Friday, December 18, 2009

Games of the decade: Okami

Part of a series of subjective looks at my favorite games of the decade.

(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.

More on Okami:


Rob Y said...

Haven't played this game, but I've been loving your games of the decade list so far (I already ordered used copies of a couple games I missed while I was going through a bit of a slowdown period for video games).

I came over here after finding your group discussion over at slate and realizing pretty quickly that you seemed like the most reasonable / sensible writer amongst the bunch. So, congrats on that.

Callahan said...

I know what you mean. Okami really was a refreshing game of life and color. I found myself enjoying just running around the beautiful world watching the flowers grow as I passed through the fields. The art direction was beautiful and consistent and is really what kept me playing the game.

I liked the character of Issun, but he really did get annoying after, oh I don't know, the first five minutes after he opened his mouth. This begs the question: Issun or Navi? Which is more obnoxious?

Unknown said...

You've convinced me to give this another try. I got about two hours into it one night, and then came back month later and had no idea what was going on anymore - and that's kind of wonderful too.

Dave said...

Hey Mitch, I have no comment on Okami in particular (great game, great choice), but just wanted to say I'm really enjoying your Games of the Decade. I like that you haven't ranked them, you're explicitly viewing them subjectively, and you haven't forced yourself to have a total of ten. On all three counts, I think that's the only way to do it up right. (Well, you *could* have ranked them, but it would have added no value.)

Thanks for another year of the blog. You're a regular part of my lunch-at-my-desk reading rotation.

Julian said...

I totally agree about Okami blowing the 3d Zeldas out of the water (that's a Wind Waker joke... har har), except for maybe Majora's Mask. I actually liked the combat though, especially in comparison to Zelda. It seemed to be inspired by action games like God of War or Devil May Cry, but layered with a Zelda-like puzzle-oriented ethos. Almost every enemy had a little trick to make them easier, plus going for demon fang finishers and trying to keep up your godhood with long combos kept things interesting. In a way the combat in Arkham Asylum reminds me of Okami: it's not difficult to win, but the fun and the challenge come from trying to completely dominate the field.

Mr Durand Pierre said...

My quote on Okami a few days after release: "It's like somebody read my mind as to what would make the perfect videogame, and then made it."

It was quite possibly my favorite game ever at the time, but hindsight being 20/20, it's still really good, but not a total Zelda substitute. It's pretty, controls better, and has a more clever script than any Zelda game- all major wins. Though going back to replay it, there are some glaring issue.

Notably, there are too many useless items to collect, 100 beads? After beating the game proper I cheated and went online to look up what you get for finding 'em all, and it's just a game-breaking uber power for a new game+ And healing items are a joke, as you never need them. Mostly though, the collectibles just aren't that interesting to find.

Furthermore, the game is far more handholding than I remembered. Very few complex puzzles. So kind of a missed opportunity there.

And finally, the script is too talky. The core story and characters are good, but they could have accomplished just as much with less chatter.

Phew. These are all fairly minute issues, but just things I noticed going back to it and why it's no longer my fave game ever- even though it'd probably somewhere in my top 10.

Chris S said...

I wanted to love Okami like everyone else seemed to after its release on PS2, but I ended up with the Wii version. I'm not one of those people who hates on the Wii, but the game didn't seem to work well for me. Trying to draw during some of the timed sequences didn't happen, and I got stuck early in the game. It made the most sense to sell the game. I'm still contemplating picking it up for the PS2. This might just be the kick in the pants I need for that.

rhein said...

Absolutely amazing game. An inspiring art style, epic storyline and great gameplay. Only problem I have with it are the badly translated combat controls on the Wii. The paintbrush works great but the combat controls can be an issue, but leave no negative impact on the overall play of the game. It's too good. Anyway, if you have time, take a visit to my Free Games website.