Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked…Guy Kelly’s World – #23: Okami

In PS2, PS3, PSN, Wii on January 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Today’s article by Guy Kelly:

———–

Title: Okami

Format: PS2, PS3, PSN, Wii

Released: 9th February, 2007

Box_art

I should have written this ages ago.

Not in the sense that I burn to share this with the world. I don’t wake up sweating in the middle of the night, purple-faced and unable to breathe, one thought racing through my mind like a hamster in a tornado: I must write about this game.

No. While I love video games dearly – I can chart the formative points in my life by the games I was playing at the time¹ rather than, you know, real world achievements – I have to draw the line somewhere.

Nor am I suggesting that I should have wrestled control of this blog from Jon long ago. I barely have the commitment to wash myself every morning, never mind pooping out reflective nuggets of thematic introspection on anything approaching a regular basis.

Okami_bridge

No. I mean I should have written this literally ages ago. Like, weeks ago.

Just before Christmas, Jon got in touch and asked that I barf out a few words on a topic of my choice. I was delighted. My brain is full of slowly rotting mulch and I’ve realised that any opportunity to drain it like a fat man’s sinuses is to be welcomed with open arms.

I’d even decided the game in question. Final Fantasy VIII was, for me at least, an eye-opening example of what could be done with videogames. My life before FFVIII was a life without Playstation. My electric fix came in the form of an increasingly monstrous Megadrive, bolted with every add-on an awkward nerd could buy. This was the console you’d find in Dr. Frankenstein’s rec-room. The Megadrive itself heaved beneath the weight of a 32X, squeezed up close to a MegaCD and generally choked my bedroom with humming, oversized power adapters and glistening black plastic. Games were side-scrollers, racing sims and clumsy, FMV-driven shoot-em-ups. The idea of an immersive, engrossing full 3D tale of love, loss and hoofing great monsters would have been enough to crack my primitive, adolescent brain.

Ffviii

Naturally, as soon as I managed to get my grubby hands on FFVIII, I was hooked. This was a world of 3D battles, beautiful, hectic cutscenes and a story that would last at least 70 hours.

It was thrilling. It was new. It was the perfect subject for a blog about games that rocked my world.

Unfortunately, after writing pages of notes on it, I made a terrible mistake.

Christmas was approaching and so I thought I’d sort myself out with a nice, light, gentle game to dabble with over the festive season. For me, a Christmas game is as necessary as a Christmas book: some object of fiction which you can use as an anchor – a stabilising influence against the weirdness and booze which come hand in hand with almost a solid week of Bacchanalia.

While looking, I stumbled across a reset button for my entire social calendar for under twenty quid.

It was an HD remake² of an undervalued gem. The last hurrah of the PS2 given a fresh lick of paint and left to fend for itself alongside monsters like Call of Duty: Punch Lungstorm and FIFA 36: It’s Still Football.

Plant

It was Okami and, for the second time, it completely consumed my life.

Released in Europe in 2007, Okami tells the story of the wolf-cum-creator-god Okami Amaterasu, who travels through a version of ancient Japan, righting wrongs and barking at trees.

Like a woodcut Legend Of Zelda, the player yomps from dungeon to dungeon, gathering new weapons and abilities as the story unfolds. Unlike Zelda, the world can be rendered 2 dimensional at the press of a button, transforming the screen into a canvas that allows the player to manipulate reality with a giant, interdimensional paintbrush. Trees appear from the æther, bothering enemies and delighting the townsfolk, while painting a crescent moon across the sky turns day into night with the hoot of an owl.

Celestial_brush

This ‘Celestial brush’ gradually becomes more and more versatile as you unlock new abilities. Formerly inaccessible parts of the map suddenly open up; it’s much like getting the hookshot in Zelda, only this time you’re making lillypads (and attendant frogs) appear in order to float along a previously impassable stretch of water. It also informs the æsthetics of the game – the whole thing looks like a painting in motion and is clearly (and somewhat unsurprisingly, given the subject matter) very heavily influenced by historic Japanese artwork.

This is reason enough to give the game a look. A Zelda clone rooted in Japanese mythology where you play a god who can literally paint aspects of the world into being? Sign me up!

Brilliantly – though not for deadlines imposed on this article – Okami has far more to offer than unique mechanics and phenomenal graphics.

Landscape

The game hangs on the idea of making things better. As you progress, you’ll not only be clearing cursed zones and fighting off monsters, you’ll also be feeding animals (complete with adorable cutscenes), mending buildings and putting pretty flowers in lovely vases to perk up statues. The entire thing is delightful. There is a specific move with the Celestial Brush which makes the person you apply it to feel incredibly happy and give your fuzzy canine avatar a hug. There’s no real point to it in terms of achieving objectives, and the game never tells you about it, but it just feels so right and natural that only the most cold-hearted of bastards could fail to go a little wobbly inside on seeing it happen.

Along with being dangerously adorable, the game is massive. In most games, reuniting lovers, saving a village, beautifying the landscape, learning who you are and killing the Big Bad would pretty much be it, especially if it took around twenty hours.

Not in Okami.

In Okami, you go through these trials, rescue the damsel and bring peace to the land and the game then says “Oh. You’re done, are you? Yeah? Done? Finished here, yeah? NOT A CHANCE, YOU PRICK!” and throws back into the thick of it, somehow masking a massive game even bigger. My original save file from when I completed it on my PS2 was around 58 hours. My current file – a good way from the end – is clocking up around 70.

Okami_painting

There. Is. So. Much. To. Do.

Fishing minigame? Check

Collectibles hidden around the world? Check

Information on every creature, every treasure, and every enemy³? Check

Turnip digging minigame because you are a naughty dog and god dammit you may well be a deity but diggers gotta dig? Check and check, my friend.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that this piece may be more suitable for a blog called “Games which consumed my entire life because look at the doggy”.

Chibi_okami

Okami is massive, beautiful, inventive, funny and sweet, with a vast, sprawling storyline and wonderful characterisation. It’s packed with hectic battles, hours of gameplay and enormous monsters. There’s so much to this incredible game that these few paragraphs barely scratch the surface. Unfortunately, the stats screen is showing that there are a couple of birds out there that I have yet to feed, as well as a ceramic model of a pig just waiting to be found⁴.

I fell in love with Okami six years ago and, much to Jon’s dismay, I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.

1: Almost like the games themselves represent levels in my life with each stage of Sonic The Hedgehog forming a part of one macro-stage and oh my god I need to get out more.

2: It is phenomenal how well this game has aged. The HD remake is genuinely strong enough to stand up against modern games in terms of graphics. The big, bold lines and hyperstylised backgrounds make the whole thing look like a glorious, interactive cartoon. You hear that, Silent Hill HD? This is how remakes are to be done, you lousy rat bastard.

3: Oh yeah. The enemies you have encountered are all presented on an enormous and beautifully illustrated scroll. Because screw you, other games.

4: Get a copy. You’ll understand.

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Guy_looking_hot
Guy Kelly writes and performs for sketch group The Beta Males of which I am understandably fond. He’s @Brainmage on twitter, and writes for Shadowlocked, TotalPlaystation.com and on his own site.

I’m better than him at Mario Kart.
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