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Okamiden AKA Okami Portable
on 18 March 2011
I'm beginning to see a pattern regarding the release of Okami games. Okami, and now Okamiden, were released during the dying moments of their respective platforms, destined for modest commercial success. Its as if its creators, Capcom, have conceded that the series will be forever labelled a cult classic, met with high critical acclaim that sadly isn't reflected in the sales figures. The fact that the dwindling limelight on the
stage of the DS is currently being hogged by the latest additions to the almighty Pokemon series, only adds insult to injury.
But don't go writing off this not-so old wolf just yet. Okamiden also shares the same lofty production values as Okami, the same magnificently well-realised world you want to jump head-first into and lose yourself in for hours on end. Okamiden is to Okami what Chibi, the protagonist, is to his mother Amaterasu: a cuter, unfledged version, but essentially cut from the same cloth. Actually, that parallel describes the rest of the game pretty well; more of the same but smaller.
For example, sacrifices were inevitably made in the presentation and content departments to convert the Okami brand to the DS: that is not to say that the game is either ugly or short-lived, though; the beautiful Japanese folklore-inspired art style remains largely intact, and there are hours' worth of sidequests to sink your fangs into as well as the lengthy main story.
The only feature that isn't scaled down to fit the limited hardware, but rather isimproved upon, is the celestial brush. Unlike in other iterations, using the Celestial brush is effortless and strokes are precise thanks to the DS' touch screen. It's easy to imagine why Capcom wanted to develop Okamiden for the DS, given how perfectly this
mechanic has translated to the DS.
A new partner system has been implemented, where you team up with various other children - including Susano's son and a Waka-lookalike - to overcome obstacles throughout the course of your adventure. As well as allowing for some funny and heart-warming dialogues with Chibi, having a partner is practical too; he or she will help you in battle and solve puzzles in the same vein as Spirit Tracks.
Other than that though, given the direction Okamiden seems to have gone in, i.e. insisting on making itself a revisiting rather than a full-blown sequel, the game offers more of the same and little else. Maybe that's not such a bad thing though, considering Okami was such a great game. Epic boss battles, an absorbing plot, a charming script and sumptuous Zelda-inspired gameplay have all been retained in the transition to the DS.
Yet still I can't shake the feeling that Capcom tried a little too hard to replicate the original, rather than make a more creative sequel, and I'm sure that there are other fans who will feel the same way too after playing Okamiden. While its obvious that Capcom approached this ambitious project with commendable vigour and genuine passion to do its predecessor justice, I can't help but think that their veneration of the original has come at the expense of innovation. Instead of playing to the DS's strengths they've merely tried to supplement its weaknesses.
As great as it is being able to relive the same moments as in Okami, to meet the recurring characters, to traverse the same locales - thus repeatedly filling me with dreamy-eyed nostalgia - it is for this same reason that I'd say to the uninitiated to the series that they should plump for the superior original if they had to choose one. It honestly pains me to say that because Okamiden is an excellent DS game on its own merit. Had Okami never existed, Okamiden would get an automatic +10% score-wise.
As things stand though, the developers have done themselves no favours in compelling players to compare Okamiden to its predecessor by making it so similar, when the bottom line is that it could never match its sheer scope and beauty. But if you did enjoy Okami, the sequel is well worth a look.