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Ōkami is an ancient breed of a game, one that may be headed for extinction just like the titular Japanese wolves were. Created in 2006 by a comparatively small staff at the now-defunct Clover Studio, driven by a single, uncompromising artistic vision, Ōkami feels like an auteur's work in a blockbuster world. Much like the crayon-drawn visuals in Yoshi's Island were a response to the computer rendered style of Donkey Kong Country, Ōkami can be seen as an anti-thesis to everything that was considered cool. It consciously discarded an already developed, realistic presentation in favor of a watercolored look, and where other, popular games were centered on destruction, the focal point of Ōkami is the restoration of beauty and harmony. Nature is an ally, not a hazard, bridges must be rebuilt instead of blown up and the hungry must be fed instead of led to crime.
Echoing the adage about the pen and the sword, the environment changes with a brush stroke, not a bazooka, and yes, its might goes beyond buzzwords like terrain deformation. If a task requires you to carry it out at night, a single curved line with the game's Celestial Brush control allows you to summon the crescent moon to the sky. If flames block your way, blow them out with wind or drown them in rain. This is the nature of most of Ōkami's puzzles, faintly reminiscent of the way a Zelda game might use the ocarina. Ōkami isn't a 3D platformer with a fancy gimmick, it's a true action adventure that celebrates intuition over contrivance and exploration over trial-and-error. A particularly genius bit of game design involves restoring cursed landscapes, usually by defeating a boss or helping a withered cherry blossom tree bloom again. Many games start in a beautiful setting, but, for the sake of diversity and tension, have the player proceed to progressively more uninviting areas. Ōkami has its cake and eats it, too - new areas first appear desolate, but soon our actions bring back life to the land.
Despite raving critics and a vocal fan base, Ōkami didn't sell too well. There's hardly anything to blame, though - there's no voice acting and there are occasional problems with the Celestial Brush pattern recognition, but apart from that the controls are perfect; the camera very rarely gets in the way; the visuals and music are impeccable; the story is a beautiful adaptation of various themes and characters of Japanese folklore, set in a cheerful world inhabited by a colorful populace; and the game is rich in content. Surely the artistic vision and determination that made Ōkami will survive in the flourishing independent gaming or cost efficient handheld scene, but one has to wonder if developers will be able to maintain this level of polish and depth without the financial backing of a major publisher. Pessimistically theorizing isn't doing Ōkami any favors, though: "Leap before you think!" It's what Issun would have wanted us to do.
Game Traits applied to Okami (PS2) by pierben