Ever since the The Legend of Zelda turned 35 back in February, we've been looking back over the mainline games with a series of features celebrating and examining each one from a personal perspective. However, today it's the 15th anniversary of another fine action-adventure — a game which may not have the name 'Zelda' in the title, but one that's every bit as magical and transporting as the best in Nintendo's series.
In fact, Clover Studio's Okami was so good that I remember thinking it felt like a warning shot for the Zelda franchise; a wake up call that the competition had finally caught up. Attempts have been made before and since to make a game in the same vein, but Okami arguably represented the first time a company that wasn't Nintendo had created a fully 3D Zelda-style adventure — one that followed the same enchanting formula of exploration and discovery — which was absolutely up to Nintendo's exacting standards in every respect. I've written before about how Capcom studio Flagship showed that the 2D formula had been perfected beyond the walls of Nintendo's Kyoto HQ, but mastering Nintendo's design language in the third dimension is another matter entirely. Amaterasu and Issun's quest to save the land of Nippon from destruction is every bit as epic as Link's sweeping adventures in Hyrule.
Of course, at the time of its PS2 debut back in 2006, the sumi-e-inspired art style was the first thing that grabbed you; it looked unlike anything you'd seen in a video game before. Those ink-washed, painterly visuals tied into the central 'gimmick' of the Celestial Brush — used to battle, summon items, repair elements and solve puzzles within the world through 'painting' — a mechanic that would sit snugly alongside any number of the Zelda series' enchanted doohickeys and thingymajigs.
The similarities run far deeper than heading out on a terrific adventure with some sacred instrument of the gods, though; you've got the oddball, loveable cast of NPCs, the encroaching evil poisoning the land, the expansive-yet-handily compartmentalised environments with rivers, caves, forests, valleys, plains and more — and you'll visit them all with a faithful companion: Issun, the inch-tall artist who travels with you as celestial envoy, acting as your 'Navi' for the duration (although with a little more comic banter than Link's fairy).
The gentle puzzling, the touching story elements and so much more combined to capture the spirit and beauty of a franchise that will almost certainly never appear on Sony hardware, at least not in any official capacity (hey, have you seen what fans are making in Dreams?!). PS2 gamers were hardly stuck for quality games but, with the PS3 just around the corner, Okami felt like a fantastic parting gift. The PS2 had an incredible library, and now it had a 'Zelda', too.
That's not to take away from Okami's individuality or uniqueness; it's certainly no Zelda 'clone'... or maybe it is. Perhaps there's an implied slap-dashery or lessening of quality in the term 'clone' that simply isn't present here. The word feels pejorative, as if originality is the be-all-and-end-all of game design when, in fact, all great artists learn by copying the masters. Maybe Okami is the perfect clone; a 'copy' in form and function so polished that no-one cares — it's simply A Great Game™.
Drawing this comparison is hardly a novel idea. Beyond the fact that director and designer Hideki Kamiya loves the Zelda series, the launch of Twilight Princess at the end of 2006, and the prominence of Link's lupine form in that game, brought the design similarities between the two into sharp focus for all but the least observant gamers a decade and a half ago. In a sense, Twilight Princess represented Nintendo going 'back to the well' after the 3D revolution of the N64 era and the then-shocking style of Celda: The Wind Waker. Okami's art and story steeped in Japanese folklore gave Clover's game a very beautiful and distinct flavour which not only disguised how much it was riffing on Nintendo's formula, but also made it feel 'fresher' than the Zelda games of the era.
Clover Studio also gave me the chance to do something I'd longed to do in games for years to that point. At the time, I hadn't played EarthBound, and I always wished games would let me bask in the glory of my victory after the final battle. Heading back into civilisation for a hero's welcome sounded like a fine reward to me, much preferable to being dumped unceremoniously at a save point just prior to the final showdown.
Though only midway through Okami, the triumphant return to Kamiki Village for the festival and fireworks was a joyous moment; the jubilant music (below) heralding my achievements like the end of Return of the Jedi. It was a short-lived victory, of course — I was only halfway through the game — but it felt so unusual and fulfilling to enjoy a brief respite from all the questing. I still remember the music and what a special moment that was.
