Developer: Clover Studio (originally), Capcom, HexaDrive (re-release)
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Review copy purchased
Clover Studio, the game development team funded by Capcom back in the early to mid 2000’s, brought new meaning to the term “the brightest flame burns quickest”. Despite only being active for around three years, their back catalogue contains three of the most original, diverse and enjoyable properties ever made: Viewtiful Joe, God Hand and Okami.
Unfortunately, not many people bought these games on launch, leading to the studio being absorbed back into Capcom around late 2006, which also saw Atsushi Inaba, Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami leave to form Platinum Games. These days, characters like Viewtiful Joe and Gene from God Hand serve only as dark horse bets for future Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite DLC, but it seems that someone over at Capcom still has faith in Okami.
Okami HD for the PS4, Xbox One and PC, is the third re-release of the 2006 PS2 classic, having already made appearances on both the Wii and PS3. This version is the same PS3 port but with some more updated visuals and support for the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X, essentially making it the definitive version of Okami.
The cel-shaded art style inspired by traditional Japanese sumi-e ink wash painting gives Okami a visual identity that’s as striking and beautiful now as it was back in 2006. Sure, there are certain areas that show some age, with the occasional low detailed textures and jagged edges, but for the most part Okami has stood the test of time.
The world of Nippon, Okami’s fictionalised version of ancient Japan, is awash with colours and vibrancy, or at least it is once you remove the vile corruption from each area. Plenty of games have toyed with the idea of banishing evil to bring colour back to the land, but none of them feel as satisfying. Restoring each area to its former glory and watching nature’s rejuvenation sweep through the land is just as much of a rewards as XP or a new ability. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of it; it’s the ultimate in feel good gaming.
Even Amaterasu, the game’s protagonist, is a testament to the design that went into this game. Her unique look makes her instantly recognisable, even to those who may not have played Okami before, and even though she doesn’t speak, the way she interacts with the characters and world gives her more personality than plenty of other RPG silent protagonists. She’s a wolf, for crying out loud. What’s not to love?
The main plot focuses on a lot of Japanese mythology, putting you in the shoes, or paws, of the Sun God Amaterasu, who comes down to Earth in the form of the wolf Shiranui, who 100 years previously battled the demon Orochi and sealed him away. Of course, as these things tend to do, Orochi has been released and evil has spread throughout the land, so it’s up to you to find the other gods, harness their abilities and drive back the darkness.
Whilst the overall plot is fairly standard, it’s the characters that you encounter along the way that give Okami its charm. Your entire journey is spent with the sprite Issun, who mainly provides comic relief but also verbalises what both Amaterasu and the player cannot say. The warrior Susano also provides a few laughs, but his story of a man rejecting his lineage provides some emotional depth.
The actual gameplay could be described as one of the best Zelda games to have not been made by Nintendo. The similarities are pretty clear: explore an area and do some quests until you find a dungeon, solve the puzzles, get a new ability then fight the boss at the end. Rinse and repeat.
This sounds repetitive, but the abilities you get for the Celestial Brush give each dungeon some unique challenges to overcome. The brush allows Amaterasu to interact with the environment by controlling the elements, summoning bombs, repairing broken pathways and more. The powers of the brush make puzzle solving more enjoyable, as it’s often a case of using these abilities to complete puzzles rather than scouring the environment for the item you need. It’s not about finding the solution, because you’re often the solution.
Of course, it’s not all puzzles and puppies. There’s demon fighting to be done, after all. The combat itself is very simplistic, with your main weapon, or Divine Instrument, assigned to X and a sub weapon assigned to Y. Depending on what you assign it to, the weapon has a different purpose. For instance, Amaterasu’s default weapon, the Divine Retribution, is a reflector that can batter foes as the main weapon, or defend attacks as a sub-weapon. As the game progresses, you get more weapon types to make your own personal loadout.
Amaterasu can also use the Celestial Brush in combat, as many of her techniques are called upon to defeat certain opponents. She can use the elements against her enemies, such as using wind to blow out a fire surrounding a boss, along with her trusty slash that can finish off downed opponents. As your arsenal grows more diverse, so too do the enemies you encounter.
Unfortunately, the combat is the weakest part of the overall game, mainly because it’s mostly a cakewalk. Base enemies have little health and their attacks are so massively telegraphed that they pose no threat whatsoever, and whilst bosses can do some serious damage if you’re not careful, their weaknesses can often be easily exploited. Even if you do perish, you have an Astral Pouch that you fill with food which can instantly revive you when it’s full, and there are items that instantly refill the pouch. There’s no threat.
There are a few other niggles with the combat that are more like unfortunate hangovers of the PS2 era, such as the lack of lock-on and the fact you can’t manually adjust the sensitivity of your camera. It moves at a pace best described as glacial. While omissions like this were more acceptable in 2006, when features like that were less commonplace, they are missed here.
Still, despite the combat being weak, it’s still fun to combine your weapons with the Celestial Brush abilities for massive damage. When everything clicks, as you string together a full combo followed immediately by a Cherry Bomb ability, it feels satisfying. It all works, there’s just no challenge, which might put certain players off.
But being put off by the combat in Okami is missing the point of the game entirely. Fighting demons is just the thing you do in between exploring this beautiful world. That’s when Okami is at its best, when you’re in open fields, bustling villages and hazardous dungeons. When you’re revisiting familiar ground to find new secrets or stepping foot in new lands. If you haven’t yet played Okami before, do yourself a favour and check it out. You won’t regret it.
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Though it is showing a few signs of age, Okami HD is every bit the absorbing adventure game you know and love from 2006. The combat might be easy, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Okami all over again.