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Okamiden Review

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When Sonomaa originally posted the call for writers to fill these blog positions, I knew I wanted to throw my hat into the race. But first I needed to find an appropriate writing sample. After searching through my collection of posts from my own blog, I found the best written one that was relatively close to the 500 word limit was my review of Okami, the PS2 masterpiece that carved a place for itself in my top-ten games. Since that review got me this position and its sequel has recently come out, I thought it'd make a fitting first blog post here~

Okami told the story of Amaterasu(Ammy), the white wolf sun god of Nippon, and her traveling companion Issun. Okamiden puts players in the role of Chibiterasu, Amaterasu's adorably cute son. Although Ammy never said a word in the first game, she and Issun had amazing chemistry through his outbursts and her mannerisms. They made a remarkable team, and not gonna lie, I still teared up a bit when I re-beat the end of Okami before starting Okamiden. Issun was an irreplaceable part of the original adventure, and so I was stoked when he joined Chibi at the outset of the adventure. Unfortunately, duty soon steals him away and he's replaced by a collection of children who switch out due to different circumstances and events (such as being eaten by a giant catfish). At first, the interchangeability of the children deterred from their overall impact. However, as the story progressed, I found myself more and more attached to them. Each partner comes with their own personality, problems, and chemistry, and incorporating all of them serves to weave a deeply emotional journey.

A number of reviews have complained about the fact that Okamiden seems to have failed to strike a balance between resembling Okami and establishing its own identity. Early on, this is certainly the case. The game starts out with an almost identical crisis, relies on many of the same plot elements, and visits many of the same characters and places. Apart from inserting a rabble of kids, the story (which I loved, even if parts seemed to conflict with the original story), has been heavily criticized for being far too similar. Even considering the children, only one is not connected or cast as a successor to one of the significant characters from the previous game. I’m not gonna try to masquerade this fact amidst a sea of praise. Okamiden is undoubtedly very similar to Okami. However, it is in the details that connect these similarities that Okamiden stands out. Whereas Okami told the story of Ammy’s journey where Issun was just along for the ride, Okamiden is as much about the children as it is about Chibi. And while there is no way to deny the strong influences from its predecessor, the different perspectives of the children serve to better expose a world that continues to struggle with problems even after one calamity has been averted. As the journey progresses, the different stories of the children serve to weave together to create a truly memorable narrative that is amazing in its own right. Still, it is unfortunate that the underlying factors in this journey are the same as they were in Okami.

Gameplay is another area where Okamiden has been criticized for too closely resembling Okami. While no one expected the gameplay to diverge too much from the “wolf traveling the world to save the people from their troubled lives” formula, I don’t think anyone expected how little it would deviate from this design. Most features are taken straight from Okami. You still travel the world, help people and restore the land to gain experience (which is automatically used instead of giving you choices), encounter enemies and are dragged into battle against demons (although the transitions out of battle are not as flawless), and collect a myriad of trinkets that serve no purpose beyond being sellable (or are used in one of the many fetch quests). Honestly, the biggest gameplay difference stems from the inclusion of Chibi’s various partners. At various points, the children can disembark to aid Chibi in his quest. Each character has its own unique abilities to use to overcome different obstacles in a style that resembles Zelda’s incorporation in the recent Spirit Tracks. Controlling the children relies on a new brush skill acquired early in the game. Unfortunately, this is only one of two new brush abilities granted to Chibi. Now, I’m not saying there needed to be an entirely new arsenal of abilities, but the fact that all but two are repeats is pretty disappointing and shows a lack of creativity on the part of the game designers. Another problem I had was with the camera. For the most part, the fixed camera follows Chibi around with arrows on the touch screen for adjustment. Unfortunately, their positioning makes these controls unusable in most situations, especially in battles. Personally, I would have preferred if either the left or right bumper had been used for centering the camera as having two activate brush mode was unnecessary. Another issue stems from the fact that the 3D world of Okami was essentially ported to the DS for Okamiden. There were a number of times when I felt the D-pad restricted my ability to move around too much. As the game progressed, I became more used to it, but early on it was definitely a major annoyance. Apart from that, the game plays just like Okami. The innovative brush techniques used to manipulate the world and engage in battle returns, albeit with a better and more natural mechanism than was present on the PS2 (probably closer to the Wii version, although I never played that one). While I will admit the drawing was certainly easier than it was in Okami, there were moments when the game lagged, presumably as it pushed the DS’ hardware. This more than anything made me wish they’d continue the franchise on a more powerful system, such as the PS3 (they could even incorporate Move~). This would also eliminate the problem of only allowing a single save file and not having a pre-endgame save file to go back to, but this might be a personal aggravation that not many others share.

