Okami HD – Old dog, old tricks, same charm – Review

Gare – Tuesday, February 6, 2018 8:12 PM
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Back in the day, Okami was quite the peculiar beast – or wolf, in this case. Released in the twilight years of the PlayStation 2, now-defunct Clover Studio’s visually striking action-adventure title placed you in the role of the goddess Amaterasu, journeying across the lands of ancient Japan in the body of a valiant white wolf on a quest to rid the world of darkness. A truly excellent take on the Legend of Zelda formula despite not being a Zelda game at all, Okami went on to release on a variety of other platforms (including the Wii, which feels all too fitting considering the brush mechanics I’ll talk about later) before finally hop-skipping its way onto PC at the tail end of 2017. And although the PC port itself doesn’t bring too much new to the table, at its core, it’s still the same old Okami many of us know and love.

Painter extraordinaire

Legend has it that the dreadful eight-headed serpent, Orochi, after years upon years of being offered human sacrifices, was finally defeated by the white wolf Shiranui and the brave hero, Nagi. The land of Nippon earned itself an era of tranquility, yet – as it so often is the case – peace would not last. The forces of evil began to stir once more, prompting the goddess Amaterasu to return in the body of the famed wolf in order to save the land again. And this is where you come in, commanding your trademark Celestial Brush, an instrument that allows Amaterasu to manipulate the real world by simply drawing things – an ability that takes center stage in Okami and is at the very core of its gameplay mechanics. Draw a horizontal line to unleash a swift sword slash, a circle onto the canvas of the sky to conjure up the sun and thus turn night to day, or another circle onto the surface of a lake to produce lily pads you can stand on, which, by the way, also function as makeshift boats if you push them along with a soft breeze. Over the course of your journey, you’ll collect a total of thirteen brush techniques: each one serves a different role, and you’ll have to use each in various creative ways to progress through areas or even defeat bosses that require specific, brush-centric strategies. Furthermore, the game’s difficulty very much leans towards the casual end of the spectrum, but not in a way that might become frustratingly trivial. Even if figuring out what you’re supposed to do is rarely a trying task, considering each dungeon places an emphasis on a given brush technique (usually the one you acquire in or around said dungeon), the game is built with more than enough care and creativity to make you forget that: there’s always that extra surprise or quirk that makes each area feel unique and prevents Okami from growing stale over time.

Your Celestial Brush techniques aren’t simply there for solving puzzles, either, as a number of them will serve you well in regular battles, too. If your enemy emits raging flames, summon forth a gale to blow it away; if you find yourself faced with a foe that moves too quickly to be caught by conventional means, slow down time with another brush technique, and so on. Other than the brush, you also have access to three different weapon types, resulting in three potential play styles in combat: reflectors provide medium reach and damage, the whip-like rosaries allow you to strike from afar, while glaives are sluggish, but hit hard. Said weapons can also be combined and equipped into main and sub slots, lending Amaterasu different powers depending on which type of weapon is placed in which slot – placing a rosary in the sub slot, for example, lets your trusty white wolf use it as a rapid-fire machine gun of sorts. While I personally preferred to stick with reflectors as I found rosaries to be too weak and glaives too slow, it’s worth figuring out which weapon works best for your particular play style.

Not everything is sunshine and roses, though, and there are a few minor things I wasn’t particularly fond of in Okami. Namely, that a number of the bosses you encounter in the game have to be fought again later with essentially no meaningful changes in their attack patterns. What’s worse, the player is forced to fight one particularly tedious and drawn-out boss three times during the adventure, which was, frankly, absolute overkill. It’s probably the only thing that genuinely annoyed me in an otherwise wonderful experience, but thankfully, it’s such a miniscule portion of the whole that it never became a serious detriment to my overall enjoyment of the game.

From Nippon, with love

A large amount of care undeniably went into creating Okami’s world of vivid colors and bold brushstrokes, inspired by Japanese sumi-e paintings. From villages and towns to flower-laden fields and snowy mountaintops, the game’s various nooks and crannies offer secrets to uncover and collectibles to hunt: for the attentive player, as well as those wishing to spend as much time in Okami’s world as possible, a handful few minigames, hidden items, and side quests are available, but even without them, Amaterasu’s journey is by no means a short one, and can take anywhere between 30 to 40 hours for most people.

Playing Okami is like watching a Japanese fairy tale unfold, really. The game is lacking in graphical fidelity due to the original PlayStation 2’s limitations, yet its art direction more than makes up for it in spades. The plot, though hardly groundbreaking, is littered with elements based on myths and folklore, while the game’s portrayal of its colorful cast of main and side characters – particularly the budding friendship between Amaterasu and her bite-sized companion, Issun – provide for emotionally-charged scenes and light-hearted comedy in equal measure.

About the PC port

A few things must also be addressed about the PC version in particular. Two things, to be more specific. One would be the elephant in the room, namely, the port being locked to 30 frames per second, which is… unfortunate, to say the least. The good news is that in Okami’s case, this hardly seems to matter. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the biggest fan of framerate locking in PC games, either, and will opt for 60 PFS whenever possible, but during my many hours with Okami, I barely even noticed the lock – on the whole, the game plays and controls beautifully, even at 30. The other thing – and I realize this might just be a personal issue – concerns the game’s aggressive motion blurring: so aggressive, in fact, that it ended up making my eyes hurt after a short while. Thankfully, there’s a helpful, fan-made mod you can grab on the game’s official Steam forums that allows you to disable motion blurring altogether, so if you’re willing to do a few minutes of extra work, this should be a non-issue.

In closing

The fact of the matter is that I had an absolute blast playing through Okami HD. Other than its brush mechanics, it’s hardly revolutionary in terms of gameplay – if anything, the game settles for a road well-traveled. And although it is undeniably inspired by a well-established, Zelda-like formula, as far as execution and the overall picture – or painting, I should say – is concerned, there’s nothing quite as full of heart as Okami out there. Few games exist that I personally think everyone should consider trying at least once, but Clover Studio’s (almost) last hurrah on the PS2 happens to be one of them.


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