For all you people still in the discussion about females in video games, here's a question for you: how many female protagonists are not human girls or women? Just for comparison, male protagonists can be, in addition to Captain Bland sub-variants and wisecracking white tossers, small dragons, bandicoots, wads of meat, robots (and I mean actual robots, not any of that bull where a human is called a robot and they spend most of the story wondering what a "heart" is) and short, fat Italian men with low-paying jobs. Female protagonists, on the other hand, come in the varieties of meek young girl, attractive woman, realistic woman, airheaded young girl, airheaded older girl, airheaded young girl numero dos, revenge of the meek young girl and, in the case of games that have two protagonists that are male and female, foil to emotional male character. Is there a game in which I play as a female that does not into the above categories as well as the category of "fetish fuel" that doesn't have character customisation like Skyrim? Fortunately, there is: Okami, a PS2 game that just got a HD re-release today, wherein you play as Amaterasu, a god that takes the form of a wolf.
Running at full speed, beautiful flowers will grow behind you. Isn't this cool?
I imagine that you're probably wondering what, exactly, I like in games. Well, it depends but one way a game can definitely win me over is with a great sense of adventure, an EPIC FANTASY REBORN if you will, which is provided in games like Okami. I love running around the open areas with the lively oriental music playing, beating up bad guys that I in no way feel guilt over killing and helping the downtrodden. As far as having a sense of adventure goes, Okami hits all the right notes: the levels are huge and expansive for running around at full speed to feel the wind in my fur- I mean, hair, the music is just the kind that you'd expect to find in the first episode of what you anticipate to be a really awesome cartoon, the people you meet are very varied and unique, the combat... well, it's not really impressive to me and kind of disconnects me from the experience. Point is, Okami has a really lively and unique atmosphere straight out of a piece of Japanese mythology.
The game goes with a very old-fashioned aesthetic of a scroll drawing. The menus and HUD use scrolls a lot, cutscenes commence with the rolling out of a scroll and everything in the game world looks like it was drawn with an ink brush. While the black lines are rather thick at times and some shapes tend to blend together to be a bit hard to see, the game overall looks fantastic and I found myself getting really absorbed in this Japanese tale. What really gets to me is that there are people out there that I know will look at this game and go "Aw man, the graphics suck. The people don't even have mouths and they talk by shaping their heads like dough muscles. This game completely suxxorz" if they haven't done so already. Well, Mister Game Graphics Connoisseur, I'd like to disagree. In fact, I'd say you're a completely ignorant tosspot. Do your next-generation ultra-realistic graphics games have truly majestic sequences where you revive massive trees and make plants grow and rush out from the ground around the tree with a beautiful crescendo, chasing away the plaguing darkness and purifying the land once more? No? Well, SHUT UP!
Pretty. Pretty everywhere.
Goodness gracious, I haven't even talked about the gameplay yet. Well, if you were asking somebody else, you'd probably get an answer starting with "It's like a Legend of Zelda game but". Myself, I like to go with "It's like a Legend of Zelda game but it's not. Where the hell did you get that impression?" Well, they probably got it from the vast overworld, the way side missions are designed and the obligatory annoying fairy creature that follows you around everywhere. However, that is essentially where the similarities end. I'm not going to bring up how the aesthetic and setting are different because those are superficial and it's the kind of argument used by people who say that Sleeping Dogs is very different from Grand Theft Auto because it's set in Hong Kong. Okami, general presentation aside, is very different from The Legend of Zelda, right down to the level design. While the dungeons of Legend of Zelda titles tend to be progressed more slowly (at least, as far as I can tell, having only played Ocarina of Time), Amaterasu can jump and run very quickly so the levels are designed in such a way as to accommodate Amaterasu's advanced mobility.
Also, while Link or whatever you call him navigates the world and solves puzzles by using the various tools he finds on his journey, Amaterasu uses the Celestial Brush. Throughout the game, you will pick up special brush techniques that you can use by holding down R1 (for the PS2) which pauses the game, allowing you to draw a certain shape for various effects like lighting something on fire by drawing a line from a fire source to the target, cutting something with a straight line or making a gust of wind with a loop. They're quite versatile and fun to use. However, the game sometimes has difficulty reading your brush strokes. I remember the first time I was playing this game and I was trying to draw a circle to bring a tree back to life by drawing a circle around it and it took me about fifty tries. Apparently, the game's definition of a "circle" varies depending on some invisible counter operated by that spider I tried to squash not long ago. Also, some of the powers are a bit ridiculous. Summoning a bomb that explodes into fireworks is useful if a bit strange for a god to use but I have no why any god would want to trace a line from a cat statue along a wall to turn it into a climbable surface. You'd think they'd prefer something a bit more practical and godly like, say, flying.
