I should just turn this into an all-gaming blog, at least for the holiday season. I picked up Okami last Saturday and spent most of the past week playing it. It’s basically perfect and has the most amazing art direction, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen in a game. If you’ve played a Zelda game over the years, particularly the N64 or Gamecube ones, you know essentially how Okami plays – an easy to control combat system but with some depth, a large 3d world that at the beginning is mostly unavailable to you, a gradual accumulation of items and skills that allow you to work your way past the obstacles that initially keep you from further exploration of the world, a cast of whimsical characters to interact with, lots of humor, and an ultimate foozle you need to overcome to save the world.
Okami also adds a few things beyond spectacular art direction. Most notably the game equips you with a calligraphy pen, and at almost any point in the game you can stop time and use the pen to draw symbols which either have specific effects when in combat or allow you to alter the gameworld. Your library of symbols grows over time and includes things like destructive slashes, the ability to ‘fill in’ missing areas of architecture (a broken bridge, a missing water wheel), the ability to cause vegetation to grow, to create wind, move fire or water, and more. It’s a really clever game mechanic and it’s well implemented. While there are occasional issues with pattern recognition, on the whole it works really well.
The game’s vibe is the other thing that’s really great. While the game has plenty of combat, at core your mission is to restore life and beauty to a world that’s under assault. The first time you manage to restore an area and see the animation of a lush, beautiful wilderness sweeping over what had been barren and sterile, your jaw will drop. Plus it’s a core mechanic – you’re constantly bringing trees, bushes, bodies of water and so on back to a healthy state, and pausing to feed the woodland critters. There’s this feeling of wholesome affirmation that I’ve never felt in a game before and it’s really very very cool.
You can’t go wrong with this game if you enjoy the genre. It’s gone from ‘gee, I’m curious about this game’ to ‘this is one of the best ps2 games I’ve ever played, and perhaps one of my favorite console games ever’ in the space of a week. The fact that I’m still playing it is testament to how good it is – usually I love trying new games but quickly tire of them, but this one has kept me captivated all week for hours at a time. Check it out of if you have a ps2. Screenshots and more are over here on gamerankings, but while the screenshots are impressive, you really need to see it in action.