Plus XP

The Next Level In Gaming

Contributed by Helen Doherty

Okamiden is a Capcom RPG for the Nintendo DS. It was released in America on the 15th March, (and Europe two days later), and is a sequel to the critically acclaimed PS2/Wii title Okami. I won’t say too much about the story so as not to spoil things for those of you intending to play this, but I will say it is set 9 months after the events of the original. It is considered an indirect sequel and, hence, self-contained ; you won’t have needed to play the original at all to enjoy this.

Okamiden sees you controlling Chibiterasu, the adorable son of the original game’s protagonist, the similarly titled Amaterasu. I had Okami for the PS2 and managed to progress a couple of hours in. However during that time I never quite felt like I’d built any kind of bond with Amaterasu, as I may have done playing a Zelda game, the series to which the franchise is most often compared. In contrast, with Okamiden, no sooner than the opening group of cutscenes finished rolling that I was already beginning to feel utterly endeared with Chibiterasu ; his adorable appearance and childish, slightly naïve demeanour melted my heart. With that basis to build on I set off, and discovered that every time I learnt something new about him or his back story my attachment to him grew and grew, and its probably this, more than anything, that kept me coming back to this title.

In terms of depth Okamiden is often referred to as Okami-lite. I honestly haven’t played enough Okami to know whether thats a fair statement, but Okamiden is certainly a lot lighter than the likes of Zelda : Twilight Princess or Shenmué. But it would be wrong to call Okamiden shallow, its got some major revelations about the franchise in it, and there are a couple of big story elements which come together towards the end. By the time its over you’re going to be feeling pretty damn satisfied, if you’re anything like me. That said, one big criticism I have of the way the story is told is that, although it gets off to a great start, the middle section really lags. Its full of scene-setting and the introduction of characters you have yet to form a bond with. Of the handful of people I know who actually play this game I’m the only one who actually bothered to persevere past the game’s boring center. Which is a real shame, because the game’s final chapters are its best ones, and really taught me why this is such a well-loved series.

Through-out the game Chibiterasu is joined in his adventure by partners, of which there are several. These characters, who sit on Chibi’s back, each generate a different play dynamic, For example, when you travel around with the young girl Kagu you have, in addition to your regular moves, the ability to exorcise evil spirits and, later on, the power to warp. The dialogue of the non-playable characters also changes in response to who your current partner is at the time. In Kagu’s case, many of them complement and praise her, for she also happens to be a well-known actress in the Okami universe. The partner system is great because it allows you to view this RPG from a constantly changing perspective, while the endurance of Chibiterasu’s constant presence glues the whole thing together and provides continuity.

Other features of note include the ‘New Game Plus’ feature, a carry-over from the original which allows you to replay the story after finishing it, now enhanced with some of the things you managed to collect first time round, such as extra inkpots, solar energy units and trinkets. You can also unlock some pretty impressive extras if you manage to furfil certain objectives, such as finishing all of Issun’s Masterpieces, but, again, I won’t spoil things by saying what. The New Game Plus really extends the longevity of the game, and increases its value for money, in my opinion.

Other than that you have the battle system, which was fun at times. It felt so good to let loose with the Celestial Brush, it was the only place I really felt I got the opportunity to really do that. That said I think the battle system could have been improved. Apart from on special occasions the arena in which you battle is always the same drab purple affair, which got old really quick. Aside from that I found that I was expected to fight the same enemies over and over, such as the elemental spinny things, which felt like a total drag.

The aforementioned ‘Celestial Brush’ feature is what really sets the Okami series apart, control-wise. For those of you who don’t know, this sees you ‘painting’ strokes or patterns onscreen using a virtual brush, producing a variety effects which can help you manipulate your environment. The Nintendo DS has been heralded as the perfect platform for this system, by The Escapist editor John Funk among others, and I have to say I agree. Trying to draw items using my PS2 controller felt as cumbersome and slow as it did back when I used to play ‘Art Alive’ with my Megadrive controller ; nothing beats the speed, accuracy or ease at which you can jot things down directly onto the screen using your DS stylus.

Okamiden’s graphics are in the same Sumi-e style as the original. Quirky art styles often work really well on the DS, as Hotel Dusk and Scribblenauts demonstrate perfectly, and the same is very much true of Okamiden. Most of the game is played out against very neutral colours, which really help create a homely, earthy feel, saving richer reds and purples for when it needs to make a statement, such as boss battles.

So much has been made of the fact this is graphically inferior to the original, especially by the fans. Its obviously the case that the resolution is a lot lower, with the special effects being much fewer and far between. This problem is compounded by the fact that it is largely only fans of the original that are drawn to Okamiden in the first place. And its really quite unfair. Because judged soley by DS standards Okamiden holds its head high with the very best looking games the format has to offer. Super Mario 64 is still the standard by which 3D DS games are judged, and it would not be stretching the truth by any means to proclaim that Okamiden surpasses it. Its gradients, textures and blends make Mario 64 look positively dated. In addition, I recently reviewed Pokémon Black/White, another DS game, and praised its graphical prowess. But Okamiden is just on another level entirely.

Lastly you have the game’s soundtrack. Like Okamiden’s graphics and story, its music is inspired by ancient Japan. Within the confines of remaining faithful to that traditional base you’ve got an impressive range, from the lovely, relaxing music played during menu screens, to the bouncy, inspiring Shinshu field tune. The music is at times really quite emotional, and  really helps bring the story to life. Great examples of this include the haunting, sweeping ‘Once Upon A Time’ and the bitter-sweet, Zelda-esque ‘Sorrow’

The music isn’t ground-breaking, although it would have been before the likes of Dragonquest 9. It is top-notch, however, and has a few truly memorial numbers that, I must admit, I’ve even considered transferring to my iPod.

In conclusion Okamiden does a brilliant job of taking everything that made the much-loved Okami special, and making it accessible to gamers such as myself. My lack of empathy with  Amaterasu was one significant reason I just never could get into Okami, but there was more to it than that. Games which require you to sit in your room, wired up to your home console and TV screen will always seem more needy to me than portable alternatives, which you can move about with and experience in a variety of environments to your leisure and heart’s content. I also digged the fact that Okamiden was a more basic experience ; I found Okami quite over-whelming, and just couldn’t be bothered with it.

Okamiden has a heart-warming story, eye-popping visuals and a great soundtrack. Its also tied together perfectly, propelled at every stage by its desire to recreate the feeling of Ancient Japan. The Nintendo DS has really surprised me in recent years by delivering some of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. And now I have a new one to add to the list.

Please don’t be put off this if you haven’t played the original, if my experience is anything to go by it’ll probably result in you enjoying it all the more. A brilliant game.

Pros:

+Captivating story

+Celestial Brush works like a charm on the DS

+Possibly the best looking game on the system

+More accessible than the original

+Pleasant soundtrack

+’New Story Plus’ really adds longevity, and has some mighty fine rewards

Cons:

-The story really lags in the middle

-Some of the partners could have been more interesting/likeable

-The battle arenas always look the same, and fighting the same enemies can get really repetitive

Score: 8.5/10 – An RPG I didn’t even think I’d like, but found I couldn’t put down for weeks. Engrossing and amazing.

- Helen Doherty

Social Share Counters
HelenBaby On June - 20 - 2011

Leave a Reply