I miss Clover Studios. True, I still haven’t played God Hand, and not all of their games have been my favorites (I couldn’t stand Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble), but they took established genres and injected them with a heavy dose of style. Okami was one such game, as evidenced by the fact that when it was released on the PS2, it met with critical acclaim. It had a visual flair about it that made it play out almost like a watercolor painting come to life. It was a beautiful game, and one that could also capture the essence of what makes games like The Legend of Zelda so fun. It did so with a wolf protagonist, even before Twilight Princess was released. Unfortunately, whether it was because of lack of marketing or perhaps it was simply too Japanese for some tastes, it wasn’t the runaway hit that the Zelda series was known for being. There’s a lot of speculation as to why Clover Studios was eventually shut down, but Okami could have been one of the reasons.
However, fans were given renewed hope once it was announced that Okami would be given a Wii port, and Ready at Dawn was able to adapt the game (somewhat successfully) to the Wii controls. Despite having access to the huge install base that the Wii has, sales were still pretty modest. As a result, Okami probably still holds the record for the least commercially successful winner of a game of the year award. I would not have been surprised had Capcom cut its losses and walked away from this franchise.
Yet, here we are. Five years after the original release of Okami, we now have a sequel for the Nintendo DS. And considering the emphasis on the brush strokes used throughout the game, it’s seemingly on a platform that it should’ve been on all along. Without Clover Studios at the helm, though, how does this long awaited sequel hold up?
Okamiden takes place nine months after the conclusion of the original. With the demon threat now gone, the people of Nippon should be living happily ever after. Of course, were that the case, we would not have a game to play, would we? So the demons mysteriously return to wreak havoc once again. Sakuya, the sprite from the original game who had lost her power when the trees wilted, attempts to summon Amaterasu to seek her aid once more. However, whether it was because she was still too weak from her last battle or perhaps she just simply had something more important to do, she sends her son Chibiterasu instead.
Following the opening sequence, I was immediately skeptical about the plot of this game. After all, if a danger is not important enough for even the original main character to get involved, how will the player even feel like anything is at stake? While it’s true that the adventure itself may be bite sized compared to the first game, it’s not necessarily lesser in quality. It takes a few hours before the plot begins to snowball, but once it does, you won’t want to put it down.
It helps that Chibi is such a likable character. It’s odd to say that a small puppy is one of my favorite new characters this year, but it’s true. There is so much expression given to the little wolf cub that you always know what he’s thinking or feeling, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s so damn cute through the entire thing. My favorite is when something shocking happens and his mouth gapes open in surprise (I almost want that as my new avatar). He also sheds tears when he’s sad and hugs his partners when he’s happy to see them. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a dog-like character like this since Repede from Tales of Vesperia.
Chibi won’t be adventuring alone either. Issun originally offers to join him on his quest to find the source of the demons, but quickly realizes he has to continue fulfilling the duties of a Celestial Envoy. Instead, you are joined by Kuni, who is the son of Susano and Kushi from the original Okami. That’s not all. Without spoiling too much, you’ll also be accompanied by an assortment of other characters who will join you for a short leg of the journey, each offering not only their unique abilities, but a source of companionship for Chibi that you don’t begin to appreciate until they leave your side. Their little nicknames for Chibi, such as “Mutt”Â and “Pork Chop”Â are also quite amusing.
Story/Modes Rating: Great
This late in the system’s lifecycle, the Nintendo DS has begun to show its age. However, Okamiden‘s cel-shaded art style transcends these limitations and manages to bring the visual brilliance of its console counterparts almost entirely intact. Everything looks almost as good as it did on the PS2 as well as the Wii, and even small details, such as the flowers that bloom everywhere that Chibi runs, are absolutely astounding. Not to mention the fact that your own actions have an obvious impact on the environment around you. Using bloom on withered trees causes them to flourish and dispels the evil in a given area, which will treat you to a scene where you get to watch the entire area regrow itself. So not only does the game look great, but it’s looking even better because you made it that way.
If there’s one area I have to nitpick, it’s the textures of the environments when you get close. The characters themselves look practically flawless, but the backgrounds can get very pixelated, which can clash with each other a bit. There’s also a little bit of clipping that takes place from time to time as well, but given the level of detail in everything else, it’s easy to forgive.
Graphics Rating: Amazing
The amount of voicework in Okamiden is equivalent to what you would find in your average Zelda game, in that nobody talks aside from the little sound bites that play during text dialogue. In fact, Chibi is probably the most talkative one in the entire bunch, as he will often growl at enemies or bark happily at his comrades. You’ll also hear his various yelps and cries as he takes damage from his enemies during battle.
If you loved the soundtrack from the original Okami, then you won’t be disappointed by what you find here. It not only perfectly accompanies the theme of the game, but it’s also just great music in general. You do have to appreciate a lot of drums and wind instruments in your music to really enjoy it though, so that’s something to keep in mind. But much like its predecessor, the music is superb and remains so even to its conclusion.
Sound Rating: Amazing
One of the biggest issues I had with the original Okami is that neither the PS2 or the Wii had controls that I was comfortable with. The Nintendo DS was the last setup with any hope of making the Celestial Brush skills not a pain in the ass to use, and for the most part, it succeeds.
