July 11, 2008
One of my biggest gripes with Twilight Princess (and, indeed, many adventure games) is that I never felt any attachment to the world. It’s nice that I can defeat Ganon and save Hyrule, but what is it, exactly, that needs saving? Most of the game world is a vast expanse of empty space that’s just an excuse for Epona to get a workout. It’s pretty, and there are certainly well-developed parts, but on the whole it’s not particularly memorable.
Okami‘s Nippon, though, is teeming with personality. The art has a lot to do with that, but it’s Ameratsu’s interaction with the land — repairing cursed zones, revitalizing blackened trees, feeding hungry animals — that establishes the player’s unusually strong connection to the game world. I find that I look forward to reviving Guardian Saplings not just so that I can progress through the story, but so that I have a new area to explore and nurture.
Speaking of exploration, the sense of scale in Okami is phenomenal. I’m over nine hours in, but the game still feels like it’s in its introductory stages. I constantly run into areas I can’t get to and objects I can’t interact with, and the various lists on the inventory screen indicate that I still have quite a long way to go.
My biggest complaint so far is with the writing. To be blunt, the characters are not nearly as charming as the game seems to think they are. When I excitedly showed Okami to a friend, he read some of the dialogue asked me if it was a game meant for little kids. I don’t think that’s an unfair question, really; Issun in particular is a badly forced attempt at comic relief, with lines that sound like how Midna or Navi might be written in Zelda fan fiction.
There is a similar whimsical spirit to many of game’s characters, which would be fine if they weren’t all so one-dimensional — the personality that Okami cultivates in the world itself is lost in its inhabitants. I’d probably skip the cutscenes if I didn’t want to follow the plot, but the story is enjoyable (dialog notwithstanding) and often contains important information. I’m willing to forgive the flaw, though; plenty of games feature less-than-stellar characterization, and there are a lot of other things to like here.
It may be a while before I get back to Okami, as I’ll be traveling next week and then focusing on Grim Fandango for the Vintage Game Club after that. It has me hooked, though, and I’ll definitely see it through to the end.