The 2008 Wii version, while not perfect, was an absolutely stellar port effort from Ready At Dawn which involved recreating assets and re-engineering much of the game for Nintendo's platform. The Wiimote-controlled Celestial Brush felt utterly at home on Wii, and this is how I played the game (back-to-back with Fable II, if I remember correctly — a couple of real good-lookin' games, there!).
Here at Nintendo Life we've got an ongoing, ever-growing list of games we recommend to people who have finished Breath of the Wild or other Zelda games and who want something that'll give them that same sort of Zelda 'fix'. That list is filled with many top-down 2D games, but comparatively few 3D ones, and the ones that are there veer into full-on RPG territory, away from the unique action-adventure formula that gives Zelda games that 'special' feeling. Quite rightly, at the very top of that list sits Okami.
Okami is essential for everyone who enjoys video games, but if you're a Zelda fan who's somehow slept on it, make it a top priority to get acquainted on the game's 15th anniversary. It's easily available in lovely HD form on Switch and can regularly be found on sale, too. Okami has its own strong identity and personality, but — and this is meant in the best possible sense — it really is one of the best 'Zelda' games ever made.
Still one of my favourite games, ended up buying four different copies over the years.
-it's a definitely a commitment though! A slow start and then it has multiple "Acts". A long journey but a great one
I have heard great things... and I do love Zelda... I'll try to get it in a few months, sounds fun!
The slow text drives me so crazy that I can’t play it
I don't notice it in Okami, but OMG shoot me in Okamiden. Cutscenes put me to sleep
A complete shame that this game never got a UK physical release on Switch.. I ended up importing it.
This game was genuinely my biggest game disappointment EVER. I fully expected to love it but... it was such a slog. I forced myself to play for 12 hours and just couldn't take it anymore. It's rare for me not to finish a game that I buy, especially when so hyped for it, but this just was not a game for me.
It's beautiful though and I'm happy for all the fans that do enjoy it.
@sketchturner same. I've tried to play it 4 times or so because I was convinced I must be wrong, but I just don't like it.
"The best Zelda that isn't-"
This isn't Darksiders 2.
The only game I have loved enough to buy 5 times.
All praise Amaterasu, Mother of all.
The paintbrush controls on Switch..........Just........no.
Just my opinion, but I wonder if all the Zelda comparisons from articles like this have actually hurt the game more than helped it.
I worked at an EB Games when this was first released, and most people who bought it due to hearing how much like Zelda it was turned out very disappointed by it. Some even flat out said it was not like a Zelda experience at all.
I love the game but feel it didn't need to be so long!
I played this game for the first time, last year. It ended up being on of my favorite games, in the more modern era. I have to confess, I haven’t finished it. I was like, “whatever,” when I would see people saying it’s long. WELP....I have to agree! 😂 I got tired of the cutscenes, dialogue and the beeps and bops. 😂 I’m down to the wire, though. According to a strategy guide, I have a few more areas to explore. I’ll get back to it, one day. For now, I’m ok with the occasional Night in the Woods/ Mario Galaxy session.
Still a game I haven’t played. I do own it on Steam though.
I can already see an Okami layered armor for Palamutes in MH Rise
This game is more inspired by OoT and less like the usual Zelda game. You don't really play as some gender androgynous kid trying to figure out a big world dressed like an elf carrying a wooden sword saving a princess.
You're a god in a dog's body, which comes with all the limitations you'd imagine at the beginning but eventually builds from there. It's not for everyone but it's a great game for those who get it.
An absolute classic, I played it for the first time on the Wii, loved and it ended up leading me to create an account for this site. From the music to the art style to the story, this game has very few flaws in my book.
Fantastic game. I admittedly left it unfinished back on PS2 due to a variety of distractions (I had finally gotten a GameCube around the same time so was playing Twilight Princess as well, and later in the year got a Wii & 360, so next gen excitement took over), but finally got back to it with the HD version on Switch & saw it to the end.
To think I finished this game about a year ago. fifteen years huh? I didn't even get spoiled.
@XBontendo @sketchturner For me, it took around 15 hours for the game to really get going. The quality of the gameplay improves massively after a certain point. Once you get to there, you realise why the game is so well loved. It can be a long, pretty boring slog to get there though.
Bought it hoping for a non-Zelda game that was Zelda and was VERY disappointed.
