I have never played Okami before. Truth be told, I had never even heard about the game in all my years as a video game journalist. But cometh the HD remake, and the internet is flooded of how much a classic the original game was and how it was a worthy spiritual successor to Nintendo’s Legend Of Zelda (due to obvious similarities in core gameplay design) in its time. Well, I got to try out Okami HD on the PS4 and I imagine much like most people who would be reading this review, it was my first time. Does the white wolf with its brush painted aesthetics and Japanese dipped lore hold up to the hype?
Okami is an action-adventure video game developed by Clover Studio and published by Capcom. It was released for the PlayStation 2 first in 2006. The high-definition port was recently released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One in December 2017 worldwide, again published by Capcom.
Story & Narrative
Okami has an 18-minute long introduction. Broken into text-based cut-scenes which you need to go through to start the actual game. During these 18 minutes, you are given background about the main protagonist, Amaterasu and her earlier adventures in Nippon as a previous incarnation, Shiranui – which could very easily have been a video game in itself.
The breathtaking world of Nippon is once again under the attack of evil, and as Amaterasu, you play the sun goddess in the form of a white wolf taking on a variety of fearsome demons, while re-gathering your powers which have been spread across the world after your last adventure. Once again, we can see clear similarities to Zelda via a progression based story.
Everywhere you look in Okami, traditional Japanese culture and folklore shine through – especially its cel-shaded, watercolor painting art design. Shintoism and its belief in the spirit world permeate the game, while many of the enemy designs are informed by Japanese mythology. Even the societal roles of the world’s inhabitants accurately represent feudal Japan. And if you know me, you know I like my lore with a tinge of history (Nioh review).
Another thing that comes out very clearly in Okami is its deep reverence for nature. You’re encouraged to feed birds, monkeys, and other innocent animals to build a relationship with them. The human NPCs are typically portrayed as living in a simple, quaint, happy harmony with nature around them. The villains, on the other hand, are forces of darkness, and a threat because of the harm they inflict on the earth and natural order. So clear is this game’s commentary around the environment that it’s almost more relevant now than it was when it was first released.
Gameplay & Mechanics
The third and the least subtle aspect that Okami focuses on is art. The paint brushed style of the game with dark stroked outlines and intentionally blurry facial details, not only gives the feeling that the entire takes place on a canvas, but it also serves the purpose of complementing the most innovative mechanic in the game, The Celestial Brush. As the goddess of the universe, Amaterasu can bend reality itself, and she does that by painting stuff onto the canvas. She can turn night into day, by drawing a circle in the sky, she can cut through rocks by slicing a straight line through them, and she can mend bridges and equipment by filling in the missing parts. It requires little precision, and yet provides the most satisfying element of the gameplay. It’s open-ended and once the game opens up you are free to mix and match the various techniques you have learned to complement your exploration. Its also instrumental in combat; certain enemies can only be defeated using specific brush techniques. Its so in tune with the reality-bending lore of Amaterasu, it never feels tacked on.
Of course, there is much more to gameplay than just the Celestial Brush. As Amaterasu, your movements are about jumping, barking/biting/listening, headbutting and digging all assigned to the 4 face buttons. The combat animations and styles can be changed by equipping different weapons (which includes three main categories – Reflectors, Rosaries, and Glaives), but initially, you would mostly find yourself banging against imps with your head, until they are weak enough to slash across using your brush. You need to be careful though lest you use up too much paint (which refills slowly) or lose your Solar Beads (basically Zelda-style HP), the latter very intuitively depleted when you swim in water (as water depletes fire).
Apart from that, Okami is not a tough game. Defeating enemies is rarely tough, and boss battles are more about set-pieces than learning attack patterns to a T. You level up by gaining crystals, and fame both of which can be achieved by completing missions given out by NPCs and/or clearing dungeons. Indeed the game is more about exploration and innovative puzzle solving than actual combat and people who have time can find themselves spending upwards of 40 hours into the game, collecting all the 13 techniques, clearing all the dungeons, resurrecting all the saplings. There is a lot to do in Okami, and it’s rarely tedious.
Graphics, Sound & Performance
Okami is an old game now, but it’s the perfect argument against the use of “realism” in video games. Where just about any “realistic” PS 2 game you could think of has aged horribly, to the point where the developer would need to rebuild the game from scratch if they wanted to re-release it, the oil painting inspired art in Ōkami is timeless to the point that, if anything, the primitive polygonal design of the characters has actually been enhanced by in the HD remaster.
Being light on the processor also means, that Okami runs decently. There is rarely a glitch, and while sometimes you can struggle with the camera, and find yourself in angles which are not ideal, the game itself runs smoothly and without hiccups.
The same cannot be said for voice-acting though, as Okami insists that all text in the game be accompanied by sound. Not just any sound mind you, but some absolute illegible gibberish which serves no purpose but to make yours ears bleed. And there is a lot of text in Okami, which means there is a lot of gibberish too. You know how there are some games who have such beautiful scores, that people in the same room just enjoy hearing it (think Child Of Light), Okami lies on the opposite side of the scale, so much so that I had to mute it under threat from my brother.
Okami maybe an old game, but its a great game, and if Wikipedia is anything to go buy, its definitely a hidden gem. And we here at IndianNoob completely endorse the idea. The weird sound design along with long cut-scenes maybe off-putting, but its a game best enjoyed by being patient and keeping the TV on mute.