Monday, July 25, 2011


I think Capcom would have been better off making a straight sequel to Okami. The concept of Okamiden as a handheld companion to the original game, taking place in many of the same areas but putting twists on them and telling a sort of tangential story is fine. But it took me over twenty hours to beat and has sections that can for many minutes without save points, which is sort of ridiculous for a handheld game. The game's reach exceeds the intended scope of a portable experience and if anything the game wears out its welcome faster than its notoriously long predecessor. The actual playing of the game and telling of the story is fine, but there are issues with the pace that bog down the experience a bit.

In Okamiden you play Chibiterasu, the young offspring of Amaterasu, the wolf goddess from the first game. Only nice months after evil was supposedly vanquished, it has returned, and you are called into service to find some friends and use the celestial brush to get rid of it once more. The brush is a natural match for the DS' touch screen and stylus, and the system definitely works more smoothly than it did on console. You don't start out with many techniques, but you quickly pick some familiar ones up, along with a few new skills, mostly associated with specific partners who ride on your back and can help you fight certain enemies or cross certain dangerous terrain. The game's look handles the transition to the DS hardware remarkably well, definitely with a blockier style than before but with the general aesthetic in place, and even a usable camera and only a few issues with slowdown. The game design is necessarily a little more narrow and boxed off, but it's hard to call the platform change anything other than a success.

So the game progresses as you revisit some of the locations from the original and discover new caves and dungeons to explore within them, while accompanied by various children who mostly happen to be related to or at least resemble existing characters. They replace Issun as your connection to other humans, and help in combat and puzzle solving. The story starts out nice and simple, feeling like a regular little adventure, though things get more dramatic later on when the villain is revealed, and eventually actually surprisingly touching towards the end. I would have really liked the game a lot of it actually wrapped up about fifteen or sixteen hours in like it felt like it was going to, but things kept repeatedly getting tacked on that I need to finish, including an entire additional flow-breaking dungeon to finish along with a new kid to worry about. Eventually it got back on track, but then a twist happens that essentially negates everything you did in the last couple hours, and then there's still another whole last section involving a pretty uninteresting set of challenges and a bunch of repetitive combat. The fighting is the thing that feels the most dumbed down from the PS2 game, and I mostly avoided it where I could, since the only reward was cash that I didn't really need to spend. So being forced to slog through a dozen battles without any of the nifty puzzles breaking it up was a disappointing way to wrap up the game.

And then after finishing the final boss fight, the last cut scene lasts for twenty five minutes before the credits start. Again, this is a game for a system that's most useful feature is it can be played on a bus. I feel like more games I've played in the last few years haven't known when to quit than they did before. It's not about how long the story lasts, as I said twenty hours is long for a DS game but not on its own that out of control. The issue is the pace. If the story has taken a turn and feels like it's racing towards a conclusion, then that conclusion should be brief in comparison to the preceding sections of the game. In the past I've lamented games where what is essentially the third act is over too quickly, but that was probably wrong. If something feels like it's the climax, it shouldn't have the same pace as the rising action. It's a feel thing, so I don't mind a little stretching here or there, but Okamiden definitely didn't know when to quit, and that soured my perception of the whole thing a bit. It's a cute, solid little action/adventure that works quite well on the hardware, but it does have some problems weighing it down.

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