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Review: Okami

Shannon Drake | 26 Sep 2006 15:08
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As I've grown older, my gaming attention span has grown shorter, possibly because I have so much more to distract me now. When I was a kid, I got one trip to the video store per week if I was good, and if I rented something terrible, I still had nothing else to play for a week. I'd persevere, because, what, I'm gonna go outside? Nowadays, I have a fairly impressive library of games I haven't played-understand here that I buy books, games, and movies because I want to experience them eventually, not necessarily now-and I won't tolerate an Athena or (oh god) Bayou Billy for a week. I'm far less likely to dig into a terrible game to find even a morsel of fun like some Dickensian orphan. Instead, I'll turn off the game and make fun of it on the Internet.

Even games I like fall victim to my short attention span. I bought The Ship and played it over a weekend, and haven't touched it since. I bought Hearts of Iron 2, crushed Monty in North Africa, crushed the Poles in Poland, and called it a campaign. But I'm okay with that. I'm long past the point where games need to be long to be fun. I vastly prefer letting my girlfriend play RPGs, go through all the random battles, and otherwise play the game. Me? I stick around for the cutscenes and watch the boss fights, and I'm okay with that. The dark secret of most of the JRPGs I enjoy (not) playing is that the cutscenes are where all the plot happens anyway.

So, Okami, then. I entered the game store in search of something to add to my Smaug-like hoard of games-I-may-or-may-not-actually play. The colorful cover caught my eye immediately-one of the few benefits of a catlike attention span is that shiny things just leap out at you-and I picked it up, studying the back intently, like a chimp figuring out tool-making. Accessing the vast, flaky database of things I've heard about games, and digging through rum and fatigue-shrouded memories of E3, I decided the unique art style and very different plot made this a perfect purchase. I knew I would feel better for purchasing it, much like Killer 7, even if I couldn't actually play it, much like Killer 7.

Unlike Killer 7, I was, in fact, actually able to play Okami. I found a beautiful world with interesting characters and a compelling plot I hadn't played through 800 times before. Sure, it's saving-the-world, but I've seldom saved the world by fighting away dark creatures with a combination of a Kingdom Hearts-style combat system and my expert painting technique. The Celestial Brush is Okami's gimmick, in which your wolf-goddess modifies the world itself by...drawing stuff. The bridge is out? Draw it back in. Need a killer hit to finish off the boss? Draw a slash and he falls before your mighty paintbrush. Fortunately for the artistically-impaired (including myself), the system is actually fairly simple, and relies more on lines, circles, dots, and experimentation than serious heat of battle drawing. And there's an undeniable satisfaction to watching a formerly dead and limp tree burst into riotous bloom and recolor the world after a few brushstrokes. For once, I'm having an undeniable effect on the world, and I see it when I charge through a conquered area. The grass is greener, the trees and flowers are blooming, the water is blue rather than sludge, people aren't statues anymore, progress is being made. Being a goddess, I can also put the sun in the sky to admire my work in daylight. How cool is that?

Simply, the world is beautiful. The team behind Okami spent their time creating a unique, very different world, rather than making every surface reflective. Points for that. Seriously, I'm having trouble accomplishing things and moving the game forward because I'm completely content to run around the world poking into nooks and crannies and taking in the scenery. The combat almost feels secondary, though I am assured there's plenty ahead. That's not to say it's not fun. The enemy and creature design is one of the highlights of the game, and the combat can be very intense, but the world itself is so interesting that I'm content to wander around it, occasionally accomplishing things, as was the case with Link to the Past and Wind Waker. Combat is there, and I have a lot of fun with it when it pops up, but it almost feels secondary to running around, poking into corners, digging for stuff, and otherwise exploring the world.

And, thank the gods, they left most of the Japanese stuff alone. The dialogue is translated, but they made the outstanding decision to go with Sim-style voices that vaguely sound right and provide some background, but aren't as grating as the traditional terrible English voice actors that plague Japanese games. I haven't played the import version, and I couldn't read Japanese anyway, but it certainly seems to have retained a lot of its character in the translation.

And I will admit, I've played about ten hours of it, so maybe there's something terrible that happens in hour 60 or something. But I am entirely satisfied with the $40 I spent right now, and per my short attention span, I'll be fine if I never play it again. But I really, really want to. It's definitely got that "Just one more..." quality, without being supremely irritating about it or turning the game itself into a job, as happens when the addictive qualities get pushed too far. So, brothers and sisters of the short attention span, I heartily recommend Okami.

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