There are many benchmark titles which carry with their memory a lasting fondness, a recollection of a treasured snapshot of gaming’s history. Often revisiting such titles can lead to heartbreak and disappointment. How well does the artistically unique Okami hold up?
With the constant stream of re-releases looking to reignite the flames of nostalgia in gamers’ hearts it’s often hard to ascertain which are worth the money and offer an improved and often second trip down memory lane and which are simply trotted out with barely a lick of new paint.
For every outstanding HD remake done right, such as the Ico and Shadows of the Colossus collection or Ratchet and Clank Trilogy you’ll get something the likes of Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD collection. It begs the question, which are worth your time and money and what sets them apart from the others?
An arresting and impactful art style will certainly help the cause, as will an engaging plot and responsive controls. These are areas which Okami excelled in its last generation release circa 2007. The 2012 HD remake brings with it even tighter simply gorgeous graphics, a story steeped in mythology, an outstanding and stirring score all set against an expansive world you’ll be simply stinging to explore.
It’s funny to sit here and feel the overwhelming need to (a) return back to it and (b) insist, nay, pretty much demand that if you’ve never played it before, you go out and download it immediately if you own a PlayStation 3. I’ve never been much of an advocate for games as a visual representation of art, but everything in Okami HD emulates a living painting, stunningly recreated. It is gratifying to see such a magnificent piece of Japanese culture so successfully and timelessly translated into the gaming medium. It really is something else.
The scale seems small at first, regaling you with the tale of an inconsequential village, Kamiki. One hundred years ago a white wolf, Shiranui, and a gifted swordsman, Nagi, joined forces to defeat an evil eight-headed dragon, Orochi. Unable to vanquish this shadowy demon the two banished it from the land and sealed its spirit away.
When Susano, a descendant of Nagi, unwittingly unleashes Orochi, the demon seeks revenge and curses the entire land. A wood sprite Sakuya, the village guardian, entreats the sun goddess Amaterasu (a white wolf who rather closely resembles Shiranui) to lift the evil spirit’s curse from the land. Amaterasu is joined on her travels by an artistic and temperamental little bug named Issun and the two set off to defeat said evil.
The stench of Orochi has permeated every corner of the land and to restore it to its former glory Amaterasu will have to utilise the Celestial Brush and expand its abilities by gaining the favour of the Celestial Gods on her travels. This is where Okami HD shines. The world is your canvas and at any point you can use your Celestial Brush techniques to impact the world around you.
You can repair structures, turn night into day and day into night, slash and slice enemies in half, blind them with your ‘ink’, make flowers bloom, sprout trees to hinder approaching adversaries and these are merely the run of the mill variety skills. Later on you’ll harness fire, wind and other elements as your abilities become more and more godlike. Of course you’ll have to use them sparingly as you only have a certain amount of ink at any given time, though it does slowly regenerate if you tap it out completely.
The core gameplay is cut from the classic RPG mold as you level up your powers by completing tasks for the various villagers you encounter as you rid the land of Orochi’s infestation. One of your currencies is praise. You are a god after all. By helping the various creatures and animals of the land, nurturing and feeding them and you’ll gain their adoration. More importantly you’ll garner more praise to help augment your abilities.
The combat and exploration is constant though not overly taxing for any competent gamer out there. When you’re duking it out it’s all about using the right technique against each adversary and you can have a lot of fun with it considering the options available. The exploration will keep you entertained and enthralled, the puzzle elements aren’t too difficult and it really is gratifying to see the impact your presence has as each area freed from Orochi’s grasp beautifully bursts into bloom as nature reclaims its domain.
As your power increases so does the scale and scope with the journey far beyond anything you could imagine and far be it for me to spoil any part of it. And you’re not alone. You’ll be joined by several warriors who wish to aid you in this monumental task and it’s intriguing to see how each grow and develop through the duration of this epic quest.
Though initially it appears to be more suitable to gamers of a younger age bracket with its striking yet simple visual style, comedic side characters and high-pitched bug-like sidekick, there is far more going on beneath the surface. It’s almost impossible not to get drawn into it. It reflects real world problems, is brutal at times, harsh and doesn’t condescend. It treats you as an adult and wants you to become fully invested in the plight of this world successfully widening its appeal to players of all ages.
There are a few minor issues present in the original that disappointingly have not been addressed, which could have catapulted Okami HD into the stratosphere and taken players along to gaming nirvana. The camera can get temperamental sporadically during combat, especially due to the nature of the arena styled skirmishes, though it does handle decently for the most part.
The more pressing issue is pop-ins. Often you’ll be looking across an expansive field or over to the other side of a babbling brook seemingly devoid of any items. Upon closer inspection earthenware urns filled with treasure and other miscellaneous items appear before your eyes. This is slightly more obvious when Amaterasu is moving at higher speeds though it is localised to small items. The backgrounds and more significant items are always there. It’s far from jarring or immersion breaking, but it would have been nice to see this fixed and offer a flawless and immaculate ocular orgy as you traverse this wondrous land.
Apart from the absolutely sumptuous high definition graphics, the makeover has brought PlayStation Move functionality, or rather clunk-tionality, to the fold. It’s a little too sensitive when used to emulate brush strokes and a little too fiddly when navigating through the game world and during combat. Simply put, Okami HD feels just right with a classic controller and you’d be far better off avoiding any motion controlled bells and whistles altogether. My experience certainly didn’t lose anything for it.
If you’ve never played the original you are in for an absolute treat. The revamped graphics look magnificent, the world is expansive and filled with wonderful Japanese mythology, the control scheme is rock solid and it is a breathtaking delight to play through. It’s been almost six years since the PlayStation 2 edition graced shelves and it hasn’t lost a step. Okami HD is a shining example of superior design and handling more than withstanding the test of time as it endears itself to a whole new generation of gamers.
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