February 8th, 2010
[Okami's massive 40+ hour play time is the sole reason for the lack of game-related posts on here in recent weeks. I always begin writing after I've finished a game and Okami's enduring length over the past several months has forced me to continually postpone my writing. However, I think it's been well worth it as I have a slew of analysis lined up.]
If you’re unfamiliar with Okami, or just need a refresher, then the video below should prepare you for the analysis (further below) as well as the other articles which’ll follow in the coming days. For interest’s sake, I played the PS2 version.
Personally speaking, many of my favourite games are titles which take an established formula, particularly formula of a traditional vintage, and restructure it to create an experience which feels both reminiscent and refreshing. An obvious and very literal example of such a game is Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. GTA:CW readapts the overhead 2D gameplay from GTA and GTA2 to the DS platform as well as fitting the formula with the modern design amenities which have developed out of the 3D titles. A less explicit example is Metroid Prime, which forwent the platforming genre whilst keeping exploration, the series’ most defining element, at the root of the experience. It takes an astute team of developers to understand what made the essence of the original subject matter (series, genre, approach) so special and then reinterpret this essence into a new format.
Okami, as you’ve probably guessed, is this type of game. Okami takes the established Zelda framework and tailors it in a way which feels new and exciting. To simply label Okami as a Zelda-styled adventure is probably a bit discrediting, as its divergences are what contribute to the game’s excellence. Let’s take a look at the way Okami separates itself, not just from Zelda, but from the established norm, as it’s here where Okami flourishes.
Being a wolf, Amaterasu moves faster than humans and therefore faster than most other video game characters (particularly in the RPG genre). Amaterasu’s speed is somewhere between the average speed of a car and a human walk, which is a little unusual for video games by virtue of the fact that either of those two ends tend to act as the avatar, rather than a middle point.
One could argue that Amaterasu has a strong likeness in movement to Epona, Link’s horse from the Zelda series. However, Epona functionally plays the same role as a vehicle. She is peripheral, whereas, Amaterasu alone achieves both the function of Link (slower, more refined movement) and Epona (a fast sprint for quicker travel). So, just from the standpoint of movement, Amaterasu is a very unique character.
Division and Dynamic of the Overworld
Okami‘s overworld, the land of Nippon, is broken apart into a series of smaller hub areas, rather than being contained within a single overworld. As we’ve learnt from the past 13 years of Zelda titles, a single, sparsely populated overworld, be it a field or an ocean, only increases the time of low player participation*. The segregation of Nippon into a series of smaller hubs therefore creates a different dynamic for these isolated areas. Firstly, on a technical level, more data can be rendered into a smaller area, allowing the developers to fill each hub more densely with interesting stuff like environment, characters and activities. Secondly, on a spatial level, the more confined space cuts the travel time between towns and other areas of interest, this is accommodated by Amaterasu’s fast-paced sprint. As a result, time spent in the overworld is not downtime, but rather a time for the player to engage in the abundance of choice that the Okami offers them.
More Killer Less Filler
The amount of time and obligation required to attend to these aforementioned activities (those tangental to the main quest), offer the player different degrees of engagement. Players can spend a few minutes fixing up the environment with their celestial brush or spend much longer hunting down collectables or partaking in mini-games.
The great thing about Okami is that everywhere (not just in the “overworld”) is full of these microcosms of activity. This is predominately served by the celestial brush which can heal various parts of the environment, but also the incredible number of collectables such a ornaments, stray beads, fish, dojo scrolls…the list is rather extensive, and as discussed in The New Gamer, it can sometimes feel like you’re gorging on excess.
What this means is that every inch of land in Okami is dense with gameplay, unlike in the majority of other games where the landscape is not a harvester for gameplay, instead often playing a meaningless, passive role, ie. Uncharted.
*Before you mention it, I am aware that Zelda:Twilight Princess‘ main overworld is split into several small hubs, however this appears to be so for technical reasoning, rather than functional. The overworlds between the two games are very different.