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I hope you didn’t come here to play

I’m a bit of a cheat here, you could say. I spent a good five hours with Okami back when it was fresh, giving me a few pre-existing opinions Reeve and Clidus won’t have. However, it’s already been two years. All things old are new again, yeah?

First off, let’s talk about my setup. I’m playing on my Playstation 3, hooked up to a 32″ LCD TV and 5.1 audio system. I share this not because I expect it’s particularly valuable information for Okami, but rather because every reviewer should extend such a courtesy. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that Mr. IGN played Gran Turismo with a wheel rather than a controller, or if the sound design only impressed thanks to his lovely 7.1 audio system? If I hope for readers to relate to my opinion, then it is always important that they be aware of my circumstances.

Let’s talk Okami. We’re brought up to speed with a cute little intro, an animated storybook detailing events 100 years ago. It’s a very charming, and, much like the rest of the game, highly Japanese way to pull the player into Okami’s world. After about ten minutes we’re presented with a full-color explosion showing off the game’s true graphics engine, and how it can be used to watch people talk for another ten minutes. These totals are no exaggeration, as my first save, taken nearly immediately after all of the text-only chit-chat, displayed 23 minutes. The plot is really quite interesting, but not even the most pretentious role-playing games require players to sit through the equivalent of an anime episode before even fiddling about as their protagonist. Once I did get my hands on the titular Okami, or rather, Amaterasu, I was thrilled. However, these initial gameplay segments represent only bite-sized portions, whilst well-intentioned folk will stop you every 2-5 minutes to explain a game feature. Breaking pots, for example. Or jumping. The first hour of actual gameplay is pretty much a hand-holding pain in the ass, made bearable only through entertaining writing. If you’ve played a videogame before, only the Celestial Brush tutorials will be necessary. Okami is something of a Zelda clone at its core, so I’m not shocked at all by the babying I’ve received. Only a little disappointed. Once I could play with fewer interruptions, matters progressed rather smoothly.

Amaterasu is light as a feather, running faster and jumping higher than most any humanoid protagonist in videogames. Headbutt a wall, and you bounce off swiftly and unharmed. Hop around near villagers, and whatever task they were attending is dropped in the proceeding freak-out. Gorgeous floral affects accompanying certain actions, such as a trail of flowers growing behind Amaterasu when she really gets moving. Call it the Sonic the Hedgehog Effect – when simply running in circles is fun in your game, you know you’ve nailed the controls. Hell, there’s even a button solely for barking. This is all rather unfortunate for someone like myself, who’s natural attention deficiencies lead them run around town barking and trying to hop across waterways, among other daft things.

Combat also plays out smoothly. Striking enemies with Amaterasu’s reflector has a nice tactile oomph, and a key defensive strategy is to simply keep running – not a bad thing at all when running is so much fun. Battles generally ignite when one of several foreboding-looking pieces of fabric hovering about the Hub World float into Amaterasu’s comfort zone. It’s a very RPG-ish method of producing enemy encounters, but it succeeds by keeping me in suspense over what type of enemy hopes to ambush. At about the three hour mark three types of common demons have been introduced, yet even in combination they don’t pose much of a threat. Out of sixteen or so battles, I’ve only been hit once. Now, this could very possibly be attributed to the five hours I originally spent with the game, so jury’s out on difficulty for the time being. I’ll say that I would really like to be challenged, though.

I’ve completely avoided discussing various brush techniques, and that’s intentional. They apply to every gameplay element I’ve discussed and then some. People tend to liken the Celestial Brush to Link’s Ocarina in the N64 Zelda games, but it’s far more integral than that. The brush is your ocarina, your sword, your jar of water, and several things that Link never tried his hand at. Next time I feel like writing, I’ll explain how. Unless my cohorts decide to do it for me.