When Okami made its debut for PS2 back in 2006, it was met with stellar reviews, including Game of the Year nods from the likes of IGN and Game Revolution. Wii-philes quickly realized that Okamiís paintbrush-style mechanic and combat were a perfect fit for Wii, but Capcom said there were no plans for a Wii port. Shortly thereafter, developer Clover Studios shut down. End of story, or so it seemed.
Thatís why Okami for Wii is a nothing short of a miracle. Finally heeding the cries of Wii owners, Capcom resurrected the franchise, tasking Ready at Dawn Studios to wade through a prickly porting process that was hampered by incomplete code and a challenging new interface in the Wii remote. Their labor has produced a game that, while not flawless, proves a solid addition to the consoleís action adventure library.
Veterans of the Viewtiful Joe series will instantly recognize the general style of Okami. The game sports a unique cel-shaded look, made recognizable by its thick outlines and varied colors. Itís a somewhat different sort of cel-shading than, say, Wind Waker or No More Heroes, but it succeeds brilliantly. The game feels like a moving version of an illustrated story, with characters that are not fully defined (facial details like lips are typically absent, for example), but are nonetheless detailed in their own way.
Okamiís approach proves a solid fit for Wii, because the cel-shaded style and superb art direction effectively mask the technical limitations of the system. Flame effects, for example, are relatively simple, but still look good in the overall context of the style. Framerate issues are rare, but when they do pop up, they are less noticeable because of that same style.
As a side note, those who have experienced the PS2 version will recall the parchment filter in place that gave the book a grainy, storybook-style. (Clover had also used a wonderful filmstrip filter for Viewtiful Joe.) The Wii version of Okami reportedly has a paper filter as well, but it is so subtle that it is difficult to see and most players wonít even know itís there. Still, the game holds up well graphically and looks reasonably good on Wii.
Okamiís soundtrack uses orchestrated music, and itís absolutely sublime. The music is textbook classical Japanese all the way, with the requisite wind and string instruments and a few percussion instruments thrown in for good measure. Everything is exceptionally well-framed, with chaotic themes to create tension, upbeat themes to show harmony in nature, quirky themes to illuminate humor, and grim themes to illustrate resolve, among others. Every song is good, and a few of them are so fantastic that they are worth pausing just to listen to.
The rest of the sound is adequate, if unremarkable. There is no voicework, and dialogue in the game is accompanied by the odd sort of gibberish that one sees in Animal Crossing or, to a lesser extent, The Sims. It works, although it's not a substitute for the real thing. Sound effects are solid as a whole, buy only a few will stand out as being especially memorable.
Okami is a fantasy epic that proves to be one of Wiiís longer titles; expect to put in at least 40 hours if you want to experience most of what the game has to offer. Told in the style of a fable or legend, the game traces the adventures of a goddess named Ameratsu, who has been incarnated as a white wolf. The game is set in the mythical ancient past of Nippon (Japan) and involves Ameratsu and his companion, a small insect named Issun (Issun is the talker, while Ameratsu is more or less the silent protagonist). Ammy and Issun set out to right a world cursed by an ancient evil known as Orochi.
The story unfolds in an episodic manner. The plot is captivating, evoking a powerful sense of being part of an interactive myth. The characters are well-crafted, so much so that a player is liable to develop an emotional stake in their destiny. As for the antagonists... well, suffice to say that part of appeal of the game is trying to figure out just who the villains are. The whole storytelling package is really high-quality, and a gamer walking away from the lengthy quest will not only feel moved, but may even be compelled to return for a second playthrough. Okami, in fact, encourages this by allowing the player to carry over stats and most of the inventory from the first run into a second run.
Okami has been called a Zelda-style game, but that claim is not really accurate. To be sure, there are some resemblances to the Zelda series, including the puzzle elements of dungeons, the ability to collect pieces that improve health, and -- of course -- the ability to play as a wolf. Okami, though, feels like an entirely new experience, so much so that it even serves to illuminate some of the stale elements that persist in Twilight Princess.
