2006’s Okami was an infinitely refreshing take on the action-adventure formula perfected and constantly reused by the Legend of Zelda franchise. The unique story, the one-of-a-kind ink mechanic, the gorgeous art style, and the extremely charismatic ensemble cast was enough to make it one of my favorite games of that year, even if it did take a bajillion hours to complete.
Five years later, we have a sequel in the form of Okamiden for the DS. Does it live up to the awesome fun times of the first one, or is it a flop? Read on for the verdict.
Okamiden takes place roughly nine months after the events of Okami. If you recall, Amaterasu took care of Yami, the big bad demon baddie of the first one. Still, demons have managed to return to the ancient land of Nippon and wreak havoc on helpless villagefolk. The assistance of the Sun Goddess is request once again, but instead of getting Amaterasu, the inhabitants of the world are presented with Chibiterasu, a smaller, cuter version of Ammy, and that’s where the game begins.
The basic plot and gameplay of Okamiden is largely a retread of the first game: you find the source of the demons, defeat a boss, gain a power-up, resurrect the many Guardian Saplings spread throughout Nippon, rinse and repeat. The minor difference is that this time around, you get to deal with “junior” versions of the characters you grew to know and love in Okami. It may sound uninspiring, and it is in some aspects, but what prevents the game from becoming boring is that, like in Okami, you end up actually caring for much of the ensemble cast. The writing is definitely Okamiden’s strong point, and it shows with a plot that’s surprisingly satisfying, given how similar the basic premise is to the original.
That’s not to say the gameplay is no slouch either. The Celestial Brush makes a return, and in true fashion, it works magnificently on the DS’s touch screen. Combos employing both regular combat and Brush skills are largely satisfying and seamless to pull off, thanks to the quickness of actually using the stylus like an actual brush on the touch screen.
Additionally, there’s some clever puzzlework to be had with your partner Kuni, a wee tyke that befriends you early on. While he normally rides on your back, with one press of a button he jumps off, giving you the ability to direct him around via the stylus. Even though a good chunk of the puzzles are simple pressure floor/button puzzles, they’re employed creatively in this one, especially with the presence of a partner that can actually hold his own against enemies.
One more plus is that Okamiden is roughly half as long as the original, if not less. It took me about 25 hours to complete the entire game; in Okami, that would have been right at the false ending, where you realize you still have much much more game to get through. Okamiden feels like just the right length for someone looking for a solid adventure game.
Or, it would feel like the right length if it didn’t start off so slowly in the beginning. Part of that is due to the typical “I’m initially just some nobody in a village doing menial tasks” archetype, but I suspect the vast majority of it is due to the damned unskippable cutscenes. Cutscenes are frequent and consistent in Okamiden, which isn’t a problem because hey, that’s where the exposition tends to occur.
The real problem lies in the fact that the text speed in the cutscenes is fixed to an absolute crawl, and on top of that, pressing any buttons to advance the text isn’t a possibility. That results in a first few hours where you’re constantly looking at your watch as these characters pour their hearts to each other. I don’t have a problem with actual emotion, but when it’s presented in text that’s not skippable or able to be sped up, it can completely throw someone out of the immersion. I managed to dig in during the more tedious parts of the beginning stages because I had to write this review, but people who aren’t obligated to actually sit through them may not be as patient.
Ultimately, Okamiden is a great game, but at the end of the day, I felt like it was a completely unnecessary entry into the mythos. More a retread than its own game, it doesn’t exactly do anything bigger or better; it simply does what it does, just on the DS. If you’re burnt out on Legend of Zelda and are looking for a great action-adventure game, definitely pick this one up. While it does require patience initially, trust me, it picks up considerably after the first few hours. Okamiden might not be original, but it’s still a great entry into the awesome DS library.