After five years and a Wii remake later, Capcom has finally released a new Okami game that lets players revisit the woodcut watercolor world of old Nippon. Okamiden is a charming game that fits nicely on the Nintendo DS and definitely holds its own against its console prequel. Who would have thought divine interventions would be this much fun?
The plot in Okamiden occurs nine months after the events in the first game. Despite being banished by the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, evil demons have returned to the land of Nippon. The spirit of the village Konohana calls Amaterasu for help, but instead gets her son, the adorable Chibiterasu, who also possesses the ability to wield the Celestial Brush, giving him access to various techniques. He then is entrusted with the mission to expunge the lands from this evil and bring happiness and harmony back to its people.
Anyone who has played the original Okami will immediately recognize the various characters that make their return from the first game. You will also revisit many familiar towns and locations that give the game a nostalgic appeal for fans of the series. Okamiden does a great job of catching you up on the events of the first game, so even if you haven’t played Okami before, you won’t feel lost. The game incorporates traditional Japanese instruments such as the biwa and koto into its soundtack and you will recognize some of the songs from its prequel. The Japanese art style of the game is unchanged and still retains its ukiyo-e splendor that transports you to a world of Japanese mythology, culture, and folklore.
As you play through the game, Chibiterasu encounters other gods that lend him their Celestial Brush techniques. To activate them, you hold down or tap the shoulder buttons to pause the game and then use your stylus to draw the corresponding symbol on the touch screen. For example, the Power Slash requires a quick stroke and the Bloom technique requires a circle around the object you want to affect. Like in the past game, using the Celestial Brush pauses the game, and you are limited to just one technique at a time. Considering the system’s dual screens, I wish Capcom had found a way to avoid pausing the action and allowed for a more fluid transition from top to bottom screen.
Because the DS does not have a control stick, moving around a three-dimensional plane is somewhat cumbersome at first. I also noticed the game has very restricting boundaries that prevent you from running wherever you want. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that you need to precisely face the direction of a bridge, for example, to get on it. Otherwise, you’ll run into its tight border. The game’s camera can be a bit annoying at times, since it restricts your view during certain instances. And because the shoulder buttons are used for the Celestial Brush, you need to use the tap screen to move the camera left or right.
Okamiden plays very similar to its predecessor in that you explore your environments and fight enemies along the way. You don’t always have to fight enemies, and because you need to make contact with one on the field to engage in combat, battles can be avoided. During the first portion of the game, combat will feel repetitive since your limited powers only allow you to button mash your way through battles. But as you acquire more brush techniques, you can use them to expose your enemy’s weakness and destroy them more quickly.
Accompanying Chibiterasu on his journey are several different characters that help you fight and explore your way through Nippon. Unlike the past game, you won’t be joined by the helpful flee Issun, but instead one of the main characters on your journey will be Kuni, the son of the drunken warrior Susano. To complement this new partner system, the game introduces a new brush technique that involves drawing paths for your partner to follow on the tap screen. This lets you press switches that are meant for two people and get items Chibiterasu can’t reach. During battles, these characters will also fight alongside you too.
What I really enjoyed about Okamiden was the way the game encourages exploration. You’ll run into places that require certain techniques you do not have yet, so you’ll have to remember to return to them later on. You will slice rocks to reveal hidden caverns, extinguish flames to clear traps, and find keys to open doors. As you can tell, the game borrows a lot from other games, especially The Legend of Zelda and its open ended exploratory worlds and dungeons. It may have been inspired by Zelda games, but like its prequel, Okamiden has enough unique elements that will make it memorable to anyone that plays it.
For example, each of the characters that will join you has his or her own unique abilities. Kuni has his sword, but the other ones possess a mixture of spiritual and elemental powers and abilities that let you explore other areas. Your brush techniques become ammunition against bigger enemies and bosses that require a lot more thinking to find their weakness than the common demon you face on the field. You don’t have an unlimited supply of ink, so you need to be sure you use your brush wisely or else you’ll have to fend for yourself. In fact, my favorite aspect of the game was fighting the bosses since each of their fights is essentially a final test of the skills you’ve learned up to that point.
Everything in Okami seem to have been miniaturized. The gods who give you brush techniques are the children of the gods who help Amaterasu in Okami. All your companions are children. And Chibiterasu’s name actually alludes to the fact that he is a tiny sun god. Everything may be tinier, but your adventure is anything but. With over 20 hours of dungeons, battles, and exploration,Okamiden will last you a while. It is a charming game that may not break new ground, but it might be the last great game the Nintendo DS sees before the 3DS takes over.
A copy of Okamiden for the 3DS was provided to us for this review.