The Celestial brush eventually drove me crazy and I quit the game and sold it.
I wish people wouldn't compare this to Zelda - I'm not sure it helps the game and I know it was NOT true or helpful for me. I hated this game for not being more Zelda-like (and I didn't feel it was very Zelda like at all personally).
I'm checking in to say I'm such a sourpuss. I don't care for this game. I finished it on Switch after getting through the beginning a few times in various places.
I think the hype was just a little too much? I went into the game post Breath of the Wild and hoped it would be a refuge for some dungeoneering, but all of the dungeons are weak as hell. I also think it runs a little too long and didn't care about Issun like I feel I was supposed to
But you know what? I'm glad all of y'all love it. I'm gonna stick with Darksiders. That's the perfect series for people like me who are missing the Twilight Princess type Zelds
I had a similar experience with the game getting better around the 15-hour mark, if not the 20-hour mark. If I wasn’t so neurotic about completing games, however, I would’ve quit well before getting to the payoff. At least off the top of my head, I can’t think of another game where I had to slog for so many hours before it became good.
Playing Okami on the Wii was, essentially, my doorway into the Zelda franchise. My first attempt at Twilight Princess on the Wii (my first Zelda game) didn't go well; I got stuck midway through the first dungeon and dropped the game in irritation. I then moved onto Okami, and something about it just clicked with me. I played through and beat the game, realizing how similar some aspects of it were to TP as I went along. Encouraged by my success, I restarted Twilight Princess and went on to complete it as well. Basically, because of this game, I wouldn't be a Zelda fan. I've now played and beaten all main series Zelda games to date barring Four Swords Adventures.
(Why'd I pick these two games to grace my early Wii library, you might ask? Suffice it to say I like wolves. )
As highlighted in the article, despite the similarities to TLOZ, Okami very much has its own unique identity, quirky characters, mechanics, and world. It certainly is worth a visit for any Zelda fan, those who enjoy action/adventure games, and/or are into Japanese lore.
This isn’t I would argue the first time.
Story of Thor and Soleil on the Mega Drive were in many ways better games than Link to the Past and showed Nintendo others could compete with their top franchise.
But then Nintendo squashed Zelda onto the Gameboy!
Alundra on the PS1 is probably the best 2D Zelda-like game ever made. The dungeons were especially good with some incredible puzzles and bosses.
But then Nintendo brought out Ocarina of Time!
Finally played it last year on Switch after owning (but not playing it) on Wii and PS2. Can't comment on whether it's like Zelda since I've only played (and hated) phantom Hourglass, but I did really enjoy it. Only complaints are that it was maybe a bit too long as it did start to drag a bit towards the end, and some of the combat was a bit too easy. Solid 8/10 I'd say.
I'm in love with Okami. I have the art book, a figure, and have drawn Ammy and Issun twice. It's not a perfect game, but there's so many unique parts of it that set it apart. My favorite part of the game is the lead up to Oni Island, and the fight with Ninetails. So cool to play that for the first time!
I also just bought Shinshu in Bloom on Bandcamp. Its a fan remix album of Okami music done in a Nujabes style. If anyone is interested I highly recommend it, its on Youtube.
@Solomon_Rambling @OorWullie I mean no offense, as I know it's well loved and I'm sure for good reason, but I don't feel as though one should have to wait 15-20 hours to start enjoying a thing. My time is worth more than that.
A personal rule of mine is 3 hours of a game, or 3 episodes of a show. I feel like that's pretty generous still, but worth it out of courtesy of both those who worked on a thing and those who love it. Past that limit, I start to feel like either the developer isn't being considerate of the players/viewers time, or I just don't like the thing.
@XBontendo To be fair I have no idea why they took so much time to enjoy it. Not disqualifying their experiences at all but mine is completely different... It took me about 30 minutes and that's because the start does have some cutscenes and text.
Both Okami and Okamiden are amazing experiences that, to this day I prefer over almost every Zelda. Only Windwaker and Breath of the Wild have captured me as much as those games.
Still the best "Zelda" game for me. Back when it was released on PS2 I was shocked at how good it is and how much better it was at being a Zelda game. High acclaim too it was IGN Game of the year.
