While some genres are mainly constructive (most sim games for example), the action adventure genre has historically been destructive. Even though your character is generally on the side of good and fighting evil there is something dissatisfying about achieving your ends using strictly violent means. Rarely does a game come along (outside the real time strategy genre) that gives the player the ability to create as well as destroy. Okami is such a game.
As the goddess Amaterasu you alternate between attacking demons with a variety of swords, mirrors(?) and rosaries(??) and restoring the world around you to its former natural beauty. This makes the experience of playing the game much more complete, since you actually have the capability to act like a god (assuming its not the spiteful, vengeful type of god), meting out punishment to offenders and aiding the just in their day to day lives.
Okami has more mechanics than most players (myself included) will know what to do with. In addition to the standard jumping, attacking, searching for items, and talking to people, you also have the ability to employ your Celestial Brush. Apparently, the various gods and goddesses influence our world by drawing things that then become reality. The brush techniques (of which there are thirteen, and several of them have at least one upgrade) can be used for all the standard battle attacks, such as melting a particular foe’s ice armor with your fire, as well as to influence the world while outside of battle.
While there are a few obvious and simple uses for your brushstrokes, causing a gust of wind to start a windmill for example, some of the more subtle uses may go unnoticed at first, such as using that same wind technique to push Amaterasu around on a lily pad she had previously created for herself. In battle, the wind you summon can be used to knock flying enemies back down to earth where you are eagerly awaiting meeting their heads with your weapon. Should some seemingly odd use for a technique occur to you while playing, it is probably worth trying out, as it just might do something useful.
And it’s a good thing that the creative actions in the game are so well developed. The destructive aspects (fighting) of the game are somewhat underdone. Fights are never bad, since the controls are tight and the inclusion of several different weapon types do a little to keep them fresh, but they are rarely great, either. The few combos that you can learn are not different enough from each other (basically, an additional attack strung onto the end) and fights frequently devolve into mashing the square button (even this is unfortunate, since square makes your character dash outside battle, which would be useful to be able to do in battle).
A couple of special moves (such as Golden Fury) are available, but most fights feel mechanical. You will work in some brush techniques, but once you have faced an enemy a few times even these become somewhat perfunctory. Boss fights are an exception to this. While some of these clashes boil down to skilless square mash-a-thons, for the most part the bosses require a combination of attacks, dodges and brush techniques and are a blast to play.
The graphics have put this game on the map, and it’s safe to say that Okami is awe inspiringly beautiful. Enough has been said of the game’s signature watercolor style that I cannot add much. Let me just say that each time I was about to take them for granted or try to convince myself Clover’s particular brand of cel shading is overrated, the game would come up with something to make me fall in love again. The subtle touches are remarkably well done, and it seems as though no aspect of the visual experienced was neglected. This attention to detail permeates the game well beyond what you see.
Almost every aspect of the game received the same tender loving care. The sheer number of things to do is practically overwhelming. In addition to the many lists of objects you need to collect (treasures, stray beads, traveler’s scrolls, etc), you have to feed animals (similar to collecting except you need to have the appropriate food with you when you meet each of the dozens of animals), go fishing, and perform ad hoc tasks for the residents of the several towns you will visit. These tasks include using the aforementioned lily-pad/wind combo to ferry people down a canal, retrieving items from groundhogs, finding and defeating certain monsters which are terrorizing townspeople, and fixing various things (waterwheels and drying racks for example).
Even this laundry list of tasks neglects some of the deeper minigames the come up from time to time. There is a recurring 2D digging game that is very brush technique intensive and varies from enjoyable to frustrating. The world of Nippon in littered with cursed gates, and passing through them leads to some of the tougher battles encountered in the game. You can deal with two different currencies, collecting one of which requires detailed knowledge of the enemy (or the purchase of special moves at the dojo).
My point in listing all of this is to demonstrate that this game was somebody’s baby and this person cared enough to develop an entire world for Amaterasu. Some of the most successful fantasies are able to immerse the reader/player in whatever world they have tried to create by fooling us into believing that this world persists while we are not a part of it. The Lord of the Rings accomplished this by making brief references to legends and characters which are left otherwise unexplained. This technique implied that while reading, you believed that Middle Earth had a history and mythology well beyond what we were being told, and that Tolkein was just drawing on the relevant parts.
Okami accomplishes this in a similar way, by giving each of the NPCs their own business to conduct and backstories which are more or less revealed. Amaterasu may or may not encounter every character who could use her help, and if she does, she can choose whether or not to help them. Regardless, the player believes that these NPCs will go on with their living and dying either way, with only the strength of their belief shaken. In addition to all of this, several of the events in the game are grounded in actual Japanese myths, further knowledge of which the player can choose to pursue or not.
My personal experience with the game was not uninterrupted bliss. The fighting is just drab enough that I occasionally lost momentum while playing, at one point putting it down for several weeks. The minigames and sidequests contribute to the experience, but can become a nuisance and serve to distract from the main plot (although it is tough to fault Okami for this since all games concurrently impress upon the player the need for immediate action as well as the need to do a million other things before going off to fight the bad guys). I do not begrudge the game its various awards and honors, and I was glad to see it receive the accolades. It was an ambitious project that was carried off very well, and for that it deserves my undying respect. Considering how large Okami is, ignoring most of its minor problems is quite easy since it does so many things so well.