Played to completion?: No
An adventure platformer in the style of the modern Zelda series, Okami stands out for its striking art style and its delightful Celestial Brush gameplay. The game tells the story of a goddess who incorporates into the form of a wolf to battle an ancient evil, and follows the silent Amaterasu and obnoxious sidekick Issun as they travel around Japan cleansing the land of evil and collecting new brush techniques. Gameplay follows the tried and true convention of awarding a new technique (power/move) in each dungeon to use against the boss, which thereafter opens new avenues of exploration in the outside world.
What I liked:
Familiar though the New Trick = New Path mechanic may be, it feels as fresh as ever. Most of the 13 brush techniques manage to feel unique and empowering, and the mental catalogue you make as you move through the world noting features you can’t exploit (dry ground, cracked walls, cat statues) invariably leads to a sense of delight as you acquire each new power. The graphics are beautiful and simple, and the maps, though smallish at times, are dense with hidden treasures and secrets. The bizarre characters and situations are often quite funny in a "Damn, Japan is an odd place" kind of way. Although I never really stopped finding Issun annoying, eventually I grew numb to his endless prattle and came to like him, in the way one might name an unsightly growth on the body.
What I’d have done differently:
The main problem with this game, which plagued it throughout, was pacing. This game sets up, from the opening cinematic, the great evil in the world as being the eight-headed demon Orochi. You travel around for a while, collecting techniques and defeating incidental monsters along the way, and before you know it you’re face to face to face to … (you get the idea) with the evil demon himself, and in the blink of an eye you’ve kicked his eight asses. But the game doesn’t end there, and with a vague mention of some ominous shadow rising into the sky you’re released back into the world. You keep getting directions from Issun but without being offered any explanation of why your mission on earth isn’t finished. You will continue into act two in a struggle against an evil fox demon plaguing a major city, whom you will also defeat, and still with only the barest hint of why you aren’t done yet. In a way this three-act game feels like it ought to have been a trilogy, with each evil foe better fleshed out and realized. Instead these thinly-connected chapters are strung together and no single opponent ever feels particularly threatening. There is no build-up, no suspense — by the time you know what demon creature you’re supposed to fear, you’ve killed it.
Aside from a few other minor complaints (Soul Reaver managed streaming environments back in 1999, there simply is no excuse any longer for these segmented maps and loading screens), this issue dominates in its interference with enjoyment of the game. The overall plot feels disjointed and haphazard, as though constructed to fit a nearly-finished game. Common though this sin may be, it should never be apparent to the player.
Ultimately Okami accomplishes many of the objectives of its genre but fails on a few key points which are, I would contend, the elements which made the Legend of Zelda series so beloved. It is very fun to play, but as a storytelling game easily forgettable. As with many games suffering from weak story, it fell victim to the 90% rule: if the player completes 90% of the game’s story (not necessarily content) and then asks him/herself whether s/he is interested in seeing the conclusion, anything less than an emphatic "Yes!" is failure.
Would I recommend it?: Yes, for a rental.