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Get used to Zelda comparisons, because Okami constantly invites them. This is probably the closest anyone outside of Nintendo has come to developing something that can stand up to its most treasured series. The basic gameplay is very similar, and the structure begins along the same sort of lines as the last few Legends. You explore an area, solve some puzzles and complete some tasks, open up a dungeon, learn new skills, battle the boss then use your new found powers to discover the next section. It’s hugely traditional, but it definitely works.
What’s more, Okami hits a similar balance between the epic, fairy-tale quest and having a whole smorgasbord of simple, oddly domestic little tasks that you just have to complete if you want the bonus heart-containers (here solar cells) and item upgrades that will make later parts of the game more manageable. In Okami, you’re a force of natural goodness in a world corrupted by the demon’s pollution, so it’s only right that you’ll spend a portion of your time rescuing withered cherry trees, feeding animals and even helping poor villagers with the troubles of their daily lives. It’s surprising that so few other games bar Zelda, GTA and Oblivion have ever seemed to understand this: that a good game doesn’t need to be all about the quest and gaining power, it can also be about playing around and just getting involved in the game’s rich world.
And this is where the humour comes in. Any game that starts up with a good fifteen minutes of waffling background preamble is in danger of taking itself too seriously, but Okami’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t. Instead, it constantly undercuts itself with knowing wit and lively charm. Like Link in the Zelda games, Amaritsu is a bit of a blank canvas, with no dialogue or overbearing personality of his own, but he’s surrounded by some of the most bizarre and enjoyable characters you’ll ever meet.
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