I heard so many great things about this game I decided to play it, on the Wii. Now you would imagine the Wii would be the ideal console for this game what with the 'brush strokes' and all but it was so badly implemented that I almost gave up. I didn't and I am so glad I didnt because the game is amazing but it's a long games that's for sure. The controls on the Wii are no RE4 that's for sure. I really want to play this again maybe on the Switch or PS4. Oh and the DS game is great too!
@XBontendo I agree. My experience with Okami was similar to others here who didn't like it. Having an opening sequence that lasted about 20 minutes was a bad first sign of things to come. But I remember other people online saying the game gets good at around the 20-hour mark, so that's a known thing. My reaction was the same. Why should I have to slog through 20 hours just to get to the good part? I get that some games can start a little slow for narrative or other reasons, but Okami felt especially slow. I see that Okami has fans and made a strong impression on people, and that is fine. I'll just say that it became harder to find reviews I could trust over the years, as games grew longer, when so many don't at least point out such potential issues even if they like the game. I fully expected to like Okami a lot because of all the praise it got.
@sketchturner My experience was very similar to yours, though I think you got a few hours deeper than I did. The first bad sign was the approximately 20 minutes for the introduction which I belive could not be skipped. There were other design issues that irritated me as well. The brush was quite unreliable on PS2. I have heard some of the issues have been fixed over the years, so some of my complaints may not apply. I expected to love the game based on reviews, so it was a big disappointment here as well. Obviously the game worked for a lot of people. I just wish I knew what I was getting into back then.
@cyrus_zuo Absolutely agreed. I played it back in the day & couldn't get into it. Then years later I thought sod it, I’ll give this the real college try. I played hours & hours of it - there’s no way this game comes close to a Zelda game. It came out at the same time as twilight princess and there were people suggesting Okami was a better game. Very very far from it. It’s a decent game but will never be in the same tier as Zelda.
Fun game and absolutely gorgeous even today - but only minor gripe would be the fact it ever so slightly outstays it’s welcome. A natural ending point comes much earlier than the actual ending point
Okami is a masterpiece and one of the best games that ever was
Beautiful game. Never quite finished it but do intend to get back to it some day…
How ironic. By chance I have been playing the PS3 version with move & navi controllers recently, about 8 hours in. Seems fun so far.
I did play it on PS2 back when it came out but didn't get far, don't remember why, I think I just got side tracked with a bunch of other games.
Celda: The Windwaker, haha haven't heard that one actually
Love the visuals in this game. Looks absolutely beautiful.
Hate the actual game. Nothing about it feels at all satisfying to me. I realize I'm on an island here and that's alright.
I just started the game a couple of days ago. For ps4 tho. Just beat the first boss.
@OorWullie When I almost quit at 6 hours, fans told me that I needed to give it 10. Once I gave it 10, they said give it 12. Once I gave it 12, the fans told me to give it 15 [dead serious, I'm not making this up]. 😆
Thing is, if a game fails to be much fun even after I've poured 12 hours into it, at some point I feel like I'm better off playing something else...
I'm glad you enjoyed it though.
I am absolutely in agreement with you two that 15-20 hours is way too long to wait for a game to get better. I believe a game should hook you within the first five minutes, so anything above that can be considered generous.
I stick with most games and try to finish them for two reasons:
1. In the past, I bought too many games and never played them. Now, by having a rule that I must finish most games, I am much more particular about which games I do buy, thus spending less money.
2. I like to write reviews in my spare time. I feel I am not able to produce a credible review unless I finish a game.
How many times has this story been told?
I liked it until I finished the first part. that was enough for a good complete game experience for me. After that, the gameplay got stale and repetitive with not enough variety for me I didn’t finish the second part
I've tried to play this game 6 times over the years. PS2, Wii, Switch. Doesn't matter. The beginning is a total slog and even when I finally get past that I just can't get into it. The characters actively irritate me, especially Issun and Susano. I keep trying because it's been hyped forever and they just keep rereleasing it, but at a certain point I think I have to admit it's just not for me.
This is a great game. I didn't get around to playing it until the Switch release a few years ago. I will say it has some annoying things that deter me from wanting to replay it (the blockhead stuff lol), but still really solid. I love the OST in particular and the protagonist is adorable.
I really hope that the talks of a sequel amount to something.