One of my main criticisms for the DS Zelda entries (both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks) is that it forced me to control Link almost exclusively with the touchscreen. While I finished both of those titles and enjoyed them immensely, I really wished that I at least had the option to use more standardized controls. This is one area where I feel Okamiden is superior to Zelda.
You control Chibi’s movement using the D pad, but your basic attack is mapped to one of the face buttons. You also have the ability to dodge attacks or jump if the situation calls for it. If you need to use items during battle, there is a button assigned to bring up a menu, though you can hotkey some of them to the bottom screen to tap on as you need them. The bottom screen is also reserved for your minimap as well as camera controls, and pressing one of the shoulder buttons gives access to your many Celestial Brush skills. You have no idea how much easier it is to draw a straight line with a stylus than it is with the Wii remote.
The camera controls are probably the biggest criticism as far as the button layout is concerned, though I don’t know where else they could have been placed. In my games, camera controls are delegated to the shoulder buttons, so I constantly found myself instinctively hitting those when I wanted to get a better view. At least the camera stays out of your face for the most part, so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it’s an annoying quirk all the same.
As you run around the land of Nippon as Chibi, you will encounter demon scrolls that, when made contact with, will send you to a mini arena of sorts in order to do battle. When this happens, several demons will emerge, and you must make short work of them using whatever combination of weapons and brush strokes that you so desire. For example, drawing a straight line through your enemy will slash them, while making a circle with a line coming out the top will cause a bomb to emerge. Depending on your performance, you will be awarded with cash and items which can be used to buy supplies or upgrade your weapons. It should be noted that not all fights will transition to a new screen. Sometimes you will encounter smaller enemies out in the wild that will simply attack you (mostly within the confines of dungeons), and you can battle them on the spot like you would in a Zelda game, for example.
One of the biggest changes you’ll notice compared to the original game is the addition of partners. Depending on which partner you have with you, performing simple melee attacks on your foes will cause them to leap off of Chibi’s back and unleash some mayhem of their own, which is also counted as part of your overall score at the conclusion of battle. Perhaps more importantly, though, is what they contribute to dungeon navigation. In a move that closely mirrors what was done in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, you can have your partner hop off your back at any time and use the stylus to guide their movements. They may be tasked with crossing an area that Chibi may not have access to in order to hit a switch, or they may have a special role to play during boss battles. They also have their own lifebar too, so special care is needed in order to ensure their safety as well as your own.
Rounding out the package are some of the minigames that are required for you to progress. They involve such things as shmup segments and flying sequences that require you to change the course of the wind to stay afloat. I’m not a fan of being forced through minigames in order to move on in a game, but luckily, the ones presented here aren’t too terribly difficult and don’t last long enough to become a real nuisance.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Classic
Fans may initially think that Okamiden‘s shorter length is a detriment to the experience, but I would disagree. Sure, it can be cleared in half the time of the original, but I felt the first game could’ve ended in about three different places, and the entire middle segment seemed very padded out. The story this time around is far more cohesive, playing out as one grand adventure rather than three smaller ones.
One area that could’ve been improved, for those looking for a little more mileage in their purchase, is having more stuff to do on the side. There’s already a selection of minigames that you are engaged in during the plot, why not expand on that? You can go back and play scenes you’ve already done if you want to play them again, but I didn’t encounter a place where you can do more difficult variations for prizes or something similar, which would’ve been nice.
Speaking of prizes, there are a ton of collectibles to seek out if you’re into that sort of thing. Sometimes you will be tasked with searching for things that belong to a set for NPC’s you meet in the world, such as parts to a fishing rod or pottery equipment. There’s also a town that you’ll visit later that will expand based on the characters you talk to during your adventure. You’ll encounter animals and people looking to start a new life, and in turn, direct them to this town. You not only earn praise (which raises your health and ink pots), but new item shops and inns will open up in the town for you to take advantage of. Talking to those kind folks again will sometimes net you more praise.
So while there are things to collect on the side and people seeking aid, it is nowhere near the level of the previous game. Plus, the “point of no return”Â happens a fair ways before the conclusion of the game, so if you want to go back and pick up things that you missed, you may have to wait until you start a New Game Plus. Especially considering there are a lot of areas that can’t be revisited and you only get one saved game, completionists beware.
Replayability Rating: Enjoyable
This game is actually much easier than the original Okami, if you can believe that. The only thing your money is really used for is to buy items, and you can stockpile a ridiculous amount of them with the mountain of cash you receive. You don’t even buy new weapons in Okamiden either. Aside from the reflector that Chibi starts with, you’ll also obtain a glaive and the prayer beads (both which are found during regular play), and that’s it. They can be upgraded with items you find from defeating enemies a certain way, though even that isn’t really necessary. During my initial playthrough, I didn’t enhance a single one of my weapons and was able to topple my opponents with ease. Throw in the offense and defense enhancing items, and you are basically indestructible as long as you are proactive with your healing.
