For console adventure games, it’s the year of the wolf. While Nintendo is still working on Twilight Princess, CaPCom releases a title for the PS2 that’s sure to be a howling success. The game is already available in Japan, and will be making its way to America and Europe this September. The name of the game is Okami.
Okami, a name that translates roughly to “great wolf deity,” is loosely based on Japanese folklore. The tale begins with the warrior Nagi, struggling to vanquish the evil hydra-god, Orochi, which is attacking his territory, Kamiki Village. As Nagi is nearing his home, a mysterious white wolf named Shiranui comes to his aide and together, they valiantly fight against the Orochi. Using the last of its strength, Shiranui summons a sword from the skies, which Nagi uses to finish Orochi. Nagi carries the dying Shiranui back to Kamiki Village as a hero, but the wolf soon perishes from his battle-wounds. To honor his memory, the villagers build a statue of the Shiranui as well as a shrine to contain Nagi’s sword. A century passes and treasure-hunters come seeking the sword. Upon disturbing it, they release Orochi once again resulting in all sorts of Netherworldly chaos. As the rest of the world spirals into darkness, Shiranui’s statue stands protectively over Kamiki Village, the only township that seems to be a safe-haven from Orochi’s onslaught. A wood sprite named Sakuya steps forth from a great tree that sustains Kimiki Village and uses her diminishing powers to channel life into the mirror of the sun deity, Amaterasu. As she places the mirror on the wolf statue’s back, it comes to life—Shiranui is reincarnated as Okami Amaterasu.
From here, the player takes the adventure into their own hands. The plot of the game is promised to be impressively poignant and strongly character-driven, comparable to the Legend of Zelda series. Amaterasu will be faced with a number of challenges, some of which stem off into side-quests, requiring our lovable wolf to help out NPCs before the solution is even set into motion. Side-quests can come from characters of all walks of life, ranging from lowly animals to humans to even requests from Sakuya herself and other higher-beings. As usual, such extraneous tasks are optional in Okami, but the player does not go unrewarded for extra effort. Completing such side-quests bring people to praise Amaterasu’s name.
Okami’s battles are very action-oriented, and more often than not require players to fend off hordes monsters at once. Upon entering battle, the player will have to first stun enemies with the mirror on Amaterasu’s back. When all color is drained from the enemy and they’re a healthy shade of gray, you can then draw out the Celestial Brush and execute brush techniques to deal damage. However, you can’t go completely crazy with the Brush, because with each motion, your ever-important ink supply drain, which can be enhanced by doing side quests. Although your ink slowly regenerates, if your ink completely dries up, Amaterasu will revert to a mortal and much more vulnerable wolf form until it replenishes. In the normal wolf form it is not impossible to get by, but it will certainly be more difficult. When Amaterasu is first revived, the wolf only has a small sampling of its former godly might. However, as the praise points, gained through the side quests, accumulate, you’ll regain far greater smiting powers to strike down your enemies.
Japanese folklore isn’t the only traditional element in the game. Okami has soaked up tons of rays from the Land of the Rising Sun. The graphics are something to behold. Though they are semi-cartoony, the sumi-e style brushstrokes bring together Amaterasu’s world, and are always vibrantly animated and full of energy and life. A style much more grandiose and spectacular than Zelda’s Wind Waker could ever hope to be credited with. Initially, Okami was supposed to have a killer life-like look, which abruptly ended due to the PS2’s (lack of) technical power. Looking back on trailers from before Okami’s makeover, it seems the change is for the better—the sumi-e graphics are much more prolific and will definitely set the game apart from others on store shelves. It’s almost ironic that Zelda is veering away from the animated style on the console, while Okami is delving into it.
Years ago, it was decried that Dark Cloud would dethrone Zelda as the supreme console adventure game. That didn’t pan out for Dark Cloud, which only garnered a small fan-base. However, this year’s wolfishly good titles of Okami and Twilight Princess will end up at each other’s throats. Okami comes out on September 19, so get those pre-orders in.