So, it is Good…
Okami is a typical hero story, you take control of Amaterasu, the goddess of sun, who is also the best dog. You are tasked with purging the land of demons and stopping the evil dragon monster from turning everything grey and destroying the world. Pretty simple. Nothing to write home about yet. The whole game is structured much like the early Zelda games; with an overworld to explore and specific dungeons to conquer, these are packed to the brim with new abilities and fearsome bosses. This is a major bonus for me, being one of my favourite series ever, there is no shame in copying this winning formula, just do it well.
Look at Ammy though, so majestic, so strong…
This is a beautiful game. Even if I was using that term lightly, or I do say it a lot, this game is sure to come up as an exhibit during the “are games art?” debate. There isn’t anything quite like seeing the meadows of grey flourish with cherry blossom or rivers rush to the oceans after you purge an area of oni (demons). It’s all beautiful. Lots of this comes from the visual style of the game, looking to be illustrated upon aged parchment. Even today, with the graphical heights we are able to reach with the likes of Uncharted 4 and God of War. Okami is a masterclass in visual presentation and can stand out through its art direction alone. You don’t need the strongest engine or motion capture to make something look good, you need art direction, something demonstrated by Okami, Owl Boy, and basically any game on the Nintendo Switch.
The game brilliantly blends this aesthetic into the mechanics too. All of the best dog’s powers revolve around a ‘celestial brush’. Using this, you can paint the world, creating bombs, bridges, vines, and much more. It is even used in combat to stop time and slash vulnerable enemy body parts. It is a really unique approach to combat and puzzles and unlike anything seen before it when it released back in 2007 (for me anyway). This brushing mechanic is super satisfying and it does make you feel like you have power over the world, as the sun god should. Yes, the first thing you draw is supposed to be a bridge, and yes, back in 2007 the first thing I drew was a penis.
The music is similarly outstanding, there are all manner of authentic Japanese instruments creating rushing melodies to accompany Amaterasu as you bound across vast beaches, vistas and plains. A standout track for me is Ryoshima Coast, call me a nerd, but I revised to this soundtrack a lot during my university years, nothing makes legislation quite as epic as accompanying it with a woodwind ensemble.
Presentation here is top notch across the board, even the character designs are all authentically Japanese. There are crazy hermit crab devils, steering wheels with eyes, dragons who are also a house, It’s pretty bonkers. Look as some of these enemies, it keeps the whole thing fresh across the pretty lengthy runtime. There is even the most adorable boss ever, a dark shibe-inu form of yourself, who also has similar abilities to you. Easily the best fight of the game, this dark version can stop time and erase your brush strokes. It really feels like you are battling against yourself, especially with the combat system you have learned so well being flipped on its head. This makes the whole battle feel like the final Vergil battles in a Devil May Cry game, or Dark Link from Ocarina of Time which this is quite clearly inspired by.
Even the villagers and side characters are all lovely and well developed in their own way. My favourite is the fake super-samurai guy who you have to help look like a badass throughout the campaign, but there are others who I don’t need to go into here.
So, I love this game, it is quite clear that I do, right? There is, unfortunately a big raisin hidden among the many, many other delicious chocolate chips of this game. The dialogue and voice work. It is difficult to convey this in the written form, but I will try my best now.
It is as piercing to the ears as that was to your eyes, I promise.
Since the story is such a massive chunk of this game, it is unavoidable. You can’t skip the relentless grunting and yodelling. It sours the whole experience for me, and this has never happened with a game that flies so highly as Okami does. When I replay this game, I have the TV muted for a lot of the run time, solely due to these dialogue sections.
The most frustrating part of all of this though is that it could have been avoided. If you don’t like this noise, and it is just noise, give me the option to silence it. Or at least allow me to skip these dialogue sections once I have read the text. Give me the satisfaction of cutting my suffering short in order to get to the otherwise stellar game. You know, that you worked really hard on, what I paid for, let me get to that.
This doesn’t bother me in games such as the recently reviewed Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, because the sections in that game were short and you could just skip past them, you could ignore any text if you weren’t feeling it. Okami definitely should have adopted this approach, I haven’t played any of the re-released versions, however, I hope additional options have been added to address this issue. It isn’t something I remember coming up when I was reading reviews at the initial release.
I just wanted to write a bit more, and I thought it was pretty interesting how something as minor as the voice sounds, or lack of options can really impact my enjoyment of a game, especially when it is something clearly as beautiful as Okami. Everything else is top-notch; I wish this didn’t bother me so much, truly.
I’m going to keep an eye out for more titles with similar issues to this, maybe it could be a regular feature here. Yeah, I’m just padding out the word count here. I’m not sure what it is that causes me to ramble so much, probably my stupid brain, I’m not sure. Hopefully this piece is interesting. What are you even doing still reading this? You should go make a tea, that’s what I’m going to do. Okay, see ya.