When I was young, I always used to get pocket money every weekend, maybe two to five pounds, but I was terrible at saving up. I always just wanted to buy things immediately. There was always one time of year however, that I was given a little bit of extra motivation to stash my earnings – the approach of our family summer holiday. You see, what made me extra motivated during this period was not the promise of being able to buy things in foreign countries, although that certainly was part of the appeal, but because my mum and dad often said that they would match whatever I saved up before the vacation. This would often amount to about twenty to twenty-five quid. What I’d then often end up doing however, was spending just a little during the vacation, maybe pick up some small souvenirs, but then convert the remainder back into pounds and buy something cool when I got back. This is exactly how I managed to get my little hands on Okami on the Nintendo Wii.
I’d seen the reviews of the game in the Official Nintendo Magazine, which I read religiously, and thought that the art-style, the setting, the gameplay all sounded amazing. Zelda-like dungeons and puzzle solving inside a story based around the gods and myths of ancient Japan? Where do I sign? So upon returning from a family trip to Italy, I gave my dad the cash and asked him to order Okami on Amazon. It arrived not long after and was plonked quickly into my Wii console. I was captured from the word go – the prologue unfolded like a scroll, a brush painting beautiful sumi-e style pictures on the screen as I was regaled with tales of Japanese folklore. At the time, this was all new to me, and I was enamoured with these tales of heroes and eight-headed dragons. Then, as the prologue faded away and I was met with the beautiful painterly aesthetic of the actual game, I fell in love all over again.
Amaterasu, in wolf form, is a brilliant protagonist, silent (as Link is in the Zelda games), but always full of life. Her facial expressions as she interacts with those around her are comedic, playing up the contrast between her appearance as a wolf and her status as mother of the gods. Issun, your little helper on your journey, is a great sidekick – chatty and funny, but never annoying in the way that some of Zelda’s sidekicks have managed to be. These aren’t the only great characters though – in fact, the whole world oozes personality, from the old man with an orange on his head to the mailman running through the field, the people in this game truly shine. The key supporting characters all form strong relationships with Amaterasu and Issun along their journey, which makes it all the more emotional when you manage to finish their storylines, with one even leaving for the moon (in a rough retelling of the story of Princess Kaguya).
The spirit of adventure is strong in Okami – you always feel like you’re on an epic quest, as you dive deep underwater, explore towns inhabited by birds, run through open fields and plod through the icy snowdrifts in the final act. The dungeons are also brilliantly designed – one minute you’re inside a burning Japanese castle, the next you’ve been shrunk and swallowed whole by a king. Inside, solving the puzzles isn’t exactly super difficult, but it’s got enough of a bite to it that you manage to feel accomplished coming out the other side. Then, the bosses are truly a masterpiece in game design. As with the rest of the game world, they take heavy inspiration from Japanese folklore, but the way the actual battles play out is exhilarating. The fight against Ninetails has to be my favourite, although I really did enjoy them all.
I loved Okami so much that when it was rereleased in a HD version, I picked it up for PS3, and then again in a physical edition for PS4. I’ve never gotten around to playing the Nintendo DS sequel (although I’ve heard it’s not quite Okami 2 in terms of scale or ambition), but I’m still praying that one day we will see a return to this world where I can go on just one more adventure with Amaterasu and her crew. Okami is one of the best games of all time, and demands to be played by anyone with a passing interest in video games.