Despite the ease in difficulty, it’s still a fun adventure that would make a great jumping on point for anyone new to these sorts of games. Exploring and finding hidden caves is fun, and the boss battles are the most imaginative I’ve ever seen in the way they take advantage of the partner mechanic. For example, one battle has your partner swimming from island to island pursuing the enemy while you have to fend off attacks to protect them from harm. When they finally catch up to the boss, you then use your vine skill to pull yourself to your partner’s location. Masochists will be bored to tears, but everyone else should be able to overlook the hand holding in order to enjoy the adventure.
Balance Rating: Above Average
Not much has changed in the land of Nippon since the last outing, and as such, many of the characters you meet and locales you visit are virtually the same. Heck, most of the brush skills that you acquire are exactly the same as they were before. The only thing truly new this time around is the addition of the teammate dynamic, which as was mentioned before, was already utilized in one of the more recent Zelda titles. That said, if you are looking for the closest thing to Zelda without actually being Zelda, and don’t want to play exclusively on the touchscreen, this is the perfect game for you. If you want innovation, you’re not going to find much here. Luckily the unique presentation hasn’t worn out its welcome yet, so that at least still feels fresh.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
As much as I liked the original Okami, this one took a few hours to hook me due to its slow start. After all, the game doesn’t communicate the importance of your quest for a long time (you spend the opening moments looking for some poor girl’s mirror) and it felt like the lack of Amaterasu’s presence meant that the danger wasn’t all that real. Once the story does start the pick up, though, you’ll find that this is a hard game to put down as you’ll constantly wonder what comes next.
It helps that everything else about Okamiden is so well designed. Some of the enemies you encounter require a lot more strategy than just simply mashing the attack button. The dungeons are equally clever, as they make good use of both your current abilities and those of your partner. It’s enough to make you ponder, but not so out there that you will end up stuck for hours on end. That’s a tough balance to maintain, and one that I think helps to push the player forward. A small percentage of games can really motivate the player to reach the end, and I think between the shorter length and the brilliant design, this will allow many to see the conclusion, even if they didn’t have the patience for its predecessor.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
Okamiden has a few things working against in regards to its success at retail. The first and most obvious is the lack of units moved from both the PS2 and Wii iterations of the first game. Who’s going to play a sequel to a game that they’ve never played or possibly never heard of? That said, one does not need to have played the original to appreciate this game, as it does do a good job of explaining earlier events and the adventure is mostly self-contained. Also, games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 help introduce the character of Amaterasu to new players in the same way that the Super Smash Bros. games got the word out about titles like Fire Emblem or Kid Icarus.
Putting all that aside though, Okamiden is still being released during a window where a ton of other major releases for portable systems are just weeks apart. In February and March alone you have games like Tactics Ogre, Pokemon Black & White, Dissidia 012 Duodecim, and even a 3DS launch lineup to contend with. It’s good that they didn’t wait until the holidays where it would’ve been swallowed up for sure, but perhaps being delayed a couple of months could’ve helped for those gamers on a budget, in order to spread out releases.
Appeal Rating: Enjoyable
The majority of this game was played using my 3DS, so if you have any doubts about how games from the previous generation will look on the new system, you can put them to rest. While it’s true that they do not cover the entirety of the top screen, I think in this game’s case, you wouldn’t want it to. When you go to use a Celestial Brush skill, the top screen shifts down to the bottom screen in order for you to draw on it, and then returns to the top. To do this while the top screen is larger would be very jarring for the player and wouldn’t make all that much sense. Also, the game looks damn good in its native resolution, so there’s also that.
One of the biggest nightmares I had while playing the Wii version of Okami is how there were segments of the gameplay that you could not get through unless you drew something very specific (like a straight line through a rock), but the remote was not accurate enough to convey this effectively. I ended up having to draw the same damn thing over and over again all while being yelled at by Issun because I wasn’t drawing what I was supposed to. Since the Nintendo DS hardware is perfectly suited for this kind of drawing mechanic, it almost becomes a non-issue, which is a huge relief. There will be times when the game doesn’t pick up on your sloppy bomb drawings, but for the most part everything registers the way it should and you spend less time feverishly drawing the same thing over and over in failure and more time enjoying the game.
Most DS games that are released are usually at the price point of about $35 to $40 (I know Square Enix is a big offender in this department), but Okamiden can be picked up brand new for about $30, which I think is outstanding. This is especially true now that the 3DS is out and the standard price for new titles is back up to the $40 price point. Kudos to Capcom for making niche games an inexpensive risk for gamers.
Miscellaneous Rating: Classic
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Like its protagonist, Chibiterasu, Okamiden is but a small pup amidst an onslaught of big name, first quarter portable releases. Despite the overwhelming odds, it manages to stand out with its unique presentation, likable characters, and a control scheme that matches up almost perfectly with the Nintendo DS hardware. While it does borrow a lot of material from the original Okami, as well as from the more recent Zelda titles, it manages to grab the best elements of each one and blend them into one stylish action/adventure package. If you’re a fan of the original Okami or wouldn’t mind a Zelda-style game with a makeover in Japanese feudal era artwork, then you should pick this game up, no question. Like other pups, Okamiden needs a home and it deserves to find one in your Nintendo DS. Honestly, could you look into Chibi’s eyes and tell him no? Really?