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Mario's Shrine to Movies, Video Games, and Animation

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If you take a look at all the games that triumphantly earned my esteemed "Legendary" rating, they have all been classic games that have already made their marks in gaming history as important and fondly loved games.  Even then, being an important, revolutionary game is no guarantee that it'll earn my highest of marks(see Metal Gear Solid or Star Fox).  But for a modern, recently released game to earn this praise?  Unless you're The Legend of Zelda, this doesn't happen.  So it is with a proud heart that I present my review of Okami, one of the most profound, artistically beautiful, and important non-Zelda games since, well, Beyond Good and Evil.
For the uninitiated, Okami is another fine entry by the people of Clover Studio, a now cancelled section of Capcom that also did the incredibly goofy but seriously fun Viewtiful Joe.  Okami, though, is arguably 1,000 times superior, as it contains a level of depth not seen in many games.  You play as the Japanese sun god Amaterasu, who returns to earth as a white wolf the natives call Shiranui.  One hundred years before the events in the game, Shiranui helped a brave warrior defeat an eight-headed dragon named Orochi.  The battle resulted in Shiranui being mortally wounded and a statue being erected in its honor.  One hundred years later, the evil dragon is up to no good once more, and the wood sprite breathes life into the statue of the heroic wolf.
Okami is a profoundly oriental game.  As such, it contains elements that the average western player will not understand, such as the lore surrounding the twelve Chinese zodiac characters and the appearance of symbolic kanji scattered throughout the game.  The graphics of the game are purposefully set up to resemble a style of Japanese painting technique, and it's this theme that lends itself to the main draw of the game, the ability to paint your "god powers" on the screen.  As you go further and further into the game, you get visited by more of the zodiac characters, who grant you access to different brush strokes that unlock different powers you can paint with your magical brush while the action is paused.  Most of these powers are elemental in nature.  The artistcally challenged need not fear, though.  All the shapes are made to be very simple.
The rest of the game is certainly recognizable by the average gamer, though.  It pulls out the stops and uses all the elements most great adventure games have used before, most notably The Legend of Zelda.  Many people might cry that Okami is a ripoff of Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker.  But if you're going to copy a series, you might as well copy from the best AND actually be good at it.  Okami is a vast and open game.  You'll see treasure that you'll be scratching your head wondering how to get to only to figure it out later on down the road when you've gotten more powers.  You'll unlock side quests and mini games as you aid the various people of the world.  The most satisfying and rare mini games are those test your brush drawing abilities by allowing you to make up your own design or test your hand at one of the complex kanji characters.  And of course, there's stuff to collect.  In the case of this game, stuff collecting comes in the form of finding the hidden clovers and in digging up 99 lost beads.  There are also RPG-esque elements.  The more "divine" things you do, the more praise you earn, which you can use to buy more life, more ink, or a bigger wallet.  Okami also sports intelligent and challenging dungeons easily on par with Ocarina of Time.
But what makes this game so special isn't the vast world or the oodles of quests and treasure or the gripping dungeons.  It's the very forceful emotional impact of the game.  Being both humorous and heart-breaking, Okami possesses a huge cast of characters who nonetheless all feel fleshed out and very real, every single one.  You'll instantly fall in love with them, and you'll truly develop a sense of caring and guardianship for all the different village people.  The first time you come across one of the game's vast cursed zones is very shocking.  And the first time you breath life back into the area and watch all the trees, flowers, and animals come back in a sudden rush of color, you feel in your heart that you've done nothing short of a miracle.  Adding to this game's emotional depth is arguably one of the best and most moving soundtracks ever in a video game, with its Japanese flavor and many strings and flutes.
As much as it resembles The Legend of Zelda, it's still not likely you'll ever see another game like Okami again.  In an era where people praise games based on how much destruction its main characters cause, it's simply brilliant to see a game that celebrates the preservation of life.
Grade: Legendary

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