Release Date: April 15, 2008
We’ve said many things about Ōkami here at Nintendojo over the years. We’ve talked about how it has one of the most richly layered narratives in video game history (three times, no less); we’ve praised its exquisite art direction, and we’ve even named Issun, your teeny-tiny travelling companion, one of our favourite NPCs of all time. SO WHY HAVEN’T YOU BOUGHT THIS GAME, YET?
Ahem. In all seriousness, though, Ōkami really is one of Wii’s finest action-adventure games, not least because it’s essentially Zelda set in feudal Japan, but because there couldn’t possibly be a game more suited to Nintendo’s little white console. It may have been originally released on PlayStation 2 in 2006, but when the game’s central mechanic is based around using ink to revitalise the world around you, few can deny that Wii is the true spiritual home of the franchise. The Wii Remote is the perfect virtual paintbrush, after all, and even though Wii U will probably miss out on the recently announced HD remake of the game, we have a sneaking suspicion that the Wii version will remain the definitive Ōkami experience (even if the HD version will support PlayStation Move…).
But let’s talk a little more about what makes this game so special. As I’ve hinted at above, Ōkami ticks all the right boxes when it comes to fantastic game design. For starters, its lengthy story is deeply rooted in Japanese folklore, and its modern take on several ancient tales makes this quite unlike any other game about Japan out there. You may not know it, but god is, quite literally, in the detail as our divine protagonist Amaterasu not only takes us on a journey to defeat the world’s greatest evil, but also on a grand tour through some of Japan’s most famous myths and legends, and each one has their own special significance both within the game itself and the wider legacy of their individual stories. Of course, stitching together so many pre-existing tales could be seen as a slightly lazy approach to storytelling, but Ōkami weaves them together into one seamless tapestry of narrative genius– something which I’ll let our mythological trilogy in the links above explain in more detail!
As the people of Nippon lose their faith, its demons and devils gain more power.
Narrative brilliance aside, though, what really seals the deal in Ōkami is its “sumi-e” (or “ink wash”) art style. Everything from the smallest sparrow to the mightiest mountain is composed of long, broad brush strokes, and it makes the entire game look and feel like one, giant moving painting. Which is just as well, really, as “Nippon” is one big, old world, spanning from the frozen reaches of Kamui to the forlorn sakura plains of Shinshu Field and the decadent noble quarters of Sei-an City. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, but there’s always room to leave your own mark on it too thanks to the power of your divine ink brush. You can do the right thing and revive withered sakura trees to gain more praise, or you can play it slightly sillier, terrorising the local girls with an impromptu gust of wind up their kimonos, or momentarily blinding nearby villagers by smearing a thick dollop of ink right in their face. Even better is that all this applies to your enemies as well, making combat a delightful mix of traditional fisticuffs and puppyish frivolity– and when some of Ammy’s abilities literally amount to taking a leak (and laying down explosive poop bombs) on her enemies, it’s also hilariously irreverent.
But the thing I love most about Ōkami is that there are almost never two moments the same in this game (except for maybe the occasional repeated boss battle here and there), and that it’s an adventure full of contrasts. One minute you’ll be bounding through the windy hills of Kusa Village and the next you’ll be leaping over the back of a giant dragon to reach the pitch-black land of Oni Island. You’ll visit the highest heavens and the deepest oceans, the real and the ethereal, even the innards of the Emperor himself, and you’re always left wondering where Ammy’s adventure will take her next. It’s easy to say it’s “Zelda set in feudal Japan”, but that description really doesn’t do it justice. Sure, it’s full of dungeons and puzzles to solve and it’s set in a wide, open world with new weapons and abilities to sniff out, but Ōkami is definitely its own beast of a game that really deserves a lot more love and attention from those seeking something a little different from the norm. It’s gorgeous, intelligent, and one heck of a romp, so do yourself a favour and pick it up before it goes walkies for good.