The first Okami was a great game, but more than anything it was a game that exceeded expectations. With the Sumi-e style graphics and distinctively eastern themes it was easy to assume that it was going to be a short art game with no distinctive features but the rendering style, but it was a long and well-polished game with deep story twists and interesting mechanics. Even the painting mechanics worked really well even though the input was limited to the PS2 thumbsticks. With this in mind – and my recent complaints about DS games tending to overstay their welcome – I might not have been completely fair to Okamiden, but it still does not really live up to the legacy.

Most action-adventure games (and it seems a disproportionate amount of realtime games can be fit into this category nowadays) get some slack on one or a few areas. Maybe the fighting is really good but the puzzles trivial. Maybe it’s the other way around, or maybe they are both derivative but there is a really good metagame with leveling and character development backing them up – whatever the reason, we have gotten to the point where a long list of more or less orthogonal features are expected to be in a game, and even good games choose to focus on a few and use common formulas for the rest.

The problem I have with Okamiden is that it all feels like filler. The fighting has very little strategy to it, the story is clichéed and presented in overly long cutscenes and the puzzles does not really require anything but patience to solve. In a game with highs and lows at least there is a buildup of anticipation in the boring sections, but Okamiden never gets interesting so there is little incentive to keep playing. It’s not horrible – I would say it delivers a slightly better experience than Spirit Tracks – but it’s bland.

In fact, let me return to the puzzles for a bit since Okamiden has a particularly clear display of a common error in games nowadays. David Hellman wrote about something similar a while ago and the brilliant You Have to Burn the Rope is an interactive demonstration of the point – the solutions to puzzles are being handed to the player before the puzzles are even being presented. Enter a room with a locked door and a button and you will be told to press the button to proceed. Everytime you need to use your power to proceed in the game, the screen will focus in on the location and tell you straight up what you need to do. It is demeaning in a way, it ruins the inherent mystery of a magical world and it reduces all of the puzzles to a tedious list of trivial tasks. More importantly, it discourages exploration and makes an already linear game seem even more limiting which in turn makes the select few puzzles where you are not presented with a solution harder – I suppose in some way this is because the player is accustomed to not having to think, but I would blame it at least in part on lazy design. If you need to tell the player how to solve a puzzle, it is not a very good puzzle in the first place.

It would not have taken much to make Okamiden into a good game, just some extra time spent on any of the pieces would have made a big difference. Maybe even the extra immersion gained from playing it on a big screen would have been enough to make it more entertaining, but it does not feel interesting enough as is.

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Posted on Jul 25/11 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »