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Best of the Decade: Okami


Platforms: Playstation 2, Wii

Release Date: September 19, 2006 (PS2 version)

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Clover Studio

Despite the immense popularity of the Zelda series, there aren’t as many competitors to the franchise as you’d think there might be. Epic adventure games full of dungeons and gadget collecting do show up every once in a while, but the Zelda series is largely left to itself.

This is a shame. The Zelda games are some of the best around, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other compelling ideas that could be injected into its brand of adventure gaming. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would take the basic framework of Zelda and rethink it, making it into a fresh, modern game that takes exciting liberties that the well-established and stagnant Zelda franchise can’t afford to?

Enter Okami.

Here we have a game that not only dared to take on Zelda directly, but succeeded. In many respects, Okami has outdone Zelda at its own game. By starting fresh, Okami was able to build a world all its own. It’s not tied to tradition or expectation. It starts with a clean slate and builds a fascinating world full of compelling characters, humorous dialog, and, most importantly, fun gameplay.

I was sold the moment I first saw a screenshot of Okami. Its beautiful watercolor aesthetic is carried over into every aspect of the art design, creating environments dripping with style and vibrant color. It looks like a painting come to life and remains one of my favorite art styles of the last decade. 

That’s not its only trick though. Every facet of the traditional Zelda experience has been rethought and made better. The story is deeper and more compelling (albeit a little verbose). The characters are lovable and unique. Its sense of humor means it never gets caught up too much in its own lore; it isn’t afraid to have a laugh at itself and you’ll likely be chuckling along with it as well. 

The very progression of the game is more satisfying than most Zeldas. It doesn’t feel like a trek through a series of pre-planned dungeons. Instead, the story naturally leads you from one place to the next. Some areas feel like proper dungeons, others like natural extensions of towns or the overworld. The world feels so much more real and believable than the sectioned playgrounds of Zelda. 

You’ll make your way through these environments using your celestial brush, a genius little idea for a gameplay mechanic that simultaneously manages to brilliantly tie into the game’s living watercolor aesthetic while getting rid of the inventory management struggles that Link and his giant bag of toys have long brought to the Zelda series. By simply drawing a symbol on the screen, your power is unleashed. It’s simple, effective, and fun. The game’s many different powers lead to all sorts of interesting puzzles as well, which is a must for this type of game. 

With the beautiful soundtrack behind you, you can’t help but be totally lost in Okami’s world. It has no shortage of things to show you either, as you’ll get enough mileage out of this game to rival or outmatch any Zelda title. You won’t want it to end, but when, after a long journey, it finally does, you can rest assured the conclusion to its epic tale will be suitably satisfying.

It takes some true guts to take on Zelda. There’s a reason so few have tried. Nintendo’s adventure juggernaut is hard to top. But the brilliant minds at Clover injected new ideas into a design clearly reminiscent of Link’s stellar outings, and in so doing they created a game that bettered the original in many respects and equalled them in most of the rest. It is an engrossing adventure worthy of standing next to Link in the pantheon of epic classics, and for that it makes my Best of the Decade.

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