Monday, June 7, 2010

Top 50 Games - 24. Okami

Lots of games strive for "realism." We have sufficient technology these days; attempting to replicate the real world visually is not a pie-in-the-sky concept like it used to be. But what about striving for beauty? What about putting aside pretensions of realistic representation and instead opting for visuals that astonish, entrance, and actually withstand the cruelty of time? Okami is a beauty. Inspired by traditional Japanese wood-block watercolors, Okami uses the power of the PS2 to transport gamers to Nippon as represented in old paintings and fairy tales. As the white wolf god Amaterasu, the player explores a large variety of imaginative lands as flowers spring to life under her paws and her inky outline bleeds into the environment. The colors, animations, and details found in Okami are really awe-inspiring. Distant mountains are composed of snaky calligraphic lines drawn on a starchy paper backdrop. Put down the controller for a minute and Amaterasu (or "Ammy") yawns before lying down to take a nap. Autumn leaves pop out of the ether when a double-jump is performed. Truly, I could go on and on regarding the game's art direction. The enemy designs (which include big dead fish in kimonos, alcoholic dragons, and kite-riding monkeys) are fascinating, the locales (one of which is a giant tower reaching into the heavens that is exclusively home to meowing cats) are full of variety and freshness, and the game's major "gimmick" even ties into the visuals: the player wields the Celestial Brush, which allows you to paint godly powers into the world (i.e. drawing a circle in the sky turns night into day, etc.). Speaking of the gameplay, and lest you think that the graphics are all there is to Okami, well, the gameplay is very good. The model is reminiscent of Zelda, with items becoming brush powers. Naturally, this formula works just fine, as do the smooth and logical controls. Even better than the graphics and gameplay though, at least (and maybe only) for me, is the music. Maybe I'm just a sucker for traditional Japanese music, but the compositions here are gorgeous, appropriate, and there's a lot of them. When all of these high-quality parts come together, you get something greater than their sum. Okami is a lengthy, more-than-satisfying adventure through an exciting world full of ancient oriental wonders. Now if Issun would just shut up and let me enjoy the scenery.

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