the game’s constitution; even so, they were no less memorable, and well-conceived enough that they certainly fulfilled their core purpose of enriching the total experience.
I’ve alluded to the fact Okami is brimming with collectibles and, indeed, when you’re not fighting, working your way through a dungeon, or progressing the storyline, you’ll likely be stumbling upon these in every corner of the large regions that make up Okami’s interpretation of Nippon. You’ll be wall-jumping, digging, smashing rocks, feeding animals, and rejuvenating nature to collect Praise points, retrieving items that either make combat easier or are sellable for additional loot, and accumulating yen, the currency used in Nippon (naturally).
Yen can be exchanged at the nearest merchant for various tools or given to ‘Onigiri Sensei’, a dojo instructor who is all too eager to teach you new combat moves… for the right price. The fastest way to expand your riches is by fighting enemies, each battle rewarding you with bonus yen depending on how quickly you can take out your foe and how little damage you receive in the process.
There’s undoubtedly a lot that I’m leaving out here but hopefully this will suffice to demonstrate that Okami is a highly ambitious title with a plethora of activities and achievements in which to participate. It makes for a gameplay experience that recalls the best action-adventure games of yesteryear, its vast array of mementos and keepsakes always obliging one to explore every nook and cranny in hopes of discovering another new item to add to the ‘Treasure Tome’.
Some Small Bones To Pick
My only two (minor) complaints about Okami’s gameplay are its camera movements and occasionally frustrating platforming sections. You are more or less given full range over the camera’s direction, with some exceptions, which by default typically follows closely behind Amaterasu as in other third-person adventure games. One exception to this is in combat, where the camera takes a slightly zoomed-out, more overhead view that allows you to see the entire battle area. Though you are given freedom to move the camera even here, it still created situations with somewhat awkward camera angles that hindered the fluidity of a combat system which otherwise feels very solid.
The other issue that I had were the few, brief segments that required Amaterasu to leap across platforms. While you do have a double-jump, it always seemed shorter than it ought to be, in part due to stiff controls when attempting to vault off a ledge. The game naturally stops you at cliffs so that you don’t simply fall off them when you approach the edge. This is great until you actually want to leap forward. You are able to do so by pressing the jump button but the aforementioned built-in safety precaution always caused my lunge to feel slightly hampered.
Again, this wasn’t a big deal but served to create some moments wherein I thought the controls could have been a bit tighter (to be fair, I spent the previous months playing through the three outstanding Mario games in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, which do a superb job in implementing their platforming controls; however, if I was spoiled by the red plumber in that regards, their atrocious camera movements—particularly in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy—made Okami feel like a cakewalk in comparison).
‘Suiboku-ga’ or ‘sumi-e’ is a style of ink wash painting that originated in China and became popular in Japan following the 14th-century. It is, along with the genre of Japanese art called ‘ukiyo-e’ (literally, ‘pictures of the floating world’) also a key inspiration for the art direction in Okami. While I am not qualified to speak on that connection or on how faithfully Okami recreates the imagery of old in its clear attempt to pay homage to Japan’s artistic past, I can say that, contrary to some previous misgivings which I expressed here, Okami is visually a dazzling production.
In fact, notwithstanding that this iteration is remastered in high-definition, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the graphics were designed within the past five years rather than the fifteen years ago in which they were actually made. It’s pretty incredible for a PS2 game to hold up this well, especially when compared to other titles of the mid-aughts, and it speaks to the foresight of the developers in choosing a style that has effectively withstood the harsh judgements of time.
Its vibrant palette and unique watercolor displays are enduring in a way that I think has made so many classic games from the Super Nintendo-era continually relevant in their aesthetic appeal, remaining benchmarks that even present-day indie developers commonly strive to capture in look and feel; this is in stark contrast to the ugly appearance of numerous titles that followed once video games took the leap into three-dimensions, unable to really pay heed to the level of clarity, smoothness, and detail requisite for maintaining an attractive facade as the technology of game design sped towards evermore realistic endeavors. However, Okami still looks beautiful and I suspect that in fifty years’ time this will, for many people, continue being true.
But enough about the game’s graphics. I loved them, despite my initial reluctance, and whether or not you’re sold by the screenshots you see here or the videos you may have seen over the years will depend on your own aesthetic tastes. Instead, I would like to focus on a couple of areas wherein I think the game’s presentation could have been improved, especially in this latest version.
A Couple More Bones
The first mainly involves the UI surrounding the game’s day and night cycles. While in due course you are given the prerogative to control time (if you want there to be daylight, simply draw a sun in the sky; for nighttime, scribble a crescent to entreat the moon), there are still many instances in the game when your activities will be abruptly interrupted by a short cutscene notifying you that the hour has passed from day to night or vice versa. This is perhaps necessary as the differences in time and lighting can reveal the location of treasures not visible otherwise.
