Anyone who was paying attention back when the Wii was little more than a dream and the PlayStation 2 was riding high probably latched onto Okami when it first came out and drained every drop of enjoyment that could possibly be obtained. If you're one of the wise and informed who grabbed this game when it was on the PS2, I have two simple words for you: Keep it. While there's nothing overwhelmingly wrong with the Wii iteration, everyone who has a copy has insisted that the PS2 version has better controls and seems more refined, as if Ready at Dawn was more of a scheduling demand than a development company. If you already have the PS2 copy of Okami in your collection, there's really no reason to pick up the Wii version, unless you have some compulsive need to own every version that exists.
Okami's greatest strength is its story. Some time ago, the evil demon Orochi was liberated from its long imprisonment and went on a rampage, eating plants and people and the sun and generally making an absolute pest of himself. Nagi, a warrior from the village of Kamiki, went to fight Orochi, but he was naturally no match for the many-headed creature. A white wolf named Shiranui eventually joined the fight and helped him win a decisive victory, but was poisoned during the fight and died almost immediately thereafter. Both human and wolf were hailed as heroes, and the latter was enshrined in statue form for a hundred years.
Fast-forward to the present day, when somebody is dumb enough to yank out the sword that holds Orochi in check, thereby liberating him once more. He wastes little time in resuming its destructive habits, with only Sakuya the wood sprite keeping Kamiki village from being engulfed. With her last bit of strength, she helps the spirit of the ancient god Amaterasu into the statue of Shiranui the wolf, bringing it to life.
It doesn't take much time to get the basics from Sakuya or meet up with your irritating new sidekick Issun (who wants nothing less than to learn your brush techniques and then steal them), whereupon you set about liberating the residents of your village. Unfortunately for you, Nagi's descendant is a lazy drunkard who wouldn't know how to use a sword if it came with an instruction manual, so you spend a fair bit of time trying to make up for his inadequacies and making him look good in front of others. No, you're on your own in this one.
Graphically, Okami is everything you've probably heard. The wood-cut visual style is stunning throughout the entire adventure, and while the thick outlines do occasionally obscure vision just a little bit, it's nothing that can't be overcome with the surprisingly responsive camera controls. Every character is visually distinctive, and the village looks like an authentic feudal-era Japanese town. Even the conversation scenes, so often rendered in still motion in other games, flow with a curious sort of energy that really brings the world to life. Revitalizing your surroundings truly feels like you're bringing life to a drab grayscale piece, and grass and flowers even bloom in Amaterasu's wake.
Even the great warrior Achilles had his one weakness — a flaw that made him vulnerable in combat — and the heel of Okami lies in its sound design. The music feels authentically Japanese, and the sound effects are satisfying and range from the grass crunching beneath your feet to the impact of your head against a nearby wall. However, the agonizing part of the sound is the characters' voices. Take Simlish, the language used by the characters in the Sims video games, and crank up the pitch to painful levels. Every character with a speaking role utters that same piercing gibberish, a nonsensical audio jumble that makes me wish they had simply left it at the textual subtitles. I don't know anyone who speaks like that, and I pray that I never do, or I may have to remove his or her voice box with a rusty spoon.
The gameplay in Okami is surprisingly deep and involved. You have the opportunity to obtain and equip various weapons and items, which can do anything from temporarily improve your defensive capabilities to replenish your health bar to make your ink pots refresh more quickly. New techniques like double-jumping or side-stepping become available with the appropriate training, and you can perform tasks such as winning contests, feeding animals, and assisting villagers to gain praise orbs, which act very much like experience points. Those praise orbs can then be used to increase your maximum health, buy more ink pots, allow you to hold more food, or even raise the maximum amount of money you can carry. It's possible to make almost limitless gameplay choices in Okami, and while the start of the game feels a bit linear and restricted, players who proceed past the first hour will find a rich and involved world to explore.
There are only two minor gripes about the gameplay. The flow of the combat feels artificially slowed; it's true that there's only about half a second required between one attack and the next, and it doesn't prevent you from performing combinations, but it loses a bit of its fluidity. The other gripe has to do with the Wiimote. When Okami was first announced for Nintendo's new system, everyone was anxious to try their hand at the Wiimote's motion sensor for the brushstrokes. It is my unfortunate duty to report that the idea was good in concept alone; the demands of the game and the closeness of some of the strokes mean that you're going to have to be very careful with how you use the brush. Particularly irritating was the scene in which a boulder must be cut in half; it took multiple attempts, not because I was doing the wrong motion, but because the line wasn't quite straight enough for the game the first couple of times.
The final verdict is that Okami for the Wii is an excellent offering and a fine addition to your library if you don't already own the PlayStation 2 version. The small complaints are a small price to pay for such an exquisite adventure, a title that really proves that quality third-party support for Nintendo is much more than a dream at this point. Get yourself a copy!
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