This ought to be a breeze. Heh heh heh, someone shoot me now.
In Okami, it's also possible to level up your health, drawing ink, wallet and something called the Astral Pouch which revives you if you die. However, you only get money from winning fights, not XP. You see, faith is kind of running low in the land of Nippon and Amaterasu's a bit weak in the knees for it so she has to restore it by various means including feeding animals, rejuvenating trees and completing side missions. I like how the side missions are done in Okami; they're not put on some sort of shopping list, you don't have to go really out of your way for the majority of them, there's actually a reason to do them and, best of all, monster grinding is at a minimum. But, even though I love how the side missions are done, I don't love the side missions themselves. Some of them are okay, like the races, but the digging minigames are nuisances even if they are severely outmatched in annoyance by the missions where you have to very cautiously roll around hazards a ball that is very prone to flying away from you. Fortunately, this is why the side missions shine; you don't have to do them.
As for the combat, I may be a bit biased against it. After you come into contact with one of the many demon scrolls floating around the field, a big wall will surround the area that will be where you fight whatever enemies the scroll had in it. Starting out, the only thing you can do is attack in combos with your primary weapon. However, by visiting a dojo and paying a fee much to the surprise of the dojo manager, you can unlock new abilities including extended combos, enhanced digging so you can dig out treasure chests and faith-bucket clovers from stone, dodging, double-jumping, taunting in the form of urinating on your enemies to get Demon Fangs that you can trade in for special charms and flinging explosive poo that does the same thing. I don't mind this (well, except for the dog waste attacks) as I quite like Onigiri-sensei but it's the walls that are stopping me from liking the combat even though it is satisfactory. I have the same problem with it as the flash-transition garbage that JRPGs insist on using that I feel a fight in a game should be about an enemy being in front of you and you just being able to beat it up and move on rather than stay in a confined area after you won so that the game can tell you how much you didn't suck.
You fight with either mirrors, jewels or swords, the Imperial Regalia of Japan. A nice touch.
Also, the game is too forgiving as it gives you way too many safety nets. Had I actually died at any point in the game, my Astral Pouch would have just revived me in the middle of battle. The Astral Pouch can only be filled by finding and eating food but that's not a problem because food is absolutely everywhere and trees give it away for free upon being healed. Dying is also much harder than you think because, if you make combos that are large enough, you will increase your "godhood", which is a one-time barrier that will protect against an enemy attack and it is indicated at the bottom left of the screen. It's possible to have three layers of godhood and replacing a broken one is a simple task. With the exception of bosses, enemies don't even attack all that often and their patterns are rather predictable, meaning you'll probably finish them off before they even attack. If you're good at this game, it's quite possible to play through all of it without taking any damage whatsoever. None of this, however, makes the gameplay bad. In fact, the gameplay is still very good.
It's the story where you'd find the game's big glowing weak spot. Let's go over this: the opening cutscene explains with pictures and narration how, a hundred years ago, a village named Kamiki was being annoyed by Orochi but was felled by the swordsman Nagi as well as the mysterious white wolf Shiranui (that is, you). Shiranui "died", Nagi became the hero and they both have shrines made for them. However, a hundred years after, some stupid moron accidentally releases Orochi, plaguing the land with darkness and having chaos run amok everywhere. To reverse this, Kamiki's tree spirit Sakuya revives you. However, a hundred years have passed so faith in you has weakened, not to mention your brush powers have been divided amongst the thirteen Celestial Brush Gods that are now scattered across Nippon, so you must restore your powers as well as the people's faith in you. In essence, you spend the first twelve hours of this forty hour game doing what the narrator said you already did in the opening cutscene. If I may ask, what is the barking point of the opening cutscene in that case? It's not like it's necessary; a few changes in dialogue throughout the game would have rendered it pointless and easily removable, and I'd be thankful for that because, even by the standards of every other cutscene, it goes for so Amaterasu damn long that I nearly fell asleep.
