Nintendo DS

Okamiden Playtest: A Miniature Side-Story


A point to take into consideration before we go any further: Okamiden is just what its Japanese name means. It is a side story to Okami. As such, even though the very start of the game provides you with some background information on its predecessor, expect to be considerably confused if you haven’t played the original Okami.


That being said, the game fares well on the DS. As expected, the brushwork, activated by holding L/R, is intuitive since you can draw using the DS touchscreen, and Chibiterasu’s abilities are nearly identical to her(?) mother’s. The only awkward aspect of the controls involves operating the camera through two buttons on the
touchscreen itself. I’m not quite sure how you’re supposed to tap the touchscreen with your fingers at the ready on the attack and dodge button.


As one would expect, the touchscreen controls also add a greater degree of precision to the Celestial Brush. For example, instead of dotting the stars to awaken a new deity, you are now required to outline the animal formed from the constellation. The Restoration technique also relies on tracing in the area that is missing rather than simply filling it in with ink. Furthermore, much of the game also relies on drawing a line from one point to another, the same way you did with the Waterspout, Inferno, Thunderstorm and Blizzard techniques, but in a more intricate manner.


There are a lot of familiar faces in Okamiden. In fact, you begin your adventure at the same place Ammy did nine moths prior, saving Issun while he’s distributing his fliers.


There’s a new evil in Nippon that needs your attention. More precisely, it is an evil that was never properly exorcised before and has grown stronger since. Unfortunately, Issun has his own duty as the Celestial Envoy, so he can’t follow you. Lucky for you and Chibi, Kamiki Village is still home to Susano and his wife, Kushinada.

…and their son, Kuninushi (who can see those sacred red stripes on the little wolf just fine, causing him to nickname Chibi something akin to “Stripey”). After restoring Sakuya’s power through your brush, you and Kuninushi journey off to discover more about this new darkness, cleansing Nippon while you’re at it.


At some point in the game, Kuninushi leaves you, and you get a new partner. Each partner has their own special traits (and nickname for Chibi). For example, Kuninushi is the only one who can attack while he isn’t riding Chibi. Your first new partner is Nanami, a mermaid who seems to remember Chibi, even though Chibi has no recollection of her.


As expected, Nanami can swim — while Chibi can’t at all — and you can actually use the Waterspout technique with her hair as a source. And then there’s Kagura, who has strong spiritual powers and, with her, you can see hidden platforms. You then meet Kurou — or
perhaps it’s Crow? — a blonde boy whose mannerisms you’ll find awfully familiar. He can hover-walk over gaps in the floor where it’s too wide for Chibi to jump.


The last partner you get is Manpuku, a gluttonous boy who has such fiery hair that you can use the Inferno technique with it. He can also cross through areas with ice spikes. All of these characters switch in and out according to the story, and their unique abilities will
always be of great help in the dungeon you’re challenging.


Because you have partners you rely on so heavily, fighting and dungeon-trekking are bound to differ some from the previous game. In battle, each of the characters also has their own follow-up attack, and the number of times they use this attack and successfully hit the opponent adds to your battle rank after each fight.


The game accommodates also for the use of a partner in the dungeon by granting you new brush techniques and new ways to use old ones. The three major ones are Guiding, Magnetism, and a new way to use the Greensprout Vine technique.


The Guiding technique (or what I like to call “Follow the red line” technique) is basically the way you control your partner when he or she is off your back. Draw a line from partner to destination, and he’ll faithfully follow it. There are times when Chibi can’t cross an area — either because the platform is made only for one, there’s water blocking the way, the gap is too wide, etc. — and that is when you’ll have to rely on your partner to get through for you. Once across, he can grab the treasure chest there or you can have him pull you over to the other side.


That last bit is the new application of the Vine technique, which now represents
the “strong bond that links” the two of you. Drawing a line from Chibi to your partner will pull you across to him automatically.


