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Friday, July 27, 2007

Review: Okami

As this is my first review that stretches beyond the realm of the PC, I've decided to make an amendment to all my future reviews, like so:

Format: PS2
Developer: Clover Studios
Publisher: Capcom

Should I have toiled for the now dearly-departed Clover, Okami would be the game for which I'd wish my team's life, and strife, to be remembered by. Okami Amaterasu's Adventure strides a century of history for the people of Nippon - a charming yet tormented land, depicted in the artistic style and baring the traditional hallmarks of Japanese society. In discovering Nippon, you'll be embodied by the lupine sun-goddess Amaterasu. Okami's lengthy and satisfying tale is a rejuvenation and concoction of several Japanese folkloric yarns, it's also a platform game - as such, Clover gladly and knowingly embrace cliché, resulting in a clever game for culturally astute gamers.

Clover's efforts are boundlessly distinguished through imagination, variety, and quality that even the most earthly mutt could sense. Epic character radiates from the bright, warm heart of Okami. A simple mechanic permeates the game: the celestial brush technique - the means by which Amaterasu's power is expressed - utilising the analog stick, thick black paint may be daubed upon the player's world; paint may conjure a gust of wind, snap lofty vines to serve your ascent, or slash an enemy clean in half. There are thirteen brush techniques in all, each represented by a unique gesture that is (usually) evoked during the press of R1 to pause the action. It was quite frightening the first time my karmic serenity was shattered when an enemy failed to freeze as I drew, even more so when later bosses raced me in finishing their own gestures!

Amaterasu draws the circle of Rejuvination - the show-off.

Now, about those clichés: Amaterasu quests to recover the lost brush techniques in order that she might have the power to win the battle against the evil that blights the land. Yes. The tale is generic, yet the telling of the tale is spectacular. Amaterasu can't speak, she gets her point across through barks and emotive facial expressions. For a strongly narrative-led game, a subdued protagonist could be harmful (contrary to this, Final Fantasy VII may have benefited from a 'blank-slate' main character), and so it was thoughtful of Clover to provide Issun as a vocal companion whose diminutive stature grants him an easy ride on Amaterasu's snout. Issun and Amaterasu together provide a complex symbiotic duet, providing resolve to one another and to you, the player. Resolve is a central and recurrent theme of Okami: it's suggested to be the driving-force of Good's defence against Evil; the 'happy-go-lucky, full-throttle, leap-before-you-think Ammy' is Issun's perception of the sun-goddess, and the source of much of Okami's humour. Death, betrayal, and the absence of cherry cakes will each take their tragic toll on the player's psyche before Okami concludes.

Okami refuses to be leashed by any pre-supposed limitation of the platforming genre. The camera (which, I hasten to add, is far from infallible), provides zest to stale perspectives - shifting from a close, following viewpoint, to wide-pan encompassments of the landscape and side-on Streets of Rage-style deep, faux-3D avenues. Clover's aversion to dogmatic depictions of avatar and arena credit Okami with a flexible and appropriate angle for every situation and challenge.

Amaterasu: not above howling during appropriate moments.

Okami's world is painted in a lusciously vivid manner. Clover's palette of textures perfectly compliments the PS2, being both simple and elegant, they're truly beautiful. I'd often find myself stop, just to appreciate - I can't often say that about a computer game. The Celestial Envoys (they're the gods' representatives within Nippon) are tasked with spreading the good word using their skills with paint and brush, so it's appropriate that Nippon should be seen as a canvas from the eyes of a goddess. Although loading screens are frequent, their duration is brief, and my PS2 never strained at the rendition of a sight.

Although the musical score is of a high quality, I almost lost my composure with irritation at the odd track's fleeting length and repetition - the worst offenders are the accompaniments to dungeons; with the outdoor ambiance lengthier than the sun's rays and just as bright. I noticed the occasional re-use of sound effects for different situations (such as the noise of the spider boss being identical to the wailing of a ghost later in the game), but this is hardly damning criticism. I like the use of audio cues to let the player know when a certain brush technique is appropriate - this was of special merit during the final, protracted, boss fight - without which I'd have probably taken forty hours to finish off the blasted swine. By coincidence, forty hours was the duration of my playtime. I enjoyed every second.


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