Clover Studios will forever hold a place in many hearts. The short lived studio was bursting with insane talent, and now they go by the moniker of Platinum Games today. However, their various original IPs still belong with Capcom, the original producers of their work, and have been handled by them with the same respect they give Mega Man today. That is, they’re all dead franchises, outside the occasional guest starring in a Vs game. Okami, the studio’s widely beloved masterpiece, is the only exception; Capcom saw fit to have a sequel made on the Nintendo DS a few years down the line, mostly in order to take advantage of the system’s touch screen controls for the game’s famous celestial brush mechanic. While the game is certainly no Okami, it’s incredibly impressive for a handheld release, although not without some issues with the new limitations.
The game takes place roughly a year after the first game, with Ammy’s son Chibi being summoned by accident by Sakuya, the spirit of the guardian saplings that keep Nippon free of evil spirits. The demons Ammy drove off by killing Yami, the god of darkness, have returned with new leaders, and Chibi has to take care of the problem since Ammy wasn’t properly summoned. Issun, Ammy’s tiny sidekick, is too busy spreading the good word about the sun god to help, but Chibi quickly finds a replacement in Kuni, Susano’s newly adopted son. The little coward and Chibi set out to free the land of evil, but things quickly become more complicated. Chibi ends up having to team up with various special children to save the world from these new evils, combining their skills with his ability to make miracles, and the adventure he ends up having is far, far darker than Ammy’s battle with Yami.
While Okamiden complicates a few plot points from the first game and makes the ultimate true villain’s motivations and nature a bit muddled from the translation, it’s stronger than the original game’s story in a lot of ways. All he kids that Chibi teams up with are really likable and have fun personalities to play with. My personal favorite of the bunch was Kagu, who starts out as a slightly obnoxious tsundere, but gets a really satisfying character arc. It’s also nice to see that the Susano scenario from the first game is made into the sequel’s major theme; Chibi is more of a deus ex machina and teacher to a bunch of would be heroes, acting more like an assistant to their story for most of the game when they show the will to do good, despite the odds and their own fears and insecurities. It makes up greatly for how shoehorned in Chibi’s adventure is to the original game’s canon, retconning things that never really needed to be retconned. That said, good on the team for introducing the opportunity to fight Orochi two different times, and then never having you fight that overused snake at any point in the game. For a Capcom game, that is something to be applauded. The villains after the first two warp-up baddies are also given a lot of personality, certainly more so than most of the bosses from Okami.
Okamiden does an admirable job shoving the world of Okami into a tiny DS cart. The graphics are surprisingly lovely, capturing the style of the first game near perfectly. A few dungeons sacrifice complex environments for the sake of space, but it’s rarely a notable issue. Old areas are nearly pitch perfect compared to their original appearances in the first game, and character animations retain all that life from the living painting style. The music is also of surprising quality, sacrificing little to the movement to the DS’s limited speakers. That said, the comedic panic theme wears out its welcome at a few points, as it has the exact same hook every time you hear it, and it starts becoming very grating. New areas are also very well handled, especially Yakushi Village, a new area that acts as the backbone to the game’s experience system (more on that later).
The controls are really weird and take some time to get used to, but its impressive how close they are to the main systems of the original game, despite a very limited button layout and a lack of a stick. The camera follows Chibi around automatically, while most dungeons have top down rooms that make it easy to see everything in the area. It’s a good fix for the camera issue, and I’m glad they went with it instead of half-assed camera control with the touch screen. Movement is handled with the D-pad and feels surprisingly natural, while the four main buttons are used for attacks and dodging, which is going to become necessary as Chibi lacks Ammy’s agility. Simply jumping out of the way is far more difficult, especially because Chibi has to turn slightly instead of instantly changing directions while in the air. A simple tap of a button brings up the celestial brush screen, which pauses the game for roughly thirty seconds as you draw out your brush command. The commands are slightly more complicated than they were in Okami, but it balances out with the new hand done drawing mechanic. That said, the touch screen causes a lot of problems with the brush, and the camera makes it worse.
