(2006, PlayStation 2; 2008, Wii)
I have a hard time talking about Okami without sounding mushy. This is, after all, a game where you play as a god who takes the form of a white wolf in order to defend nature. If you're going to extol the virtues of a game in which you feed woodland animals, cause trees to bloom, and shrink to microscopic size to fight germs, then you are naturally going to come off like somebody who wears sweaters with images of kittens knitted on them.
Well, I don't care. I love this game. I love everything about it (okay, everything except for Issun's chattering). I love how unapologetically Eastern its philosophy is. I love how gentle it is, even as it pits Amaterasu against some pretty funky demonic foes. I love that it looks like a watercolor painting on rough parchment. I love that it's a game about life and regeneration rather than death and destruction. When I think about Okami, I feel like somebody's hugging me.
You could certainly point to some flaws: Issun's voice, button-mashing combat, three identical battles against Orochi. But though these are the things that make up the skeleton of the game, the meat of it is traveling across the massive gameworld, bringing a blighted land back to life with the power of your celestial brush. The brush is an inspired bit of design. Bringing it up freezes the action onscreen, whereupon it seems to tilt away from the screen, as though it's just paper wrapped around a wooden block. With a simple brushstroke, godlike, you alter the world in dramatic ways. You complete a broken bridge, or summon the sun, or strike at foes. The celestial brush ties everything together. (Although the Wii seemed like a perfect fit for this, I actually preferred using the brush with the PS2 controller).
Okami can most closely be compared to the Zelda series, but for my money it blows away any of the 3D Zelda games, which have been repeating themselves for over a decade now, and which always balance brilliance with boneheadness.* It lets us explore a rich and beautiful world, and to make that world even more rich and beautiful. It has humor and heart. It turns cranky critics into big ol' softies, who will surely regret this post in the morning.
*No, I'm not prepared to back this up right at the moment.
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