Capcom, eh? They have brought us some great games over the years. Ghosts ‘n Goblins, the Street Fighter saga, Resident Evil and more, all of which I have played many times over the years, gaining a healthy respect for them as game creators. However, one of the best things about them as a publisher is that they haven’t been afraid of tackling games that, on the surface at least, should have no reason to ever be made. One of these games is Okami, created by Clover Studios and published by Capcom. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting where the game was pitched: “What it is, right, and bear with me here, you play as a wolf and to attack, you paint lines through the enemies. How can it fail?”. In fairness to Capcom, they obviously saw something in the game, and whether the world was ready or not, Okami was unleashed.
Now, the game I’m going to be talking about here is the original release, back in 2006, one that I played on the PlayStation 2. In fact, this was one of the final games released on the old PS2 before the PS3 went on sale to the general public, and as a way of finishing a generation of hardware, it was something of a triumph.
Now, Okami, in Japanese, translates as “great god” or “great spirit”, and that is certainly appropriate here, as the wolf that we control is, in fact, a Shinto sun goddess by the name of Ameratsu. The game combines Japanese mythology and folklore to tell the story of how Ameratsu, in the form of a great white wolf, saved the world from the forces of darkness. The game featured a fantastic hand drawn, cel shaded graphical style, and with the addition of the Celestial Brush, a way of imposing magic on the real world, the scene was set.
Apparently, Okami was first set to use realistic graphics, but it was more than the PS2’s aging graphic engine could cope with, and so the cel-shaded design was utilised to reduce the overheads, leading to better running. I can’t actually imagine Okami now with a realistic look to the world, as the way the graphics were stylised has become synonymous with the game in my mind. And researching for this article has lead me to a little bit of knowledge which I will share with you: the art style on display in Okami is known as sumi-e, or ink wash painting. Every day is a school day, eh?
The story of the game was a great one, with ties back to the events of more than 100 years ago. The great white wolf, Siranui, and the swordsman Nagi defeated the eight headed demon called Orochi and sealed it away, in order to save Kamiki Village. Fast forward to the present day, and Nagi’s descendant, Susano, who doesn’t believe the story, unleashes Orochi to try and take over the land again, and this is where we come in.
Ameratsu and her assistant, an artist by the name of Issun, must travel the land, defeating evil creatures and freeing the world from darkness, using the power of the Celestial Brush. This brush is an amazing bit of kit, and can be used to make the sun shine, by drawing a circle in the sky, and can also make plants and trees healthy again by drawing circles around them. The brush can also be used in combat, and when fights happen, they seem to occur in an enclosed space; the creatures first being softened up by melee attacks, before being finished by using the brush to slash them.
The game had a bit of Legend of Zelda about it, with new powers being gained as the player went on, and the game director, Hideki Kamiya (best known, of course, for the Devil May Cry franchise), has talked openly about being a huge fan of the series, and how the games influenced the development of Okami. And like any good Zelda game, revisiting areas with new powers will allow extra paths to be opened up, so there is a small element of Metroidvania in the mix as well.
The gameplay here was the star, however, despite how beautiful Okami looked. With elements of puzzling, platforming and exploration to go at, there was always something to do, and finding the constellations (inspired by the Chinese Zodiac) in order to get extra powers for the brush was always good fun. Using the right powers at the right time, and making sure you didn’t run out of ink was always key, and soon you’d be mending bridges or summoning a wind to blow fog away. And that was just for starters. I can’t even begin to comprehend how the developers came up with such a left field way of solving problems; I mean who would have thought of a paint brush?
So, these are my memories of the original Okami, and to a lesser extent when I had my memories jogged by the re-release on Xbox One back in 2017 in the form of Okami HD. !It appears I’m not alone in my love for this game either, as it is still sitting at a 93% approval rating on Metacritic, which isn’t bad for a game released 15 years ago.
But what about you guys? Did you play this back in the day? Did you play the re-release? After reading my words, do you feel inspired to try it out? Let us know in the comments!