Format reviewed: PS2
Ever since Ocarina Of Time, the Zelda games have been a benchmark for epic 3D adventures. Many had tried to mimic this success on other platforms but almost all had failed – while seemingly effortless for Nintendo, that kind of magic had proven practically unattainable for anyone else.
Enter Clover Studio, a small team formed of Capcom’s brightest stars of the time and even with only cult hit Viewtiful Joe under its collective belt, the talented troupe was ready to take the fight to Link. Its weapon of choice? A paintbrush, an implement both in keeping with the unique visual style of Okami and perfectly placed to empower players with the same kind of creative expression in manipulating the game world as the developers showed in building it.
Between the beautiful sumi-e art style and the themes of nature running throughout the game, Okami was a breath of fresh air in a market that had just begun to thrive through trading in explosions and chasing realism above all else. Surrounded by man-with-gun covers, what hope did a cel-shaded game where the main character was a wolf who had to run around making flowers bloom ever really have of making its mark? With development costs rising by the day, we may never see a risk on this level again. But if we don’t, at least we can be happy that Capcom, for whatever reason, saw fit to publish this stunning adventure.
Often referenced as the best Zelda game that doesn’t star Link, Okami has developed something of a cult following and it isn’t hard to see why. Zelda comparisons are impossible to avoid when the game borrows so heavily from the formula Nintendo spent years perfecting, although it’d be unfair to call Clover’s classic a mere imitator.
There’s a synergy in Okami’s mechanics, lore and art that is rare in even the most successful games – everything just gels so perfectly. Having to restore the faith of the people in a slumbering deity long since forgotten means that powering up and regaining abilities feels like part of the narrative rather than an arbitrary videogame trope, while gifting players the same brush that was seemingly used to paint the world is both ingenious and empowering. General combat is incredibly basic in Okami, to the point of Dynasty Warriors simplicity. But through the ability to draw to life such aids as cherry bombs, tornados or flash fires via an in-game brush, a whole spectrum of depth is added. And with each enemy type offering rewards when slain with certain techniques, Clover managed to push players towards a more creative and experimental approach (in line with the game’s style) without ever forcing it upon them.
By isolating encounters to single arenas, Clover was able to offer immediate feedback on just how well players had performed in any given fight – another reason to find and exploit enemy weaknesses. It’s something we’ve seen the Clover vets use since in games like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and it was every bit as effective in promoting self-improvement then as it is now. But perhaps more interesting is the way in which brush skills can be used out of battle. A slashed rock might offer hidden items or a secret area to explore; circling wilting flora with the brush could open up a new route when the whole area springs back into colourful life; conjuring forth inky fire might just lead you to a missing trinket. The world Clover crafted would be a joy to explore even without this layer of interactivity. But with it, there are so many suspicious things to hit, slash, burn, blow and bomb that you could play for weeks and still end up missing stuff.
Couple this with huge areas to explore, devious puzzles to solve and some clever boss battles and you’ve got an adventure that will clearly hold up for years to come – the recent (and well received) PS3 HD re-release proves this perfectly. It may not have made Capcom millions, but Okami stands to be a firm fan favourite all the same – it’s like the opposite of Resident Evil 6 in that regard.
Why It’s A Future Classic
Thanks to its art style, Okami stands the test of time (and will continue to do so) far better than most 3D games of the time, and even the 3D Zelda games. Upscaled to HD on PS3, it’s beautiful, but even on the old hardware, the art direction still holds up. The PS2, for all its Emotion Engine waffle, was no more capable of photorealism than the 2600 and while those who chased that distant dream have fallen from memory, Okami’s unique style still stands out. Game design proves every bit as timeless as the unique visual approach, too – Okami is a great game whichever way you slice it and it’s a real shame that it arrived on the eve of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
With piggy banks filling up ready for new consoles at the time, it’s no real surprise that a game about a wolf with a frisbee on its back didn’t sell particularly well. Still, the fact that Capcom saw fit to honour the game with a ‘sequel’ and the fact that Amaterasu made it into Marvel Vs Capcom 3 should prove to some degree that Okami isn’t the failure it seemed at the time – loved by many, Ammy will live long in the hearts of gamers.