Developer: Clover Studio / Publisher: Capcom / Played on: PS3 / Price: $19.99 / ESRB: Teen [Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco]
Technology is all around us. In the year 2012 everything’s digital, and we’re constantly in a state of perpetual urgency, as there’s not enough time in the day to accomplish everything we want. So when’s the last time–and please excuse this cheesy cliché–you stopped and smelled the roses?
I, for one, have taken a step back to appreciate the beauty in our world, and I have Okami HD to thank for the reminder. Okami HD is an example that videogames don’t always need to center on the next firefight or who’s the better assassin; it can be about bringing life back to a dissolute place. It can be about marveling that there’s always a flower ready to bloom beneath the seemingly dark surface.
There once was a terrifying cave-dwelling beast named Orochi. No one in Nippon dared face this awful creature, what with it having eight dragon heads and all. The Orochi required the villages to hand over a maiden as a sacrificial offering, with an arrow striking the chosen maiden’s home. An arrow appeared on Nami’s roof, the Kamiki village’s most beautiful maiden. A warrior named Nagi, who loved Nami, took her place. He wasn’t strong enough to take on Orochi alone, so a wolf by the name of Shiranui arrived to help him slay the beast. Together they put a stop to Orochi’s reign, bringing peace to the land forever… well, until someone accidentally removes the seal that kept Orochi locked away 100 years later.
This is where you play as Okami Amaterasu, Shiranui reborn, who returns to restore peace to a once beautiful nation. At the beginning of Amaterasu’s journey we meet Issun, a wandering artist who insists he’s not a bug (but he is), who serves as your guide and comic relief. As Ammy, Issun’s pet name for “the origin of all that is good and mother to us all,” traverses Japan lesser gods will appear to grant her the powers of the 13 celestial brush techniques.
The world of Okami is beautiful, bursting with homage to Feudal Japan and Shinto mythology. Interesting characters are presented throughout, like Sakuya the tree spirit, the protector of the Kamiki village and owner of the most revealing kimonos around. There’s also Susano, a descendent of Nagi, who claims to be a great warrior but usually can’t maneuver without alcohol.
The story slowly unravels, but it’s a story that’s entertaining until the very end. Despite the goal of ultimately saving the world from a looming evil, the game takes a lighthearted approach to it all. You see instances where a monster 10x the size of the wolf is shouting menacing words, only to have Ammy fall asleep mid speech. These approaches are what make the game all the more enjoyable.
GAMEPLAY AND CONTROLS
In Okami HD you roam the plains, battle enemies, and make friendly with the wild life and villagers. You’re constantly exploring dungeon-like structures and solving puzzles within them, and feeding animals, restoring patches of dead grass to life, and helping humans earn you praise. You can use praise to upgrade Ammy’s divine attributes like solar energy levels (Ammy’s health). When you battle enemies you earn money, and money is used to buy extra moves, items, and weapons. After each battle the game rewards you extra yen if you finished the fight in a timely manner with great precision.
Ammy has the power of the Celestial Brush at her disposal. With it she can help withered trees bloom, paint a sun in the sky to convert night to day, avoid touching water (which is harmful to Ammy) by sprouting lily pads, and so much more. Given that games today focus on the act of killing anything that moves, it’s refreshing that the central focus of this game is on restoration and aiding nature. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself randomly planting trees and flowers everywhere because the game makes it so satisfying to see nature blossom.
The Brush also serves as a useful tool in battle. You can paint a bomb to open a crack in a mountain, or use one against a group of enemies. You tend to encounter the same enemies often, but with Ammy’s changing weapons and brush techniques I never found combat dull. In fact, Okami HD’s combat controls are some of the smoothest and responsive around. What can be frustrating is the camera settings. No matter what I switched it to, it was never as responsive as I wanted it to be, and in fact it hindered my progress in battle more so that it should have. Also, important mechanics can be left unexplained if you don’t find a scroll that outlines it, like how godhood works (an icon that appears in the lower left corner of the screen during battle).
If you own one, you can use the PlayStation Move controller, though, in all honesty, the Dualshock controller works just fine, and may work better than an ultra sensitive device.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
I never knew watching a character run would be so rewarding. When Ammy sprints, she leaves a trail of grass and flowers in her path, and it’s never looked better than in 1080p. You’ll find yourself just admiring the Japanese watercolor world, and knowing you can influence that environment with the stroke of a brush makes it all the more satisfying.
This reboot is sharper and more vibrant compared to the original, and the game constantly rewards you for restoring color to the land with cutscenes detailing how every patch of dead grass becomes a field of colorful petals. There are times when I encountered texture pop in, but you’ll likely excuse it because everything’s oh so pretty.
A downside to all this are the cutscenes; they’re unskippable and long, especially the stretched-out introduction. Dramatic scenes suffer from slowly moving text dialogue and gibberish sounds that are meant to replace character voices. I feel the game would have benefitted from an actual voice cast, but at least the soundtrack is outstanding and paints its own picture of Feudal Japan.
There’s a reason Okami turned out to be a smash hit on the PlayStation 2 six years ago. With updated graphics and a campaign stretching 30 to 50 hours, all for $20, this is a steal for anyone looking for a game that takes a lighthearted approach to the Legend of Zelda formula of dungeon puzzle solving and land exploration. Okami HD is a great example of what games can accomplish outside the realm of guns and gore, and I love it for that.