I think this may be over ten minutes into the intro cutscene. It's not even nearly done yet.
Not that I ever expect Shakespeare-level writing from a Capcom game but, as soon as I saw "Story by Hideki Kamiya" in the opening credits, all optimism in the black hole that is my heart immediately jumped out the window and landed straight on the power lines. One of my problems with the writing is that all it does is tell and rarely if ever show, which is not how you do things in Visual-Mediaopolis. Every single thing in this game is said, not shown, and in excruciatingly lengthy detail to boot. For some stupid reason, the game insists on having, after every major boss fight, a picture cutscene and the narrator narrating that Amaterasu defeated the bad guy. It also talks about what happened next which is pointless because that still cutscene is almost always immediately followed by another cutscene showing what happened next. If I may ask again, what is the barking point? In fact, if you took out all the godforsaken dialogue, the game would probably only be thirty hours long.
This highly verbal approach probably explains why Issun exists. Oh good God, Issun. You see, Amaterasu is a silent protagonist so Clover introduced her fairy sidekick Issun as they probably couldn't conceive a way to make Amaterasu interesting without her speaking. Thus, while Amaterasu does all the work, Issun is the one who talks to others. He'll also talk when no one's around. He never shuts up. You know what? I never thought Navi of Ocarina of Time was that annoying, or even annoying at all. Sure, the "advice" she gave was obvious but at least she only gave it to you when prompted to do so and, best of all, she only talked in cutscenes twice in the entire game! Issun is much more verbose. When you read a sign for directions, he will say "You got that, furball?" He will always call you "furball", apparently forgetting that you are Japanese god that can bend the world around her with but a mere thought and some fourth-dimensional ink, especially when provoked by annoying, disrespectful bugs. He will always tell you what to do and how to do it. He also has some backstory but, with a character more annoying than anything I've ever seen, I don't give an Amaterasu's taunt follow-up.
I have never been so annoyed by a character since... well, I promised I wouldn't say.
Speaking of backstory, that's something quite a few characters have in this game. In fact, the story's a lot more complicated than you'd expect. Unfortunately, the quality of the writing just makes it all embarrassing to listen to. For any other game, I'd be preaching that the game didn't try hard enough. However, for this game, I'm of the opinion that too much effort was put in. You see, as far as I can tell, there are two types of stories in the world: what I call Beta Stories that are generally uncomplicated with messages, moral ambiguity and the like being left in the bin and are generally about fun (like Fortune Summoners), and what I call Alpha Stories that are much more complicated with moral ambiguity, plenty of questions to be asked and shocking revelations to be had generally everywhere for the sake of making the viewer think deeply about the plot rather than just have fun (Spec Ops: The Line). Both of these are fine but, when you have a Beta try to be an Alpha (for the record, the trailers seem to indicate that Okami has a character-driven story and it buggering well isn't), it's only going to result in a massive crash with an equally massive burn.
Story aside, I love Okami. It's atmospheric, original and fun and, playing this game, I felt like I was on a genuine adventure. Best of all, I was playing as a female white wolf that could make trees spontaneously grow and you're not going to find something like that in many other games. Still, had the story lost the backstory and complexity baggage, that would have been much better because we have absolutely no ridiculously complex plans to keep track of and the only question we have to ask is "What power is Amaterasu going to get next?". A fun adventure is best kept simple, I believe. Also, they'd have to get rid of Issun, that infuriating little bouncing piece of green lint. I don't know why anyone would think that Amaterasu wouldn't be very well-loved due to her not being able to speak the human language. In fact, Amaterasu is my favourite character in the game because she keeps her trap shut so that no horribly written garbage comes out. Good thing, too; I would have thrown my PS2 right out the window if Amaterasu ever said "Adam".
Here are the rest of my reviews.
I'm still surprised my review of Shin Megami Tensei has been viewed more often than my other reviews.
Also, forum coders? I don't suppose you can get the accented O as an available character in here? Typing Okami like this just doesn't feel right.
By the way, in my original blog post, I referenced quite a few of my older reviews. Because this site discourages me linking to those reviews, they will remain unlinked to here. I apologise for any confusion.