Okami HD Review — An Alluring Masterpiece
Okami HD's re-release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One takes players on an adventure with the Shinto Sun goddess to destroy the darkness plaguing the land.
Despite their influence on video game history, Capcom subsidiary Clover Studio was only around for less than three years following its formation. Although God Hand would be its last game and Viewtiful Joe was the studio’s longest-running series before officially closing their doors, 2006’s action-adventure title Okami would be considered Clover Studio’s legacy project.
Unfortunately, Okami was an art-centric product that got lost in the mix of 2006’s other blockbuster releases. Games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Bully, and Call of Duty 3 were busy creating their own impressions on the gaming world, whereas the original PS2 release sold less than 300,000 units. Which isn’t to say that Okami didn’t get another chance in the sun — in April 2008 a Nintendo Wii version of the game released, and in October 2012 the original Okami HD came to PlayStation 3.
Of course, it isn’t new for Capcom to bring back classic titles onto other consoles, even this year they re-released the Resident Evil Revelations series to current-gen platforms, as well as Mega Man 1-10 in the form of the Mega Man Legacy Collections. Not only that, but the Mega Man X series will also receive resolution upgrades to be playable on modern hardware. So back in October when it was revealed that the previously PlayStation 3-exclusive Okami HD would finally see the light of day on current-generation consoles, I was excited.
Before I dive into this review, I want to disclose that I am a huge fan of the original Okami as well as its subsequent re-releases; so much so that I’ve been hoping that this re-release on current-gen platforms will help spawn future installments. That being said, while I hold this title dear to my heart, I’m also taking on more critical eyes to see how this eleven-year-old title holds up and how additions impact the base game.
Okami HD places players in control of the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu (also known as Ammy), who takes the form of a white wolf throughout the game. As you may imagine from the art style and setting, the game’s narrative borrows heavily from Japanese folklore, legends, and myths.
Amaterasu sets out to venture across Nippon to cleanse the land after the eight-headed demon Orochi cast a curse and is accompanied on the quest by an artist named Issun. Okami HD‘s story harmoniously blends with the game’s atmosphere; you know that there is an evil presiding over the land and while you cannot see it, you can feel its presence and how it is affecting the world.
Despite the central plot focusing on restoring the land of the curse, whenever I defeated an enemy I felt a lot of pride in the accomplishment. Seeing the land being restored felt rewarding, beyond what most gamers expect with post-boss progression.
While the Okami HD‘s story is very well-written, the main draws of the game are the well-written and lovable characters. Thankfully, Okami HD offers plenty of side quests that you can complete that flesh these relationships out. Whether it is aiding Kokari to become a real man, assisting Kaguya to return to the Moon Tribe, or making the Sun appear to help dry Mrs. Orange’s laundry. No matter the task I had just as much fun doing these quests as I did with the main storyline; more importantly, it builds the game into something more than just the one-dimensional “stop the evil” plot point.
Visually, the game is marvelous — the remastered PS2 version’s graphics still hold up in 2017, thanks to a healthy dose of polish. Of course, the game looks stunning at 1080p. I reviewed the PC version of this game, and the hardware in my rig allowed me to run the game in 4K, which looks impressive. Regardless of which version you play the re-release on, Okami HD looks beautiful thanks to masterful art direction.
Clover Studio’s decision to implement cell-shaded graphics with massive inspiration from Japanese water coloring was a great decision by the development team. Unlike so many other PS2 games, Okami has stood the test of time visually; I enjoyed the vibrant colors and the aesthetic that was found in Okami HD, and it makes it feel like you’re playing with an interactive painting. On top of that, the soundtrack for this game is fantastic and epic, as it appropriately fits the setting. I felt that the themes for each occasion were a perfect fit, especially the boss music.
Not only that, but I also felt that the loading screens have massively improved since the original PlayStation 2 release. Like any PS2 game, there were moments back in 2006 when the game would take too long to load. While the Wii and PlayStation 3 re-releases of Okami featured loading screens that were faster than the PlayStation 2, the developers had to compromise by removing the loading screen minigame — a feature which allowed you to obtain Demon Fangs. Comparatively, these current generation versions of Okami HD not only have the fastest loading screens, but they also worked in the minigame creating the best of both worlds.
Regarding character models, each character in the game stands out from one another. However, everyone looks abnormally cartoonish in appearance when compared to Amaterasu, who is both finely-detailed and more reflective of her animal appearance.
But that’s not to say Ammy’s character model is without faults. Aside from her jaw-dropping, Amaterasu fails to convey any other emotional expressions besides blank stares and aggression. As someone who has grown up around dogs all her life, I am fully aware that dogs (that are a subspecies of wolves I may add) display more emotions than Amaterasu does in this game. While it’s not an immersion breaker, it was disappointing to see that Capcom missed an opportunity to make animals (and their movements) more realistic in Okami HD’s re-release.
Whenever people try to compare Okami to other titles, usually a comparison to The Legend of Zelda is made — and not always in a positive light. While the game does remind me of The Legend of Zelda series, Okami HD firmly stands on its own an original IP that has (in the decade since release) planted a cultural stake with more than enough to make it stand out in the genre.