See, you need to be still when you bring up the brush screen, or else there’s a good chance the game will bug out and not register your command. For example, if you’re moving to dodge fireballs from totems that can only be destroyed by their fireballs being reflected back at them, your slash command on the fireball won’t be accepted because the camera had to move with you and didn’t have quite enough time to register what was being slashed. This becomes a massive problem as the game goes on and more enemies require more complex strategies to take them out. Harvesting organs for upgrades also becomes difficult if your too jumpy, as you need to slash apart certain enemies at the right time to get those tasty, tasty organs. While my DS screen is a little worn for wear, Okamiden was the first time I really experienced problems with it. Those totems I mentioned become absolute hell as the game goes on, along with those fucking scissor enemies. Whoever thought these two enemies were a good idea should be beaten with a dildo.
It’s a small issue, but it becomes a constant annoyance. There’s nothing worse than being beaten by fireballs while trying to deflect them. Sometimes, you HAVE to get in their firing range so the camera angle allows you to intercept them, and even if you’re still, the probability of getting a successful deflection is insanely low. These totems are everywhere to boot, so it’s a problem that almost never ends. There are also a lot of finicky issues, like trying to summon wind at the right angle in a 3D space through a 2D plane selection, also littered around from the brush mechanics. Can’t forget distance problems either. None of these are game breaking issues, but they’re constant bugs that get under your skin. I swear, you will start to lose your cool after the twelve fucking fireball hit.
Despite these issues, the game manages to be a lot of fun. There’s definitely a lot to do, especially with Yakushi Village. Chibi levels up by earning praise through performing miracles and helping people with their problems, and Yakushi has a lot of problems. As you play the game, you can talk with certain NPCs at certain times to lead them to the village, which causes new areas to become accessible and new secrets reachable. On top of that, various events will pop up from time to time that can earn tons more praise or special items that can really help you out in the game. You can also find the weapons smith who supplies Chibi with new weapons and weapon upgrades in exchange for demon parts, like skin or organs. They’re difficult to get, but they can really help out. Along with the village, you can find a ton of hidden areas and secrets in each area of the game, and it’s possible to go over the max praise experience, where your health and ink bottles reach their limits. Hours can be sunk just through this extra stuff. There’s even a few hidden brush techniques from the previous game if you’re willing to look.
The major addition for this game is the partner system. Almost through the entire game, a kid partner is riding on Chibi’s back. Each of them have different abilities and skills in and outside battle, and they’re central to the puzzles in each dungeon. Nanami can swim through water and can be used to summon water, Karou can fly over pits, and so forth. You can command their movements by popping them off their back, while using celestial brush powers to defend them from enemies, like scissors that interrupt their path. Each partner also has their own small health bar, so defending them is of utmost importance. Some of the puzzles are a bit too obvious based on the partner you have with you, but others bring a lot of that old challenge from the first game. Their addition in battle is sadly minimal, though. They simply add an extra attack after a full combo, and a few of them are entirely useless (Nanami’s attack is just pathetic).
The boss battles are nice and varied, though they fall into some familiar patterns. The goal is to do enough damage until the boss starts a cinematic or performs a certain move that can be countered with the celestial brush. Several bosses also only take real damage through events after they’re stunned or are in certain positions. Despite this, dodging and fighting back never gets old, and some bosses are on Chibi’s level and stay on the offensive the entire time. Those are easily the best. I also love the twist pulled with the big bad’s final form, it leads to a really memorable fight completely different from the final Yami fight.
While crammed onto a small DS cart, Okamiden is an admirable effort. It captures a lot of the magic of Okami, though not perfectly. There’s a tough of rough spots and obnoxious issues, while a few of the better parts have lackluster elements. Despite its faults, I was addicted to the game from start to finish, and I’d love to see the series continue in some form through DS systems, assuming console games are too costly for Capcom. If the kinks can be worked out, there’s a possible masterpiece here.
Final Score: 7/10