Many years ago, in the land of Nippon, legends arose of a great power whose form took the form of a wolf... which in turn took its form in the video game Okami. A cult hit from Clover Studios, Okami was first released on the PS2 and then the Wii, whose motion-sensing capabilities did well to serve the game's unique paintbrush mechanic. After Clover became no more, it was feared that we would never see a continuation of the series. Until now. Making its way onto the DS thanks to Capcom, Okamiden replaces the Wii remote and control pad for the DS input and stylus system. Many people thought that it was a natural fit when announced - the DS stylus, used as a paintbrush on the canvas of the touch screen. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, there is little to find umbrage with in Okamiden, and far more that is right about it. There may be a bit of a sense of deja vu with similar sound and visual design, but Okamiden remains a very solid game and a worthy handheld sequel. For those who haven't played the first game in the series, please be aware that there will be some spoilers in the next paragraph of this review.
Okamiden takes place nine months after the original Okami. The great goddess Amaterasu has ascended to a higher plane of existence, and the people of Japan are basking in the peace of their land. This has made some of them complacent and lacking in their belief in the gods of Nippon who protect them. One day, signs of evil again emerge in the land, but with Amaterasu ascended, there are few that are able to counter this evil, until Chibiterasu arrives on the scene, who so happens to be Amaterasu's son. However, Chibi is not alone in this quest as he is joined by Kuni, a boy who is the son of Susano, the surprisingly strong and proficient swordsman who helped Issun and Amaterasu slay evil in the first game. Together, Chibiterasu and Kuni combine to battle evil as one unit throughout the game.
Okamiden plays out in a similar way to its predecessor which, for those who are yet to play Okami, shares some similarities with the Legend of Zelda series, but also has its own very unique qualities. A core goal is to of course fight off evil and purify the countryside, but you must also inspire people and give them hope through your actions. This might mean finding lost items, giving them medicine or reuniting loved ones. By carrying such actions out, the people will display gratitude and award you tokens, which will increase your vitality once you receive enough of them. To bring about these changes, however, you will be required to use Chibiterasu's Celestial brush. The Celestial brush allows you to accomplish a variety of tasks, such as fixing broken bridges, creating bombs and can even be used in combat. To use your brush, you must press one of the DS shoulder buttons and then use the DS stylus to draw on the touch screen. However, there is a bit of a twist this time - you will only have a certain amount of time to complete actions onscreen before you are unable to use the Celestial brush and have your ink reserves dry out. This may seem peculiar, but an attempt is made to justify it in-game when it's pointed out that Chibiterasu is much younger than his mother, and thus isn't quite so powerful. While there aren't many new powers available that weren't in Okami, the DS input method feels more natural than the PS2 and Wii versions. It allows for a sense of greater precision, particularly in the midst of frantic battles where you take on several enemies at once.
Speaking of battles, the addition of a partner throughout the game changes fights and exploration slightly. Instead of your mystical white wolf going at it alone, your partner will join in the fight as well. Most of the time they will stay seated on your back, but when you get up close and personal to an enemy they will jump off and attack them with their weapon. You don't have any precise control over when this will happen, but it is quite a spectacle to watch them fly into action. This can also allow for some interesting combo set-ups - if you've already dashed out some combos with Chibiterasu and happen to activate the Celestial Brush just as your partner goes flying into the fray, you can set up a handy double attack with a Power Slash.
The partnership system also has some other functions outside of battle. During your exploration, there will be areas that have bridges that would crumble under the weight of Chibitaresu alone, so the game allows you to split the two of them up. From there, you can use the Celestial Brush to guide your partner across. Sometimes they will be able to find a treasure chest and being its contents back to Chibiterasu, but other times will see a new way opened up so that Chibi may cross over and continue progress through the area. While the two are separated, you can still fight with Chibiterasu to fend off any enemies that might try and cross over and attack your partner. You will also sometimes need to use Chibiterasu and your partner together to activate switches to open up areas, and there will also be boss fights where the two of you are split up and must perform different acts to defeat them. Out of the different applications of the partnership system, this appears to be the most dynamic and satisfying of them, as you have greater control over what happens.
Capcom have made an admirable attempt to translate the visual style of Okami onto the DS for Okamiden, with a great sense of consistency and continuity maintained. The screen is awash with rich colour and once again gives the impression that you are watching a piece of canvas unfold rather than a video game. There are occasional issues with jagged edges and some blocky textures, but these are far more the exception than the rule, and perhaps a consequence of shrinking the action down to DS size. Just as with the previous game, each character is filled with life in their movements and you will see many outrageous leaps and gesticulations throughout the adventure that should give some smiles to even the most hardened of gaming aficionados. Chibiterasu comes across as undeniably cute in his appearance and actions, but never sickeningly so. The game's visual personality is really upped in the cinematic sequences as well, especially those which show the sweeping grandeur of revitalised lands right before your eyes.
The sound design found in Okamiden mostly follows on from the previous game. For some people this may be considered a drawback as there really isn't a lot new to listen to. The majority of the background music, sound effects and speech noises match up with Okami. While this may be seen as a lack of creativity and experimentation, it's hard to really fault the soundtrack as it was an incredible auditory experience to begin with and continues to hit the right marks.
At over twenty hours long, Okamiden is one of the longest games on the DS console and there is a lot to do in those hours outside of the main story. There are countless people and animals to help out and earn gratitude from and the world is set up in such a way that it's just as easy to lose yourself in a sidequest or mini-game as it is to persevere with the main story. The game is abound many collectible items and areas to rejuvenate, which will mean that it will be a very long time before you are able to truly finish every aspect of the game. There is probably more content that you can sink your baby wolf teeth into than on many current home console games. The fact that the game centres on a partnership without a co-op gameplay mode may make some cry foul, but it's honestly something that feels like a missed opportunity in the slightest.
Okamiden is probably one of the last great games to appear on the Nintendo DS and deserves to be seen as an incredible send-off for the console. Though sharing music and graphical elements from Okami may be a deterrent to some, there really isn't anything lacking or faulting within the game. It has a very engrossing story across its many characters, features excellent controls that seem incredibly natural for its key gameplay distinctiveness and a sense of joy and wonder that persists from the moment Chibiterasu steps onto the screen to the very end. Okamiden is an amazing game that deserves to stay firmly fitted into your DS cartridge slot for its twenty-plus glorious hours.