Magnetism is an odd brush technique that either attracts or repels certain blocks. It’s strangely specific to what it can effect, making me feel like it was primarily designed for one dungeon alone, simply for the sake of including a complete set of 12 Brush Gods.


These are the more superficial changes, however. Okamiden also differs from the original in “soul.” Okami presented you with a consistent, connected world, weaving in and out of hills, valleys, caves, villages and forests gracefully, never allowing you to feel as these areas were disjointed in some way.


Perhaps I’m just more accustomed to this original Okami-like style of dungeon trekking, as the world and puzzles in Okamiden feel very perfunctory in comparison.


In fact, the “puzzles” feel more like mere obstacles rather than true puzzles because the latter require the gears in your brain to turn, which you won’t find yourself doing much here.  Most of the challenges in Okamiden are exercises in timing and brush-drawing.


For example, there is one screen in Hanasaki Valley where you have to reach the opposite side of the screen. At the top of the screen is a flimsy platform that leads to the other side which only Kuninushi alone can walk across. It is blocked by three waterfalls cascading down. At the bottom of the screen is a solid platform which goes across, but doesn’t lead all the way to the other side. There are three switches along the way. When you step on one of the switches, it turns off the corresponding waterfall.


Essentially, what you have to do here is step on a switch, guide Kuninushi past the first waterfall. Step on the next one, guide him past the next one, and then do the same with the last one. At the end, Kuninushi can finally step on a switch that activates a bridge
that allows you to cross as well, finally allowing you to reunite with your partner.


The dungeons are filled with puzzles such as these, and this, combined with the many area changes, make the game feel cramped and superficial to me. Some aspects of this are understandable. Because this game is on the DS, it is almost impossible for Shinshuu Field to be one vast, connected area. In Okamiden, the field is split into three different areas.


There are other factors as well, however, such as Chibiterasu’s limited range of expression, and the fact that she has only one running speed (One of my favorite parts in the original Okami was running around the field at full speed, with golden grass springing up in your trail).


Ironically, this all plays into one of the motifs in the game, which is the literal downsizing of everything. All of your partners are children, Chibiterasu herself is the child of Amaterasu, and even all of your brush techniques are bestowed upon you by the children of the previous brush gods.


Chibiterasu also doesn’t have quite the power Amaterasu has, so when you draw, you have a time limit before you’re forced out of the drawing screen. And while you visit several areas from the previous game, they are almost always a smaller, narrower side branch. Not to say the dungeons aren’t large, but the maps themselves have many areas where Chibiterasu can’t reach, and quite a few screens consist solely of narrow hallways.


In addition, the story isn’t as rounded as before. Sometimes, events are very contrived, and seemingly presented simply for the sake of seeing Chibi struggle more before her moment of triumph. Admittedly, one of my main motivations for continuing the game was to see if there was going to be some hidden twist that would make the cliché seem less clichéd.


Other times, the events feel like something tacked on as an afterthought. While this isn’t uncommon among sequels, ideally, it shouldn’t be readily obvious to the player. I shouldn’t be commenting to myself, “So, this all happened super-secretly in the background when Ammy was doing so-and-so in Okami? Seriously?”


Okamiden is aimed solely at fans of its predecessor, and while it is rife with references and fanservice in an attempt to hide its own insecurity, it lacks the substance necessary for it to hold itself up on its own. I feel like I enjoyed the game solely for its connection to Okami than for it in itself.


Food for Thought


1. There is another partner Chibiterasu teams up with, but he’s a semi-familiar face. For spoiler reasons, I’m keeping his name quiet. You also see good ol’ Ammy a few times, and even catch a few glimpses of Shiranui.


2. For those curious, the Guiding brush god is … a penguin-eagle thing. The Magnetism god is a pair of whales. Also, several brush gods don’t return, such as the Sheep, Ox, Rabbit, or Cat.


3. The game hints at a sequel at the very end. I can’t tell if it’s simply a carrot-on-a-stick or something more, though.