Sailing the Blue Skies since 2001.
Pub: Capcom/Dev: Clover Studios
ESRB: T/Players: 1
W- Okami is a Japanese folklore Zelda game with a few twists. There's no better way of defining it. Clover took a Zelda core and wrapped it up with gorgeously styled graphics, tight gameplay and delightful music that make for a wonderful, wonderful excursion.
Okami's major strengths are its artistic direction in both graphical and musical directions, the unique Celestial Brush for magic, and the deep replay value. This game has the feel of those classic Japanese sei-ai paintings down pat. Playing the game is truly like thumbing through a Japanese art history book, reveling in the small details. Amarterasu is a wonderful heroine, in part of her awesome animation (I still can't get over how cool it is to see plants grow behind her as she runs), her smooth control scheme in both battle and wandering, and how cool the Celestial Brush is. Being able to stop the gameplay to try out some spell is never tiring, and the effects it can bring are pretty awesome. Cutting down trees, making them bloom, creating lily pads, directing the direction of the wind...and those aren't even half of the powers you get! All of this gameplay goodness enwrapped with a musical score that screams out ancient Japan and I'm in heaven.
The fact that Clover hid so many goodies throughout the vast world helps, too. You can miss out on a ton of powerups, hidden spells and treasures by blindly going from place to place, but Okami rewards those who explore, and exploring is a lot of the fun in Okami. I dig the experience system, which grants you extra life, ink jars, wallet size and Astral Pouches (extra lives, essentially), and the extras are topnotch. The dungeons are near Zelda-quality in their design and scope, and each boss fight has proven to be a rewarding experience.
There are a few missteps that do make Okami fall from complete grace, however. Those excellent bosses I mentioned appear again near the end in a "Dr. Wily Robot Master Rematch!" style that really knocks you in the gut (really, Capcom, you guys need to stop doing these). You also have to fight the demon Orochi a grand total of three times to get through the game, and he's not an easy boss to get through in terms of the number of steps. He's fun the first time, sure, but it's irritating to fight him again, and then AGAIN. Somewhat lazy design, that's what I think. The Celestial Brush isn't perfect, either, and it occasionally misreads or ignores your technique, which is kind of a bother. The camera is a bit klutzy at times, getting stuck in something or not properly showing Ammy in the shot. Lastly, the game hiccups on some movies, especially on the revival clips after restoring a cursed zone (which are otherwise beautifully done).
Okami is brilliant on the whole. It takes the visual education that Viewtiful Joe taught Clover and turns that knowledge into a masterpiece. I've never been so struck with how pretty a 3D game is in its style and execution than with Okami. It takes a deep, mythical storyline rich with Japanese culture and tells it very well with very little confusion. It manages to rival the best of Zelda with its control and level design. And it's one of the most unique, stylish and beautiful games I've laid my eyes on, put my hands on, and dedicated my time to. It's exceptional. It's not without flaws, but the good easily outweighs the bad here.