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Okami | review | game | Lollipop
(Capcom for PS2)
by Mike Delano
As the game industry winds down its third decade of existence, one trend you can always count on is the prevalence of high-quality games for systems that are in the process of being replaced.
It happened most strikingly with the Super Nintendo. Chrono Trigger and Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2, considered among the best games ever released in their respective genres, weren't released during the SNES heyday, but rather 1995, when everyone had traded in their Nintendos for the shiny 32-bit promise of the original Playstation.
And so it goes today: While gamers and critics alike seem eager to close the book on the PS2 in frothing anticipation for titles on the PS3, the former system is seeing some of its best games come to life. Final Fantasy XII is being recognized as the definitive RPG on the PS2, and if God of War 2 can expand on the strengths of the original, it could be the end-all for third-person action games.
Okami fits well in such company. It's one of the best adventure games for the PS2, and it's the crowning achievement of the recently-shuttered Clover Studios, the minds behind the Viewtiful Joe series. It takes place in the world of Japanese mythology; you control Amaterasu, a god who takes the form of a white wolf in order to defeat the evil monster Orochi and restore life to Japan, which lives under the monster's curse.
Visually, it's a gaming experience that shouldn't be missed. The striking, colorful environments, rendered with the stark black lines and fluid style Japanese watercolor paintings, are amazing. Discovering new areas and viewing the landscapes as the day moves from morning to sunset to night is the real inspiration to move forward in the long, slowly paced adventure. Often, the colors aren't particularly bright, but are rendered in a slightly blurred gaze that enhances the game's otherworldly feel. Another attempt to enhance the game's ethereal mystique - having all of the characters speak like Charlie Brown's mom instead of humans - doesn't work nearly as well.
Gameplay-wise, there was almost no way that controlling Amaterasu could live up to the innovation and mastery on display with the game's visual style. Navigating the game world is smooth and easy, but actual combat and action scenarios aren't deep enough to make you want to replay specific scenes or give the game a second run-through once you've completed it. The "brush technique," a pop-up screen that's accessible in and out of combat wherein you draw commands using a calligraphy brush, is a fun novelty. It livens battles and puts you more in touch with the environments while exploring.
Okami's visual charms are considerably bolstered by its great sense of humor. The irreverently drawn cast of characters often spits snappy dialogue, and the comic interplay between Amaterasu and her insect sidekick Issun does a great job of bringing the often melodramatic storyline down to earth.
The fact that Okami is fun to play and has a great personality is why it deserves praise for more than just its visuals. But like Yoshi's Island, there's nothing else that looks quite like it, and that's what will make it a must-play for gamers long after the PS2 has been retired.