Part of the distinction between Okami and Zelda lies in the fact that the former incorporates some decidedly RPG-style elements that Zelda does not. For example, Okami uses something called praise, which functions a lot like experience points in an RPG. Praise is earned by helping out living things and can be used to increase a variety of abilities, including health and ink capacity. Another notable RPG convention is the way combat takes place. Monsters are, for the most part, represented as floating spirits or ethereal gates in the overworld, and when the player touches one of those things, the screen changes and a combat arena forms around the player.
The dominant reason for Okamiís existence on Wii owes to the seeming suitability of the Wii remote to this gameís unique play mechanics. So, is the end result the control nirvana everyone has been waiting for? The answer to that question is complicated. On one hand, there are some definite advantages to the control. The game uses a mechanic called the Celestial Brush that is used to draw onto the field; and the Brush is much faster with the Wii remote than with the PS2 analog stick.
Unfortunately, there are some annoyances with control, some of which are holdovers from the PS2 version and some of which are new to Wii. Like the PS2 version, recognition of what is drawn with the Celestial Brush can be a little hazy. Sometimes the drawings seem forgiving, recognizing poor attempts at a circle or a line. Other times, a seemingly perfect circle goes unrecognized or, worse yet, triggers a completely different ability.
Other control issues are unique to Wii. For one thing, the Wii remote has to be held flat during Celestial Brush drawings; turning it sideways inexplicably throws the IR off and results in the Brush going off in the wrong direction. Two, the draw-box the IR operates in is very small; it is all-too-easy for the pointer to lose recognition and go off in wild directions. Three, while the Brush gains speed with Wii over PS2, it also is less precise, and a shaky hand or violation of the draw-box can throw off a maneuver -- sometimes, even the basic slash proves hard to do. The end result of all this is that players are more likely to experience failed brush attempts on Wii than on PS2.
To its credit, the game mitigates some of these control issues through the game design. For one thing, the game pauses when the Celestial Brush is active, so little is lost (other than a bit of aggravation) when a brush stroke is done unsuccessfully. Two, a failed brushstroke usually does not cost any ink from the player, so the mistake is not usually costly in the game. In short, the gameís Brush controls can be a bit wonky, but they are not always fatal to the game experience. (One exception is a blooming tree sequence which is mind-numbingly annoying; fortunately that is an isolated scene.)
Combat control is a separate topic altogether. The game sports two kinds of weapons, short-range and medium-range, and the ease of use between the two is substantial. The short-range weapons -- including discs and swords -- function somewhat like the sword in Twilight Princess. In contrast to Twilight Princess, however, using short-range weapons in Okami requires precise timing, something very difficult to properly execute with the Wii remote. (Although the manual doesn't mention it, flicking the controller with these weapons seems to work better than swiping it.)
The game offers a more sensible option in medium-range weapons, such as rosaries. These weapons auto-target opponents and merely require continuous shaking of the Wii remote. Because of their ease of use and effectiveness, most gamers will gravitate toward them rather than the more finicky short-range weapons.
One other technical note: twice during our playthrough of the game, Okami froze up. These were full-system freezes requiring hard shutdowns via the system power button; the Wii menu and all Wii remote functions were inaccessible. A look online showed that a few (although not all) other users encountered this same problem to varying degrees.
Wii has quietly become a real force in the realm of action adventure titles, thanks in no small part to original titles like Twilight Princess and ports like Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition and Bully: Scholarship Edition. With its lengthy and satisfying campaign, Okami only adds to this strong Wii genre. Furthermore, Okami offers a fresher story and a more engaging world than most games out there, including the Zelda franchise to which it is often compared.
But while Capcom and Ready at Dawn deserve huge props for bringing this game over to Wii, the game comes with one unfortunate fault. The controls, which are the linchpin of game, can be wonky and prove to be more of an aggravation than they should have been. Itís a shame that more QA couldnít have been spent refining those controls and making this game even better.
Fortunately, the annoyance of the controls is reduced somewhat by several factors, including forgiving some elements with respect to control, not to mention the speed the Wii remoteís IR allows. Equally important, the gameís superb art style, music and gameplay are wrapped around a captivating storyline that has few, if any, peers on Wii. While it isnít necessary a quantum leap over the PS2 version -- and while the game has its faults -- this is still a solid title that hardcore Wii owners will want to consider adding to their library.