For one, Okami HD‘s combat in the game is more action-based, nudging players to rely on combos to defeat enemies. On top of that, all battles take place in closed areas as compared to open fields. There is also platforming and puzzles that are in the game and although they are minimal, the specific areas that use it are entertaining. It’s even more amusing when the previously-described Celestial Brush is required.
As you progress through the main narrative, Ammy can acquire new weapons (either by defeating specific bosses or by purchasing them from the merchant), and you can equip these weapons as a primary weapon and a sub-weapon. In total, there are 15 different weapons you can obtain from 3 different categories: Reflector, Rosary, and Glaive.
Each weapon offers different effects, which can vary depending on how you equip them. For example, if you equip a Rosary as your sub-weapon, they can act as bullets that you can shoot towards your enemy or as a whip if it is used as your primary. On top of that, you can expand Amaterasu’s abilities by going to the Dojo. In total, there are three scattered around Nippon. If you happen to come across one, I recommend spending some time in there because these new abilities will help you in combat as well as solving puzzles in the game.
More importantly, Okami HD‘s implementation of various weapon systems and different combinations offer healthy variations in strategy and combat that both keep the gameplay from becoming stale, while also giving options to let gamers find the combination they enjoy the most. While some may go through the game using the standard weapons throughout, others will be more experimental in their strategy.
Although Okami HD is an action-adventure game, it does offer a lot of RPG elements. Although you do not level up in the traditional sense, you gain “praise” (this game’s equivalent of experience points) by restoring the land and helping people. You can use the praise you earn by increasing your hit points, ink pots, purse size (which allows you to purchase items from a merchant), or increase the size of your Astral pouch, which serves as Amaterasu’s stomach in the game. These are relatively bare-bones RPG elements, but each upgrade was meaningful enough to affect my strategy in tackling enemies or situations.
However, one of the most significant parts of the gameplay is the Celestial Brush, which pauses the game and opens up a canvas. Using this mechanic allows you to use the Celestial Brush techniques to enhance the world, for instance fixing broken bridges, making plants bloom, controlling the day/night cycle, and plenty more. In this way, the Celestial Brush is somewhat of your magic abilities.
While many of the brush strokes are similar, their effects will depend on where you make contact. For example, if you draw a circle in the sky, the sun will appear; however, if you trace the circle onto a body of water, a lilypad will appear. This mechanic isn’t limited to puzzle solving and can be used in combat, allowing players to drench an enemy in ink or make a Cherry Bomb appear.
Additionally, some enemies require the use of the Celestial Brush to expose their weak points, which helps add more variety into combat instead of just button mashing. With that said, you need to be careful with how much you use your Celestial powers — the ink pots (which serve as your mana points) deplete. Using one of these abilities will take up one ink pot, and once you run out, you can’t use those powers (as well as your divine weapons) for a limited time.
Although the enemies do drop ink pots and the ink pots themselves do refill over time, they take a while to recharge. Because Celestial powers are essential, the player will be rationing gameplay. The Celestial Brush is an ambitious mechanic, and I found it to be precise a majority of the time — especially if you are using a mouse for the PC version, which I have found to offer more precision than the analog stick and motion controls combined.
As an example, there were times where I tried to draw a lilypad and the wind blew instead thanks to the imprecise controls with a controller. In other words, when using the Celestial Brush you cannot half-ass what you are illustrating. While this isn’t a major issue, it is something you need to keep in mind when playing.
Aside from defeating enemies, completing Okami HD will take roughly 35-hours, and if you’re the completionist type then the game will be over 40+ hours. If you’re looking to finish this game on the weekend, you’re going to need to glue your butt to your seat and chug a few energy drinks. Despite the game being a time drainer, the overall pacing of the game is excellent, despite the fact that the first half of the game (which focuses on the return of Orochi) overstayed its welcome. So much so, that those who play Okami HD for the first time may feel as if the game is over around the half-way point.
While we are talking ancillary components of Okami HD, exploration in the game is also very rewarding, as it can lead you to reach scenic areas which allow you to oversee the land. Also, Okami HD rewards the player for exploring, often netting players loot such as money, food, and Stray Beads. Collecting all 100 of the latter opens up real god-like power, that I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t completed the game yet.
Okami HD is a fantastic game that I cannot recommend enough; at its $19.99 price tag, that is practically giving the game away. Why this game didn’t sell well in the past, is beyond me and incredibly confusing. Nevertheless, I am very grateful that Capcom is giving this game another chance, and I hope that it sells very well as this is another chance at reviving the series.
Having the chance to once again return to Nippon, I can wholeheartedly say that (after eleven years) Okami HD is still a masterpiece, standing the test of time through two generational console jumps. Put frankly, it is a work of art and a prime example of the ingenuity, creativity, and brilliance key development teams brought to their work on the PlayStation 2. Here’s hoping that Okami HD receives the sequel it rightfully deserves.