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Because it is simply that good.
Perhaps it was due to underexposure on my part. When I first played this game, I'd had no experience with Zelda or its ilk (and even now, I don't have much and was severely disappointed with the experience I did have), so this was a completely new for me, and to say I was pleased would be putting lightly.
The setup is rather simple. You're the main goddess of the Shinto pantheon (in the form of a wolf). Japan is plagued by evil spirits that bring suffering to its inhabitants. Destroy them. Only thing is, without help, no one seems to have faith anymore, and as a result you start off pretty weak. Give the people a reason to believe and you'll gain back the power you were said to have in the legends.
As a goddess, you have access to certain powers (though you will have to work to get them), implemented through the Celestial Brush. You press a button, the game pauses, you draw the requiste line or shape, release the button and watch as your power comes into play. Annoying enemies? Draw a line through them to cut them in half. Want to slow down time? Just add an extra line. I especially like that you continue to use all your powers throughout the game, instead of dropping the old ones in favor of the new like so many other games.
You have limited ink (even though it does auto-refill), so you may find it more efficient to attack enemies physically. It's a bit more complex than a simple waggle-fest/button masher, as it requires a rhythm (which is different for each weapon class). It's not too hard to pick up, and works well enough for me.
There's an RPG element as well. No grinding required, but doing sidequests nets you praise, which feeds into your health, ink, extra lives, and purse size. The game is quite easy, so don't worry too much about missing anything though.
The game's biggest triumph, however, is its presentation. Par for the course with CAPCOM, the music is stellar. Listen for yourself. But the gorgeous art style is the real draw here. No matter if it's the subdued PS 2 version or the colourful Wii version, be prepared for the prettiest game you've ever seen.
Bottom line: Best game I've ever played. Cheap statement? Sure. Play the game yourself to see the weight it holds.
Okami is kind of a Psychonauts deal, in that it has flaws, but everything else is just so perfect that it's still very worth it. Yes, it's kind of buggy, not as original as everyone seems to think, the dialogue is poorly written, it seems to have trouble with showing rather than telling, and Tsukuyomi is a sword. But the graphics and soundtrack are no less than gorgeous (that is not hyperbole), the combat is well thought over, the brush-technique system works very well, the puzzles are genius, and the ending is one of the very few endings in any game or even any medium that had any kind of emotional effect on me. In short, it's flawed, but so is everything, right? I would recommend it to anyone who isn't Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw.
Before I start, I'd like to say that Okami is not a bad game. It is competently made, there are no serious bugs, the gameplay is decent and the Celestial Brush is fun to use. Yet at the end of the day I found Okami to be simply average, not terrible, but not really amazing.
However if you listened to Okami's fanbase they'd say that it's an underappreciated masterpiece and one of the best games ever made.
Are we talking about the same Okami here?
The gameplay works well, but apart from a few fun puzzles 'works well' is the best it ever gets. The story, aside from a few awesome/heartwarming moments (mostly near the end), is just your incredibly generic "good guys vs evil villains" plot with equally generic characters, with a few Shinto terms sprinkled over to keep things 'fresh'.
About the characters, all of the more noteworthy ones feel almost completely identical, especially aggravating is how dull the female cast is. Sakuya, Kushi, Otohime, Fuse, Himiko, any of them could say anything and, unless it was referring to a specific object, it could easily come from any other's mouth. When the Heroic Mime has more personailty than they do, you know you have a problem. Waka, Oki, Ammy and that paperslip-thing are probably the only characters in the whole game that feel unique, including the bad guys. Not to mention Issun's lechery started to feel really degrading after a while.
The art style is certainly colourful, unique and pretty, but it is nowhere near the best graphics seen in videogaming. I'd say Rayman 3 probably looks better than this (although R3's graphics were pretty good back then, so I'm not insulting it).
I'll say it again: Okami is not a bad game, it is certainly not horribly broken or highly offensive, I had no problem with the environmentalist message, and there's fun to be had here. But after playing it I feel like maybe there's a very good reason this game wasn't a gigantic hit. Put simply, I found Okami to be the very definition of So Okay Its Average. I probably had more fun with Twilight Princess (despite it adding nothing new to its franchise), and Shinto mythology has been handled and incorporated a lot better in other games/books/anime.
Speaking of Shintoism, why is Tsukuyomi a friggin' sword in this game?!
Have you ever found it annoying when you're playing a Zelda game and you frequently have to go to the menu to switch items? If not, that's likely because they were going out of their way to avoid this issue. If so, they failed to avoid it. Even when I'm playing a Mega Man game I tend to stick with the weapon I'm using even when it's not optimal for the situation because I find it slightly bothersome to switch. Okami's Celestial Brush mechanic, wherein you hold a button, draw a symbol on the screen, then release it to create effects depending on the symbol you drew, seems to be made specifically to avoid this issue, which in turn allowed the designers to go crazy with the enemies and obstacles, which resulted in an excellent gameplay experience. Every single one of your techniques is available at the push of a button. All 13+ of them. The enemies provide you with good reason to use many of your techniques, as they are rarely vulnerable normally. This game is not a mashfest.
It's an original concept that doesn't rely on mere originality to provide great gameplay. It's the very definition of "innovative". It can be unresponsive at times, but this was fixed in Okamiden. Protip: On the Wii version, use the Z button to draw straight lines.
Even aesthetic things are absolutely sublime. The visuals are outdated, yet far more beautiful than any game I can think of today. Even acts as simple as moving creates a beautiful stream of flowers trailing behind the player character. The story and sub-plots can make you feel every emotion you can think of at least once throughout the game. The soundtrack always fits the moment brilliantly and the songs themselves are awesome.
It is however not without its flaws. It has some annoying and difficult minigames that you must beat to proceed, the animation for when characters are talking can be a source of Narm, 20%+ of your gameplay will be spent watching cutscenes, and there is almost no challenge whatsoever (outside minigames) unless you aim for One Hundred Percent Completion, among a few others. However, even as someone who appreciates action and difficulty I would recommend this game to anyone.
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