February 9th, 2010
In the last exciting episode I began discussing some of the structural aspects which differentiate Okami from other games. This time I will continue the discussion, including the points which you probably expected would headline the previous article.
Lack of Road blocks
Zelda: Twilight Princess really threw me with its momentum. I started the game back on release in 2006, got stuck with the initial fishing mini-game (I’m still somewhat clueless, even though I’ve caught many a fish since) and settled for Red Steel instead. I returned in early 2007 and found myself regrettably stuck in the first dungeon. I left Twilight Princess until about 2008, where I’d made some leeway, pushing through another 6 hours of gameplay before being unable to defrost Zora’s domain. I scoured the land high and low and was still stuck, so I waited another year, 2009 by this stage, and after finally consulting a guide, the random, esoteric solution became clear. From there on out I kept working until Twilight Princess was beat. Often, during the final slog, I’d still find myself stuck again and again, thankfully the occasional dependence on a trusty guide helped me through.
Although Twilight Princess is supremely designed, these bumps in the road were large enough to keep me away for long amounts of time.
Okami is rarely like this. The path ahead is always clear. A large part of it is due to the reduction of challenge and open-endedness. Okami‘s segregated overworld narrows the opportunity to diverge down the wrong path. The dungeons too appear open-ended, but in truth are entirely linear. Okami also features fewer puzzles and rarely any that extend beyond a single room.
There’s a reason why the player feels as though they’re constantly making the right choice, it’s because Okami offers only one, while presenting the illusion of many. Hence my natural tendency to compare Okami to Zelda, when in fact Zelda achieves what Okami only alludes. As such, Okami is a very accessible adventure, yet at the same time makes the player feel satisfied.
Celestial Brush and the Environment
The beauty of the celestial brush is two fold. Firstly, the celestial brush ties the player’s actions to the environment in a meaningful manner which evokes positive feelings from the kinship displayed. Secondly, it streamlines the ability/inventory systems of games such as Zelda, by channeling all abilities through the single use of the celestial brush.
Through the celestial brush the player co-authors not just the avatar, but the environment too, which is pretty revolutionary. The player’s interaction with the game world is presented tangibly through the transformation of their surrounding environment into a much more appealing one, and therefore feels meaningful. Furthermore, the onus of this system rest on a singularly more favourable kind of player input, drawing, rather than being spread across an inventory of equipment.
Being the visual embodiment of Okami‘s innovations, it’s understandable why people discuss thick-outlines and thatched patterns before they mention the gameplay itself, however, as my ordering supposes, I consider the other points, that of structural and mechanical divergences, to be considerably more important.
From my judgment, game enthusiasts seem rightly sceptical of cel-shading. You can’t really blame them considering the Cel Damages which abuse what the style connotes by using it without artistic purpose. When cel-shading is used purposefully though, be it stylistically, such as in Jet Set Radio or for facial expression and character establishment as in Zelda: Wind Waker, we’re usually quite content, if not thrilled. Okami‘s cel-shaded environment, alongside the thatching and line work are such an integral part of Okami‘s cultural authenticity and so deeply attached to the context, that we can’t help but adore it. Okami is probably the truest use of the technique yet.
The visual direction furthermore intertwines itself with the celestial brush mechanic, by highlighting the status of the environment, pinpointing the trouble spots needing subsequent strokes and then rewarding the player with an accentuated beauty.
Not much to add to the headline, Okami is densely packed with well written dialogue, in contrast to the majority of games which are poorly written. Unlike the Paper Mario/Mario and Luigi series, the dialogue itself isn’t ultra stylised (and sometimes difficult to read), rather every sentence has a minor word, expression or style which adds flavour to the text as a whole.
Level of Polish
What I think surprises many people about Okami is that it genuinely doesn’t ever let up. Every form of gameplay that Okami has you participate in is untechnical and enjoyable with a high degree of polish. Every character is distinct and memorable, each with multiple layers in which to interest you. Some characters I liked for their perky dialogue, some for their character designs and others for their ultra cute, garbled voice. There isn’t a single part of the game which is incomplete or requires additional iteration. Okami is a champion against the “we’ll fix it in the sequel” attitude which is permeating throughout the industry.
Okami‘s RPG/adventure gameplay has been claimed to be “Zelda-inspired”, and loosely speaking, one can claim that the two games have a similar sense about that. However, as evidenced over our eight points of argument, the fundamental differences, most crucially that of the overworld and ability/skills systems, differentiate Okami vastly from Zelda and in fact many other RPGs for that matter.
Next time we shall explore how these differences affect the player’s experience over these 40hr-long epics. If you’ve completed both of these games, I think that the analysis shall prove worthwhile.