Wednesday 24 April 2013

Okami (Part 2)

As Amaterasu, you travel across Nippon with your companion, the tiny celestial envoy Issun, who provides most of the comic relief, particularly if he's talking to a lady who's taken his fancy. The game's initial hook is its visual style, which takes traditional Japanese water colours as its inspiration. The animation of Amaterasu is wonderful, with flowers sprouting up behind her as she travels across Nippon. Over time, you will converse with various gods who will imbue her with powers that she has lost during her long sleep which, in true Metroid-vania style, will open up pathways to areas you have been able to see but unable to access. You'll meet a wonderfully varied cast of characters, the majority of whom who are unable to see Amaterasu for who she is, but will converse with the ever chattering Issun. Doing favours for these people, as well as feeding the friendly animals, will earn you praise, which can unlock more life, or alternative abilities, RPG-style.

As well as friendly characters, there are of course plenty of monsters to tackle, whose presence can be seen initially in the form of "demon scrolls" around Nippon. Touch one of these scrolls, and the enemy will appear, together with a force field which encompasses your battle arena. Vanquish the enemy, and you'll receive rewards based on the time you took to despatch the baddy, and the damage (or rather the lack of it) that you took in the process. This can give a somewhat stuttering feel to the game initially, but you'll soon get accustomed to it, having a feel somewhere between classic Final Fantasy titles and Chrono Trigger. 

All the way through the game, you will be serenaded by an utterly beautiful orchestral soundtrack provided by a full orchestra, alongside some traditional Asian instruments. As is fairly common with Japanese larger games, there was a full 4-CD release of this soundtrack, which is beautifully packaged up with lots of artwork, as many of these Japanese releases seem to be. I have a copy of it myself – almost certainly the geekiest thing I’ve ever bought – and it gets aired a lot.

The game is definitely not without its flaws, however, and for me, the biggest is its recycling of its (mostly great) bosses - you'll see one of them three times, and another one as many as five times, if my memory serves me correctly. Zelda itself has recycled its bosses in games, of course, but not to quite the extent that you'll see here. It’s the only part of the game that seems rushed in its creation – as if they wanted to use alternative ones, but ran out of creation time.

So, why write about this six-year-old game right now? Simple: at the moment, the HD version is free to Playstation Plus subscribers. Sad as though it may sound, I bought it back in November on the day of release. “Seriously? You triple-dipped?” I can hear people saying already, but yes, I did. This is a game that I passionately believe in, and want to succeed, possibly more than any other. This may be because it’s never really had the success I feel it’s deserved, or just because of the overall package. Ōkami HD is normally £15.99, which is a snip for the amount of playtime it will give you, and when it’s free, it represents stupidly good value. If you’re a PS3 owner, a Zelda-style adventure fan, and you’ve yet to experience it, add it to your queue. You’ll thank me later.

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