Full Disclosure: I love Okami. A lot. I’ve previously gone on record to say it’s my favorite game of all time. I’m so crazy about the game that I named my cat after it. Just wanted to get that out of the way so you can tell how critical I would be if this re-release was screwed up.
With all due respect, Okami looks like a failure of a game on paper. Take a game that shamelessly rips off the Zelda formula, but place it in feudal Japan with a graphic style looking like it’s a sumi-e work, and you play as a wolf? Gamers and critics alike were incredibly skeptical when the game was nearing release on the PS2 back in 2006, especially given the fact that we knew new consoles would be out literally two months after release. Capcom was even so bold to release the game knowing that a real Zelda game, Twilight Princess, was being released that very same year. Okami is even the Guinness World Record holder for Least Commercially Successful Game to Win a Game of the Year Award thanks to the upset at IGN that year.
I mention all of this not only to provide a bit of history and insight into why the game is so well received, and why literally every person who has ever played the game will beg you to try it out, but to set up the fact that Okami HD manages to take the already incredible formula and make it that much closer to perfection by adding a bit of polish.
Upon booting up the game, you’re fed a whole bunch of backstory. 100 years ago, an ancient evil deity known as Orochi terrorized the land and demanded a sacrifice from the nearby Kamiki Village. One warrior wouldn’t stand for this, and took it upon himself to slay the evil Orochi and end the blight on the land. The only problem with this is Orochi was far too strong for the warrior.
This is where Shiranui comes in, a brilliant white wolf that was said to be an ally to Orochi, but really was guarding Kamiki Village. Shiranui joins the fight against Orochi, but becomes gravely wounded. Shiranui gave the last of his strength to the warrior in order to seal away Orochi for 100 years.
That time has past, and someone foolish has broken the seal on Orochi’s prison. The lands are being ravaged again, and all hope for the people of Kamiki Village seems lost. That is, until a statue in the garden meant to honor Shiranui breaks open, and his descendant, Amaterasu, is tasked with living in her ancestor’s footsteps and vanquishing the evil from the land once again.
This is easier said than done, obviously. Amaterasu, called “Ammy” for short by her pesky travelling companion Issun, happens to be the Goddess of all Life and Creation. However, she must master the 13 techniques of the celestial brush in order to have a chance against defeating Orochi.
This becomes the main plot of the game. In order to breathe life into the land again, Ammy has to go to different dungeons across a vast open world, interact with characters and gain a new brush technique in each dungeon. The dungeons are filled with various degrees of enemies and puzzles that have to be solved in order to progress. Once you learn one brush technique, you can usually use it to clear out a part of the world and get to the next dungeoun. The whole process will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played a Zelda game in their life, but it’s these brush techniques that make the big difference.
With the simple press of a button, the screen will freeze and move back, and look as if you’ve just taken a screenshot of the game on old paper. However, this is the cue to use your celestial brush in order to do various things. It can be used for creating bombs, slashing through ropes or enemies, fixing broken objects, making the sun appear, etc. It’s a very powerful brush, and fits into gameplay perfectly. It might take a little getting used to, but within a few hours you’ll likely find yourself going into brush mode and drawing whatever symbol you need very quickly and going back. The mechanic is much more fluid than it seems, and becomes as natural a part of the gameplay as simply pushing the “jump” button.
That’s not all you’ll be doing, of course. There’s plenty of people to talk to and gear to pick up as far as weapons and accessories go. There are also plenty of secrets and other collectibles. These may not seem like they’re all worth looking for, but some of the best weapons are hidden in the deepest corners of the map, and some collectibles will actually unlock special modes once the game is finished so you can play through again under different graphic filters. The story alone should take you roughly 40 hours to complete, and finding all the extras and secrets would push that much higher. There’s definitely plenty to do here.
You’ll also love looking and listening to the game as you play it. One of the biggest assets to Okami is every screenshot looking like a work of art. Some of the battles and moments here so flawlessly blend together the art style with the amazing soundtrack and the impressive storytelling to provide moments you’ll likely remember for the rest of your gaming career. I can’t begin to count how many people I’ve personally convinced to try out the original game when I reveal the fact that the story is the only one I’ve ever played that’s emotional enough to make me shed a tear or two.
All of it is because of the masterfully written story. Sure, on the surface it seems like the plot couldn’t get more cliche, but that’s only what I’m choosing to reveal for the sake of making sure I don’t spoil anything for those that haven’t had the chance to play the game yet. There are twists and turns at every corner and all of them deserve to be experienced by the player without any sort of ruination on them. Particularly the twist I like to call the “Where are the credits?” plot twist. I won’t reveal more than that.
Not everything is serious, however. The previously mentioned companion to Ammy, Issun, provides a great deal of humor into the game as well, including a way to keep the story moving forward considering you’re playing as a wolf, and wolves can’t speak.
It should also be noted that the game is compatible with both Dualshock and PlayStation Move support, meaning you can play the game either the way it originally released on PS2 or as it was re-released on the Wii a few years ago. I’m personally a fan of playing with the motion controls because it adds to the overall immersion, but obviously it’s not everyone’s thing.
But of course the big question on everyone’s mind is how great the game looks. The game looked great when it debuted six years ago, and the HD bump looks even better today. The beautiful art style is captured perfectly in high definition, and Capcom thankfully didn’t cut any corners when making sure the conversion happened. I feel like I should say something about how each brush stroke and accent is preserved perfectly without any drawbacks, but I have to remember that this is a game, not some window into a world where everything is drawn like an ancient Japanese painting. Although sometimes it might seem that way.
Okami HD took an already near perfect game and made it even better without having to sacrifice anything. Very few games in a generation manage to hit every mark when it come to excellence in design and playability, but Okami nails it. Gamers who want an excuse to play the game again will no doubt want to look into this one, and gamers who missed it the first time around now have three different ways of getting their hands on it. Find a way to play it. I don’t care what it is, Okami is the kind of game that touches everyone who plays it, and stays with you for the rest of your life. I guarantee in 30 years I’ll still remember the game, and have fond memories about the moments that made my laugh, cry, angry, etc. It’s time you shared those memories too.
This review is based on a PS3 copy of the game provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.