Okami was universally praised for being a beautiful game. Those who played the original will immediately feel enchanted upon starting Okamiden to returning to the world. While the hardware limitations of the DS certainly didn’t allow for a perfect translation of Okami’s world, the sense of beauty is still there as the game feels like you’re traveling through the brushstrokes of a piece of art. The vividly despondent colors of the cursed zones contrast with the vibrant ones used in the restored world. The character designs remain loyal to the original. While not realistic, by any stretch of the word, all the characters, animals, and enemies fit perfectly with the artistic world they’ve been drawn into. The style also works well for translating emotions in the characters. Chibi might be the cutest character in the history of gaming, and seeing his wide array of emotions only serves to make him more endearing. Honestly, I was more than a little surprised at the emotions that such a tiny package who never utters a single word managed to draw out from me.

Musically, Okamiden doesn’t stray too far from Okami. A number of tracks are reused, specifically for characters and places visited in the original. Even with the new tracks, it is clear to see where they drew inspiration. As someone who loved the original soundtrack, this is certainly not a bad thing. Although there is no voice acting, the chirping sounds used in the original make a return. While this tactic fits into the style of these games, I certainly understand that it would not work for every game. Still, it makes me wish more companies would find creative ways to simulate voice acting in their own games.

When I reviewed the original Okami over four years ago (can’t believe it has been that long...), I wrote that one of the biggest tragedies was that Clover Studios’ attempt to create a new and unique experience was rewarded with the disbandment of the company due to its commercial failings. Okami was a game that was special, and unique, and a perfect example of how games can transcend the boundary between games and art. Unfortunately, Okamiden, a game that is definitely judged harder due to its phenomenal pedigree, failed to live up to the standards set by its predecessor. Yes, it is a fun game, and yes it is undoubtedly beautiful, but it honestly feels like Okami-lite. In some ways, it’s very disappointing that a game that was so unique would be followed by one that takes very few steps out of its shadows. Those who played the original will remember that the ending was left wide open for a sequel. While Okamiden returned us to this world, it is certainly not the sequel we’ve been waiting for. This game honestly feels like an attempt to cash in on a franchise that a company gave up on by dressing it up with a new mascot. Yes, the mascot is adorable and hard to say no to, but in the end, Okamiden does not do the legacy of Okami justice.

Now, having read that last paragraph, you probably think I don’t recommend Okamiden. That is not true at all. While I do admit parts of this review have taken a negative tone, Okamiden is definitely worth picking up. Were it a stand-alone game, many of my criticism would not have been present and this review would have been almost entirely positive. My biggest criticisms stem from its lineage, not any problems inherent in the game itself. Yes it does not live up to high bar that had been set, but on its own, it is definitely an amazing game that takes you for a wonderful journey. If for nothing else, Chibiterasu is probably the most adorable character to come out of a game in recent history, and just getting to play as him makes the experience worth it. If you have a DS and any form of a heart, you should pick up Okamiden. While it isn't necessary to have played the original, if you haven't yet, I strongly recommend picking that one up as well as it is one of those games that anyone who considers themselves a gamer should play, if for nothing else, to see a perfect example of how games can be art. With another open ending (multiple paths to take actually), I’m hopeful that Okamiden is an indication that Capcom is willing to revisit the world of Okami. Whether this happens or not, time will only tell; but I am one gamer who is eagerly waiting to see where this phenomenal franchise takes us next.

None of the images are my own and are owned by Capcom (presumably).

And for those of you who aren't convinced of the cuteness..


  1. Hiryo -
    Hiryo's Avatar
    Excellent post. Would like to see a link to your blog though lol