Back in 2006 Okami was released to the world on the PS2 and took the gaming industry by storm, its unique artistic style and engrossing (if not crazy) storyline helped it shine above the typical mainstream titles available. It won numerous awards and deserves to be acclaimed as one of the best games ever. Sadly the sales never followed suit and it was unable to reach the heights it ultimately craved. Now we arrive in 2012 and if any game deserves a HD upgrade this is it. And in the upgrade process Okami HD becomes the greatest version of the classic tale available.
The game sees you take control of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, who has taken the form of a wolf after Orochi, an eight headed despotic monster, sets out to destroy the world by placing a dreaded curse on it. The story is typically Japanese and while it’s fresh and unique in some parts it’s totally perplexing in others. Okami HD is an exhilarating take on the third person action-adventure genre with a few RPG elements thrown in. Your main goal is restore the power of Amaterasu and use that power to rid Nippon of the evil placed upon it by Orochi. Fans of the genre will notice the resemblances to the Zelda series, and the game borrows freely from it. To rid the evil you’ll need to find and defeat the monstrosities across the land, conquer complex dungeons, solve puzzles and even go fishing. Doing so will reward you with new weapons, upgrades and powers in order to help you tackle the evil and restore Amaterasu’s power.
Playing as a wolf is a stroke of genius. Most adventure titles where you take the role of a god or hero will dress you up in huge armour, give you extensive magical powers and equip you with the most ludicrous and outrageous weapons. This is all great but playing as a simple wolf gives you the extra freedom and maneuverability that you’d simply not receive if you were playing as some extra form of the Hulk. As a wolf you’re able to run faster, and learn some cool and exciting combat moves that just wouldn't be afforded to a human. And while you play as a god in wolf form, you never feel overly powerful; you may learn magical powers but the game grounds you and ultimately lets you connect with the world and its inhabitants.
And these connections with the inhabitants of Nippon have numerous moments of humour; each character is crazier and more ludicrous than the last, and each AI is usually looking for some sort of help because they ultimately can’t figure out situations on their own. They all seem to have the world’s problems on their shoulders, although most are trivial compared to the real problems that you’re here to fix. At one point you’ll run into a young boy whose dog has been eaten by a fish as well as a sword wielding maniac who chooses to sleep rather than fight. Which is actually a good thing because while he’s awake you’ll get an eye full of some sensitive assets. In fact the whole game is filled with some rather scantily clad personalities. The people in Nippon obviously never learnt to buy clothes that actually fit. Ultimately though the game’s breathtaking visuals and unique control system means the story takes a back step.
And the game’s visuals are just one in a sea of reasons why you should pick this title up. Its delightfully created cel-shaded world stands up to many of the top blockbusters released today. Everything in the world blends effortlessly together. From bustling villages filled with numerous unique individuals to huge deep forests and cold damp ice caverns. The visuals are similar to those used in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and are at times breathless and more importantly timeless. They would still be amazing if we were playing the game again on the PS2, but in full 1080p HD the game could easily be considered as one of the best looking titles available this generation.
And it’s not just the visual style which borrows from the Zelda series. As mentioned before the gameplay follows a similar suit. There are numerous areas to explore and little side missions to complete in each. In one village you can try and beat a dog’s record of digging up turnips or try and find all the merchant’s treasures. After spending some time completing side missions you’ll need to go dungeon crawling. These dungeons follow a typical pattern, such as finding new weapons, skills and keys in order to access the next areas. The dungeons are also equipped with mini and main bosses ranging from drum wielding monkeys to flaming dragons to huge spiders, although the game borrows some of the mechanics found in other games series it manages to make them feel fresh and inimitable.
Navigating your way around the world can be a little bit complex and certainly shows the game’s age. Games today, for the most part like to hold your hand throughout, telling you where to go and what to do. There are some exceptions -Dark Souls comes to mind. But Okami HD doesn’t really help you at all, it gives you one little hint and leaves you out in the cold. Games are easily criticised for being too easy and less challenging, but Okami HD could have had its navigation system upgraded so that it fell somewhere in between hand holding and complete isolation.
Okami HD's unique gameplay mechanic is its celestial brush. This brush allows you to draw onto the screen in order to complete the numerous puzzles and defeat the enemies that appear. You’ll discover thirteen powers of the gods which allows you to draw and solve different puzzles. These new powers are obtained by finding and unlocking gods that are trapped in constellations awaiting your arrival. The different brush powers allow you to draw lily pads to navigate water, burn ice with a stroke, rejuvenate broken objects with a flick and change night to day by drawing the sun. The brush can also be used in combat to slice your enemies up and tackle more difficult situations. It’s extremely useful in a number of the boss battles mentioned earlier, but we won't spoil anything by telling you exactly how it is used. You’ll need to keep your ink levels topped up though but that barely ever becomes an issue. Okami HD allows you to use the PlayStation Move controller in order to draw using the celestial brush but for the most part it’s a little clumsy and the Dualshock arguably works better.
Of course the celestial brush is just one of the ways to tackle your adversaries in combat. You’ll also unlock new and more powerful weapons as you progress through the game, you’ll start with a simple weapon that allows you to attack using your mouth/snout, but you’ll soon be able to use magical whip like weapons and a armament which allows you to fire what can only be assumed as small missiles. Each weapon can also be equipped to one of two slots, Your primary and secondary slots. While in each slot the weapons behave differently, so you’re able to compare and expand your weapon and move set by just playing around with the primary and secondary positions. It makes for some rather explosive and unequaled combinations.
Okami HD is a monster of a game; you’ll rack up twenty to twenty five hours in the story alone. Then you can do every side mission and complete all the numerous tasks available to you, such as completing a bestiary, your travel guide and amass every collectable. You’re also able to purchase new fighting moves, but unfortunately you’ll seldom use them. The game is so long and not particularly testing that fighting is more sporadic compared to exploration and puzzle solving. Again though the puzzles are hardly challenging but allow you to like the rest of the game just focus on the beauty that oozes out of every pixel on the screen.
Ultimately in a sea of positives there are a few little issues that stop this game reaching the top step of the podium. Cutscenes tend to drag on with shaky camera angles. And they’re made even worse by the absolutely awful sound effects that the game uses for the character’s voices. It’s actually more bearable to watch cutscenes with the mute button active they’re that bad. Although it must be said that the soundtrack on the whole is beautifully modelled around the excellent visual style and makes Okami HD (as long as you mute the conversations) a very soothing and relaxing place to spend an evening.
Okami HD is one of those titles that you simply must have in your collection, if you’ve played the title before then it’s worth picking this version up just for the HD upgrade, it’s stunning. If you’ve never played the title then chances are you won’t be alone and shouldn't think twice about purchasing this. Okami HD boasts some of the best visuals ever, a hugely relaxing gaming world and a great set of unique gameplay mechanics. Yes it’s aged a little so it has a few minor niggles but it’s still head and shoulders above the majority of titles released, even in today’s relentless gaming market.
The beautiful world of Nippon is recreated in gorgeous HD.