Brush away evil once again…in Okamiden.

Back after a short break with a review of a great new action adventure game from Capcom for the DS, Okamiden.  This is a sequel to the critically acclaimed PS2 game Okami (later rereleased with motion controls on the Nintendo Wii).  For those of you who have never played either game, Okami and Okamiden are games much in the vein of the Zelda games, following a character fighting against evil who travels through many different areas fighting a variety of different enemies, both large and small, while collecting new items and abilities along the way.

But these games have two unique features that set them apart from any other game.  The first of these features is the design and style of the game.  Both of these games are set in what looks like ancient Japan and feature characters based on traditional Japanese fairy tales and mythology.  Knowing a bit about either definitely adds to the enjoyment of the game, both in the creativity of the characters and also an appreciation of their stories and interaction.  The visual style of this game is very colorfully cel-shaded and is done in the style of Sumi-e, or traditional Japanese ink and wash painting.

The other thing that makes these games stand out is the control style.  While most of the game controls as you would expect; a button for jump, a button for attack, etc…, this game introduces a unique system that relates heavily to the sumi-e style that is used in the visual design of the game.  In these games, your character is blessed with celestial brush powers, and can use these powers to affect environmental change as well as to attack your enemies.  For example, draw a circle around a dead tree to bring it back to life, or draw a straight line through an enemy or certain environmental obstacles to cut them in half.

As I mentioned before, Okami was a huge critical success.  However, for whatever reason, that unfortunately didn’t equate to high sales.  Luckily though, the fans were heard, and we have been given a worthy successor to the original game.

Overall, Okamiden looks and plays just like the first game, which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you enjoyed the first game.  In terms of the look and feel of this game, it is just as beautiful and fun as the original.  Great story, fun characters, and interesting game play make for another winner of a game.  In fact, I feel like the story this time around (including some direct connections to the first game as well as to events before the first game) may even be a bit better.

For those of you who have never played an Okami game, don’t worry.  While you will definitely get more out of the game if you are familiar with the previous story, this game is definitely written to be more than understandable as a stand-alone story.  For those of you who have played the first game and are hungry for more, you’ll definitely enjoy the game, but this is where the potential problem begins.

Okamiden is basically a DS version of Okami.  There are some changes, improvements, and additions which I will discuss later, but overall it is very much the same game.  Many similar locations, a similar plot line, and similar gameplay might be tedious to those who have played the first one, especially if you have played it through several times on both the PS2 and on the Nintendo Wii.  In my case, I didn’t feel this way at all, but I can understand how some might feel this way.

But here’s my take on the game, and why I enjoyed it.  First of all, it has been a while since I played the first game (I never played the Wii version) and it was nice to revisit the world of Okami.  Also, while playing it on the Ps2, I was never completely satisfied with the controls; using the thumbstick to paint with the brush always felt a bit awkward.  Being able to use the stylus to actually draw the symbols made for a much more enjoyable experience.  And while the story is basically the same structure of good versus evil and repeating of past legend, there were enough fun characters, plot twists and sub-plots that kept it interesting.

Speaking of fun characters, these new characters also added the biggest new improvement to the game.  Throughout Okamiden, you are almost always partnered with another character and it is through this partnership that you are able to solve puzzles and defeat bosses.  Each character has a slightly different ability that allows them to reach areas that you couldn’t otherwise reach on your own.  Using a new brush technique, you can direct these characters to out of reach locations, all the while protecting them on their journey.  It was these sequences that made for some of the most fun throughout the game.

Also, I felt this game had a much better flow.  Let it be said that I am not a huge fan of sandbox games.  I like open worlds as much as the next guy, but I have a bit of a neurosis that makes me constantly worry that I am missing things.  Okami felt a bit too expansive and free for me, and I was glad to see Okamiden pull things in a bit.

Much like Zelda games, Okamiden is definitely built on the “dungeon” system, basically traveling in order from dungeon to dungeon, only being able to access each dungeon based on items and abilities you have unlocked along the way.  This doesn’t mean though that this game is completely linear either.  There is plenty of potential for exploring in order to find hidden items or sidequests that lead to new abilities.  It also pays to do a bit of grinding as far as battles go in order to collect items to improve your weapons.  The other nice thing about the sidequests in Okamiden, is that while new quests are unlocked as you go, nothing is ever undoable because you’ve waited to long to do it, at least until the end of the game (and then it makes sure you know you won’t be able to go back).

So in the end, while things might be a bit too familiar, this game is definitely well worth your time, especially as a portable game that you can take with you to play whenever you have a bit of free time.  If you’ve never played the original, I suggest you definitely play them both and if you enjoyed the first one, definitely check out Okamiden.

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