Also in the camp of people who never managed to slog far enough through the early game to arrive at the point where it apparently ‘gets good’.
I also found that, while the world looks pretty enough in static screenshots, it lacks a sense of cohesiveness in motion. Like, why do the trees rotate when I move the camera? Why do they behave like entirely flat objects in 3D space? I understand spectators in the background of something like Wii Sports being paper cut-outs, but why - in an adventure game - are basic parts of the environment that I can walk up to and interact with little more than glorified stickers?
It’s a nitpick, perhaps, but one that genuinely broke the immersiveness of the world for me. I also found most of the characters populating said world to be thoroughly unloveable often just plain irritating.
And to top it all off, the brush mechanic felt more forced and cumbersome than any of the ‘gimmick’ mechanics people like to criticise certain Zelda titles for (chiefly Skyward Sword, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks).
I’ve still got the HD version sitting in my case of Switch games. Maybe one day I’ll try getting into it again. But for now, the best I can say of Ōkami is that it helped me appreciate Zelda for what it is.
I played about two years ago. I liked the game a lot but the touch paintbrush controls were pretty unreliable and I don't think the instanced combat has held up.
Like the game but never really got the Zelda comparisons. Just because every games journalist says it still hasn't made it feel that way to me. It's like looking at those photos where one person sees a gold dress and someone else sees a blue one, it just never looks the color people say! I still like Okami, but I agree with people here that it can be slow so therefore I haven't beaten the game either
I'm actually playing through it for the first time atm. I'm enjoying it overall however there are a lot of small annoying issues that add up and hold it back. Love the art style and music, but find the large amount of slow text real annoying and the pacing is pretty bad. I even find myself skipping cutscenes just cause of how of a slog they feel. It's definitely a good game and I respect what the devs made but there's so many small annoyances that can sour the experience. I also think the comparisons to Zelda may have hurt it as it really isn't that much like Zelda at all tbh. Enjoying the game and love the many quirky things, but there were few moments where I felt I was ready to drop the game move on to playing something else.
The best Zelda game that isn't is darksiders.
I played this one first time on switch and I don't get it. It is the first game I played where I literally did not die once as button mashing resolves every battle... The story and puzzles are boring too
One thing is for sure, there are very few games that are as radically divisive as this one. It's a critics' darling, and a lot of gamers love it, but as we can see in the comments, there are also a lot of people who don't get into it. I think it's a victim of its own hype -people hear about what an amazing thing it is and how much like Zelda it is, and then they play it and get disappointed for one reason or another.
It has its flaws, for sure. Pacing is a real issue, and the controls are not perfect, but I honestly think its number one problem is that it's not Zelda even though Zelda is definitely one of its main inspirations. So people feel tricked when they go into it expecting something like Wind Waker.
I love it as a beautiful, chill experience, but I've had it on the Wii and went to the trouble of importing it on the Switch and have never gotten halfway through it. Something flashier always comes along to distract me. But it's still one of the prettiest games I know. Maybe one day I'll finish it.
@Maxz I like how you explained the awkwardness of the visuals in motion. I rarely see anyone bring that up but it bothers me as well. The graphics are admittedly stunning but at the same time something just doesn't feel quite right.
I am relieved of not being the only one to find this game boring in this post. I knew about the hype so I bought the switch version last year, but it was so easy and boring that I couldn´t continue after some 10 hours in. Maybe 15 years ago it was better than twilight princess for some or something.
To the people that say it doesn't feel like Zelda, it's probably the closest thing there is to a game like a 3D Zelda. Seriously, what other games are there that are like 3D Zelda games?
@Durians Darksiders gets mentioned a lot in this thread, and I cannot recommend Darksiders 2 enough. It does not have the same emotional heart as Zelda, but the campy and over the top comic book fantasy is enjoyable in its own right.
There is only one Zelda, as sad as that is. Darksiders is close in many ways
I was just thinking about Okami yesterday. Takes a while to beat but an excellent game with beautiful music and art style. Hopefully we'll get another game in the future (besides the DS one).
One of the best games ever, hampered by a slow and slightly irritating beginning. (Especially in earlier versions when you couldn't skip or speed up the text.)
Has anyone played World of Demons on iOS, the spiritual successor? Worth subbing to Apple Arcade for a month or two?
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