For example, a chest concealed beneath the dirt may only be barely visible under the sun while it gives off a beaming glow at night which makes it easily spottable. And though you can always press the ‘+’ button to skip these fleeting event sequences, they nevertheless pop up from time to time at the most inopportune moments (like when I was racing a deliveryman and was forced to start over after the moon’s intrusion). After the tenth—or fiftieth—time of watching the camera pan out to inform me that the sun or moon was materialising, I had simply wished they had done away with this transitionary interval altogether.
Another aspect of the game’s presentation that I found obnoxious, though to a lesser extent, is its grating ‘voice-acting.’ Now, I don’t personally care if a game features spoken dialogue or not. Sometimes I prefer to merely read the text on-screen as it enables me to imagine the sounds and personalities of the characters more than if I were listening to them speak. And oftentimes I find the voice-acting featured in games downright dreadful.
Okami, fortunately, doesn’t spoil its characters with poor voice-overs in the same way that a game like Breath of the Wild does (okay, its Japanese dubs sound great, but that English-speaking version of Zelda… just no). In Okami, whenever NPCs speak they exhibit the sort of muffled gibberish you might be familiar with from playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons or hearing adults talk in the classic children’s cartoon, Peanuts.
And now for one major caveat with regards to my audio complaints: If I had simply managed to go to the game’s ‘Sound Settings’ and turn off ‘Voice Volume’, I would have spared myself (and my fiancée) all of the noisome blabber that its characters spewed forth! Alas, the fault is, in part, my own.
A High Note
I’d be remiss to conclude this section of the review on a negative note, so I’ll touch on one final element of the game’s presentation that is without question one of its principal triumphs: Okami’s musical score. In keeping with the theme of classical Nippon, lead composer Masami Ueda (Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta) employed a number of Eastern and Japanese stringed-instruments, such as the erho and the shamisen, along with more familiar sounds derived from pianos, guitars, percussion instruments, and so forth.
Ueda-san has stated that while traditional Japanese melodies were an inspiration, he also borrowed heavily from music overseas as well as—curious enough—‘CDs of children’s song’, aiming for ‘a sense of healing’. Ueda-san wasn’t the only composer involved and the game’s soundtrack presents a variety of styles, moods, and themes, each perfectly chosen to fit the scene in which its full impact is felt. As much affection as I feel for just about every facet of Okami, I must reiterate that its musical composition has to rank somewhere at the top.
Best of all, I should add—though at the risk of revealing a minor non-story-related spoiler—upon completion of the remastered version you receive ‘Presents From Issun’, including ‘Okami Art’ and ‘Okami Music.’ The gallery consists of scrolls that feature hundreds of lustrous ‘suiboku-ga’ and ‘ukiyo-e’-styled illustrations, the concept art for most (if not all) of the characters, enemies, and locales you encounter throughout the journey, while the bonus tunes appear to be the game’s complete soundtrack–literally all 218 of its brilliantly arranged tracks (they’re not numbered and I didn’t count, but there’s a lot). There are a couple of other extras tossed in at the end as well but I’ll leave that as a surprise for you to ascertain on your own.
A Remastered Masterpiece
I fear there’s not much more that I can say at this point to convince you to play Okami if you have not yet played it or are not yet persuaded. In my view, there are great games and then there are perfect games. I can’t say that Okami is perfect but… it’s pretty darn close. It is easily one of my favorite games available on the Nintendo Switch.
And while I know that by this point I have already invoked The Legend of Zelda ad nauseum throughout this exhaustive assessment (which, as I suggested earlier, has practically been the case in every article and review of Okami since its original 2006 release), I have to consider that this is something of a disservice to Okami. It is as if its identity is forever linked (no pun intended) to that prestigious franchise, and–though this in-itself can be seen as something of a badge of honor–I feel that it has somewhat left Okami in the shadows, overlooked as the sort of game one should play if one also likes the more popular and more widely-marketed Zelda games.
Well, I want to say: You should play Okami if you like video games, period. And particularly if you like action-adventure games with light RPG elements, a lush world to navigate, an inscrutable number of secrets to discover, and engaging combat. Plus, the game is usually only $19.99 on the eShop (and marked 50% off at an astonishingly low price of $10 at the moment that I am writing this!). That is an absolute steal for a game that I’d value at no less than twice that.
To be blunt, you have no excuse to hold out any longer as I foolishly did the past fifteen years!
And if it truly is impossible to mention Okami without speaking of Zelda in the same breath (again, uh, no pun intended…), then, though perhaps offending the sensibilities of both series’ fans, I must boldly declare:
Sans Breath of the Wild (which is not your conventional 3D Zelda adventure), Okami just might be my favorite 3D Zelda game ever made.