Brush Up On Your Japanese Mythology
It was at the end of the PlayStation 2's hey-day when the original Okami graced its presence on the console. Now fast-forward to 2011, and a fresher form of Okami, Okamiden, is making its appearance near the end of the Nintendo DS's life. Is Okamiden the Nintendo DS's last great game?
It's been nine months since the Great Goddess Amaterasu saved the country of Nippon from evil and moved on to the promised land in the sky. Now evil has returned, and with no one to stop it, a new hero blooms in the form of Chibiterasu to save Nippon from impending doom and sinister spirits. The story plays out in skippable cutscenes with text that auto-scrolls. Sometimes you just want everyone to shut up and allow you to play the game, so you skip the cutscenes. Unfortunately, that means skipping where you need to go next. Without the ability to safely skip cutscenes, you're stuck watching these mostly boring scenes. The story is not particularly interesting at all which is a shame since the original had its moments. Okamiden has virtually zero.
Chibiterasu won't be alone during her journey to vanquish the encroaching evil that plagues Nippon. In fact, a total of five partners join Chibi throughout her quest at various points throughout her adventure. Each one has different powers for Chibi to utilize. The mermaid, for instance, can swim across water while another can the final friend you greet and meet can use the fire on his head to put out giant walls of ice that impede progress.
Much like the Amaterasu, Chibi can utilize the Celestial Brush as well. What the Wii and PS2 versions lacked in tactile feedback, you get 1:1 brush strokes by using the bottom screen to draw lines. At any point during the game you press or hold the shoulder button and use the stylus to draw shapes or trace over constellations to gain new powers. Every time you use a Celestial Brush technique you use up a portion of your stored ink. Breaking pots can restore this as well as using items from the in-game menu. There's an abundance of moves to learn from drawing a straight line to slash a gigantic rock in two to drawing a circle with a line coming out from it to drop a bomb to blow up walls or otherwise impenetrable enemies. There's a technique called Vine which allows Chibiterasu to distance herself from her partner. While Chibi cannot cross, say, a chasm, her partner can. Then you can draw a line from Chibi to her partner to send Chibi to where her partner is currently situated. Other moves allow Chibi to polarize magnets, give bloom to dead trees, and connect fire to burnable objects.
Okamiden, like much in lieu of its original game, follows the Legend of Zelda in its design philosophy. You explore the overworld, towns, and fields talking to townspeople and gathering clues on where to head next. Like Zelda, the game really follows a overworld-dungeon-overworld structure. The overworlds are devoid of life until Chibi's Celestial Brush paints them new life whereas the dungeons require every use of the Celestial Brush that Chibi can think of. Partners must separate, switches must be pressed, and bosses must be slain.
In Okamiden, the boss battles require all usages of the Celestial Brush to defeat them. A giant catfish that charges at Chibi and her partner must have its tongue connected via the Vine technique to a flower that hangs on the ceiling of the battlefield. It is only then that the giant catfish can be attacked safely. A large toad, on the other hand, when dropping down from the sky can be hurt by slicing its belly button by drawing one straight line at the target to injure it. Most enemy encounters do not happen on the overworld or in dungeons. Instead they occur in circular arenas. Much like the bosses themselves, finding the correct Celestial Brush technique is key in defeating a given enemy.
In the Legend of Zelda, gaining heart containers is how the hero increased his health. In Okamiden Chibi gains new health and more ink storage by helping out townspeople with their problems and revitalizing the land. There's a gauge on the bottom of the touch screen that grows with every successful deed. When it fills fully, a new notch of health or ink pot is gained. The touch screen also houses the camera controls as well as a map of the area Chibi and friend are currently residing in.
There's plenty to see and do in Okamiden. One playthrough took me about eighteen hours to finish. I tried to collect as many treasures as possible. Most treasures housed helpful items like unlimited ink for a limited amount of time, health-restoring food, and priceless antiques that can be sold to retailers for a profit. These were usually hidden in out-of-the-way locations and in closed-off caverns. You can also purchase these items from vendors in the two main towns in the game or by demon vendors that prowl around save points. Speaking of save points, after an area has been purged from evil, you can eventually use a Warp ability to zoom from destinations easily instead of going it by hoof. After beating the game, you earn a New Game + option that carries over all of your health and ink pot storage. All treasures collected go away, however.
Visually, Capcom pushed the DS to its limits. The watercolor cel-shaded look of the game is pretty impressive if not a bit gaudy. There's little in the way of slowdown, and the effect of flowers popping up wherever Chibiterasu prowls is a nice touch. The gibberish voices akin to something like Banjo-Kazooie are charming, and the music is altogether complimentary to the setting of Okamiden.
My main problem with Okamiden is that it feels like Okami-lite throughout the adventure. You're revisiting old areas (that this time around are heavily-segmented into smaller fields) and facing familiar foes. The constant cutscenes that you cannot control how fast the dialogue goes is also a bother. If you're expecting a Clover Studio-inspired journey, you're going to be disappointed. This game hardly holds up to the original Okami. The combat is basically mash buttons to win, the puzzles are painfully easy to solve, and the bosses are mostly underwhelming. For a Zelda-like title on the DS, stick to Zelda. If you were a fan of the original Okami, there's hope that you'll enjoy this sometimes clever romp.
[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]