There's a blissful moment in the first hour of Okami, one that is repeated several times throughout the game's epic tale: Tasked with restoring an afflicted sapling to its former beauty, you bring it to life with a swirl of your virtual paintbrush. The sapling bursts with light, a melody of soft pink flowers blooms on its young branches, and lush green meadows breathlessly sweep away the cursed countryside, returning vitality to the diseased landscape. It's a moment that stays with you, and it represents the sheer joy of playing Okami. Few games exude such grace and visual prowess, though you shouldn't assume that its beauty is superficial. Here is a case where stunning graphics, charming characters, and a dreamy, mythical adventure are united into a cohesive, powerful title that simply must be played. If for some reason you didn't catch it in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, you should do so now, posthaste.
Okami's story is straightforward, but it draws you easily into its world of mythical beasts and sake-swilling charlatans by way of smart, funny dialogue and a number of charming characters to chuckle at. As the goddess Amaterasu, who has been reborn in the body of a white wolf, you work to rid Nippon of the evil eight-headed serpent called Orochi and renew the lands it has poisoned. Ammy is a silent heroine, but that's just fine, since your energetic, buglike companion Issun does plenty of talking for the both of you. There is a lot of dialogue to sift through, and since the characters just speak a chirpy brand of gibberish, you'll be doing a good bit of reading. You can skip past it and get right back into the action if you so desire. If you did this, however, you'd be missing out on many of Okami's humorous exchanges, such as those with a heavyset sparrow that can only be described as the Godfather's avian counterpart.
Even during combat, Okami's visuals will take your breath away.
You will notice right away that visually speaking, Okami resembles no other game that has come before it: It looks like a watercolor painting come to life. Landscapes are drawn with broad strokes and colors have a slightly muted tone, as if the paint has seeped a bit into the canvas. In locations like Kamiki Village, rose-hued blossoms waft past, while the subdued greens and grays of cursed zones make those areas feel stifled and foreboding. As Amaterasu, you leave a small trail of grass blades and flower petals behind you, which signifies the brilliance you seek to restore. Fans of the PlayStation 2 version may notice that the canvas filter in the Wii iteration is less noticeable, though it hasn't been removed entirely. Yet on a widescreen, high-definition display, Okami is dazzling, so while some may prefer the PS2's slightly softer look, the game's vistas are even more magnificent on the Wii. There are few instances in games that compare to watching a tree that was near death bloom before your eyes, or watching Amaterasu's lithe form sprint across the green terrain. The frame rate slows a bit here and there, and there are some brief loading times when you cross into new areas, but they are insignificant nitpicks that don't hinder the game's artistry.
That visual beauty is matched by a stupendous sound design that enhances the onscreen events and makes Okami a feast for the senses. Battles are signaled by the thumping of drums and the whistle of a wooden flute. The spread of petals and leaves is accompanied by the strums of harps. When you talk with some of the more quirky characters, bassoon and clarinet riffs complement their rants. The emotional range of the soundtrack parallels the pervading sentiment in any given scene or battle, so while it's easy to heap praise on the unique visual style, the soundtrack and sound effects are equally extraordinary.
Not that Okami is simply a work of art meant to be hung on a wall and admired from a distance. It's also a long adventure game with some interesting gameplay mechanics that are woven into the production values so well that one aspect couldn't thrive without the other. You'll travel from one end of Nippon to the other, speaking with all sorts of eccentrics and taking on a number of quests. Often, you'll need to fight, though much of the time, you can simply avoid enemy encounters, which are represented on the screen by floating scrolls and miniature haunted houses. When you do battle, you'll face any number of surreal foes, from flying fish to drum-beating demons, along with a few imposing-looking boss creatures. You can equip a number of different weapons, and you'll generally have primary and secondary attacks available to you. Combat is fun and moves along quickly, and it looks terrific.