As is usually the case when it comes to sequels to great games, I was very apprehensive when I picked up Okamiden for the Nintendo DS. The original game, which appeared on the Playstation 2 way back in the misty bygone year of 2006, was one of the best games of that console generation. You remember Okami, don’t you? Of course you don’t.
After a five-year gap since the last time I had a chance to play as a young wolf/sun god banishing evil from the land of Nippon, I was concerned that this sequel wouldn’t be able to do the grand Playstation 2 tale justice. What I got instead was a nice companion piece to the original adventures of Amaterasu and Issun the gradually evolves into a deep, touching piece about (several) children and their struggle against the forces of darkness.The original Okami was released by Clover Studios way back when, who managed to release one of the most innovative games of the time before going completely belly up. As a result, I don’t think Okami really got the press coverage that it should have. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that none of you have actually played Okami, what with how Clover Studios went bankrupt and all, and give you a brief run down.
The original Okami’s main character was Amaterasu (or Ammy to her friends), a resurrected sun goddess who takes the form of a wolf when walking among mankind on Nippon. Together with the bug-like Issun, the Amaterasu traveled from location to location, solving puzzles and traveling through time with the help of her celestial brush abilities. These powers are bestowed to her by other animal spirits of the brush, and essentially give Amaterasu the power to light fires, chop through trees and rocks, make huge gusts of wind blow, create explosives, and much more. These powers are activated by drawing on the screen with the aid of the celestial brush, which seems like it would be pretty unweildy on PS2, but it actually fit very well.
Drawing a circle on a tree will cause it to come into bloom, drawing a line from a source of water will cause water to stream out to another source. Drawing a circle in the sky can make the sun shine. These are just some of the abilities the Okami wolves have at their disposal.
The ending of Okami was… confusing. It was one of those times when I found myself standing at my TV, shouting “what? WHAT?” at the screen until it somehow made more sense. Needless to say, Ammy managed to defeat pretty much all the evil ever, delivering Nippon into a new age of peace and prosperity.
Somewhere over the next five years, Capcom picked up the franchise and decided to make a sequel! I’m not really sure how this came about, but I’m glad it did. Okamiden is a charming and touching dip into the land of Nippon once again, and most of the game’s flaws seem to even themselves out over time.
Okamiden picks up nine months after the events of the first game, when a sudden ill wind darkens the sky and starts spreading cursed zones all over the land. Issun is now running around as a celestial envoy for Amaterasu, which means most of his time is spent traveling, telling tales about Ammy’s bravery, and generally letting people know that she is awesome. The cursed zones catch him by surprise as much as anyone, and he only avoids getting whomped on by some demons due to the timely intervention of Chibiterasu, a tiny, adorable and marketable little scamp of a wolf cub.
It doesn’t take long for the game to develop from there. Chibiterasu is quickly recognized as the son of Amaterasu, and must embark on a quest to find out what the deal is with all these demons. Issun’s a pretty important guy these days, so he can’t just up and go with Chibi on his grand adventure. Instead, Chibi must recruit some young tykes who are running around to take into battle, direct through puzzles and save the world.
Each of Chibiterasu’s partners act a little differently, and their personalities couldn’t be more varied. Early on in the game, Chibi meets a brush spirit who gives him the ability to guide his partners by drawing a path for them with the DS stylus. It then becomes your job to make sure they don’t eat it while passing pits, ponds and spikes to snatch some treasure or push in buttons.
Still there are some things that bothered me a bit about this game. First off, while the Nintendo DS and the stylus are much more suited to drawing than the PS2 controller, sometimes it was hard getting the brush strokes to recognize what I wanted to do. If, for example, you’re on a lily pad surrounded by water and the partner you’re lugging around with you is on fire for some reason that is never really explained, it can get complicated as to which elemental power will be used in the ability. You can either spray enemies with water, burn them from your friend, or create vines from Chibi himself. Getting the game to differentiate between one or the other is the tricky part.
The other main issue I have with the game is that it takes place NINE MONTHS after the events of the first game. The original Okami was a deep and lengthy adventure, wherein Amaterasu defeats the Emperor of all evils and darkness and frown faces. While the events after the battle came to a close were indeed confusing, I did get the feeling that what Ammy managed to accomplish would bring a lasting peace to the land. But what? It doesn’t even make it through a single year. I spent more time waiting for a sequel to Okami than Nippon had of peace after Ammy’s victory.
Many of the areas are completely lifted out of the first game, granted with a different angle of looking at them. Actually, Okamiden sees a repeat to several puzzles and moments from the first game, which was kinda wearying to me, but you probably wouldn’t notice, saying how you never played the first game. I get the feeling the development team for Okamiden felt the same way, and when it came time to plan out locations, they figured “hey, why not? No one saw it the first time around.”
These are really the only issues I have with this game, though two of those wouldn’t really be much of an issue if you never touched Okami. Oh, one more thing! One developer of this game lovingly detailed Chibiterasu’s anus. Since most of the game the camera is squarely placed behind Chibi, be prepared to be staring at it for the entire 20 hours this game will take you. Okay, that’s all the negative.
The art for both Okami and Okamiden resembles traditional Japanese watercolor art. Actually, you might have picked up on this already, but I’ll just come out and say it. This is the most Japanese game I’ve ever played. Both of them. Both of them are the most Japanese game I’ve ever played. I don’t care if the grammar doesn’t make sense.
Dialogue is given to us in giant text exchanges, and Chibi is rather more expressive than his mother is. While he’ll still communicate with facial expressions, random barking or whining, at times his companions talk to him directly, as if he had just told them something. This is a direct contrast to Ammy, who had a tendency to fall asleep when someone goes into a long bout of exposition, and also used a distinct “maul first, think later” attitude.
The supporting cast of Chibiterasu partners works well together, though you’ll inwardly groan every time Chibi makes a new friend. They don’t make very good first impressions. In fact, it seems like Chibi has a special god power that makes him super attractive to the biggest douchebags. However, don’t worry. During your travels, you’ll slowly warm up to these flesh sacks Chibi hauls around, eventually to the point where you’ll care about their fates. I think I only realized this was happening during a chase scene in the game, where I found myself muttering “give me back my mermaid, you jerkface!” at my DS.
The exception to this rule is the last partner you get. He’s just… not… good. It’s possible he would be, with time, but you’re not partnered with him for long enough for him to really redeem himself. But hey, all casts need at least one weak link, don’t they?
I managed to finish Okamiden not more than an hour ago so I could write this review. I can safely report in an unspoilery way that 1) the game offers a new game plus option, where you get to keep some of your abilities and weapons, and 2) this game is left wide open for a sequel, just like its predecessor. In an increasingly static video game market that ditches innovation for mainstream popularity, you could do much worse than picking up Okamiden.
Or if you’re feeling brave, try Okami. What? I know you never played it, it’s okay.