Even though Okami is one of the most lauded games by game critics all over, it never managed to land itself the proper audience it deserved. Sure it has a warm and pleasant cult following, but its many qualities would suggest that the game could and should have a much broader fan base. And so I add my review to the pile of rave reviews that's already out there, simply because this game deserves it.
When looking for Wii games to buy, I stumbled upon Okami rather by accident. I heard many good things about the game before and was quite taken with its art style, so I took a little gamble an ordered it without much further thought. I really had no idea what to expect, only that it was some kind of action adventure game, akin to the 3D Zelda games.
The first few hours into Okami were a little uneasy. The game areas are quite large, there are tons of little side quests and it was the first time I actually sat down to play a full 3D action/adventure game. I did try some of the older Zelda games before, but apart from a brief Gamecube session I wasn't all that impressed. Okami was different though, even during these first hours the game got a tight grip on me.
When reviewers dish out scores for games they end up with a fixed set of categories they like to rate. While I'm sure Okami would score great in all these traditional categories, the greatest aspect of the game lies elsewhere. It's a bit difficult to explain, but simply being in the game world of Okami is the main selling point here. It's not just the graphics, the music or the level design, it's the combination of all these elements which put you in a stylish, calm and beautiful state of trance that knowns no equal. Just running around the vast landscapes and enjoying all the tiny details was the greatest pleasure of all.
Even when you're not too taken with the art style, you'll still have to admit that the execution is just perfect. I for one loved the tradition ink painting style and was amazed to be able to fully explore it in 3D. On top of that, the magic of the graphics isn't something that wears off over time. Even when discovering new areas 50+ hours into the game the wonder remained. Beautiful design, strong artwork, first class color work and some very nifty effects make this one of the most beautiful games to date, even if the tech behind it is not cutting edge.
The soundtrack shows similar class. The score consists mostly of soothing and calm traditional Japanese background music, but there are also some more upbeat tracks (usually during character interaction) and some proper fight music. Mind that even though there is no real voice acting, all character did get some weird mumbling sounds when they're talking. You get used to that, but at first it might come off as a little annoying.
Okami also features a unique fighting and puzzle mechanic. Regular controls for fighting and navigation are simple and precise, but our wolf is also able to enter God Mode with a push of a button. The frame freezes and you get a brush which can be used to create some godly effects and attacks by making particular strokes. The brush is operated by moving the Wii-mode around, which does take some getting used to at first. Once you master it though, the feedback it provides is superb and it's hard to imagine doing the same with a traditional controller, let alone get a similarly satisfying effect.
I found the difficulty level of Okami to be rather low, which means something coming from someone who has never played this type of 3D game before. In all I only died twice during the whole game. You'd think this could put off serious gamers, but the lack of difficulty is compensated by the immense vastness of the game. I guess hardcore gamers can take a good 40-45 to complete the basic game, but add all the sub quests and you'll go well over 50 hours of fun out of it. It took me just below 70 to get through, including finishing all the major side quests (like collecting all 100 stray beads).
When I encountered the main boss for the first time I was about 30 hours into the game. If it wasn't for those glaring empty spots in my item screens Okami could've just ended right there and still would've felt like a complete game. The second and third part of the game are shorter though, but add some tricky (the forest run), long (the thief quest) and combined (the demon gates) quests and you won't be feeling cheated, even when you're a hardcore gamer.
So is there nothing wrong with this game? Well, there are some small things, which is only to be expected with a game this size. The fact that some side quests don't really add much to the core of the game can be a little disappointing at times. You'll be collecting stuff, trading it for other items but gaining very little in the end. Another thing I don't understand is there is no option available to make markings on your map. There's quite a lot of back-tracking to be done, which could've been made a lot easier if there was some way of marking interesting spots to return to. Finally there are some pacing issues after defeating the first big boss. You're left without a real sense of urgency, which is a little strange 30+ hours into the game.
These are only small issues though, that have no way of harming the overall experience of the game. Now that I finished Okami I actually miss playing it sometimes. The chill, pleasant atmosphere proved extremely compelling and addictive, placing the actual goals of the game on a secondary level. Okami is by far the best game I've ever played, beating Nintendo's Zelda series on every level and delivering something that no game has done before. Rather than provide first class gameplay, killer graphics or a compelling storyline (which is still does), it delivers a world that's just great to "be" in. Comes with the highest recommendation.
Check out the nifty trailer to see the incredible art style in action.