Game: Okami HD
Developer: Clover Studio
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Originally released back in 2006 before the sad closing of Colver Studio and again in 2012 as a HD remaster, Okami has sprung to life once again into a new generation of consoles. Much to my own shock and disappointment, I have never had the opportunity to play Okami in the past, which as a lover of all things Japanese is quite simply shameful! Is the newly revitalised Okami HD worth this long-awaited play? By the mother of us all, YES, yes it is!
むかしむかし (mukashi mukashi)… Ahem! So sorry, its seems the Japanese lore this game embodies has rather influenced me so! As I was saying…
Once upon a time, in a faraway land lay a tiny village named Kamiki, surrounded by beautiful cherry blossoms who were honoured as a god. Legend tells of a terrible eight-headed beast with cursed eyes that threatened the residents named Orochi, who demanded a young maiden be sacrificed at the annual festival to prolong its longevity. Legend also tells of a wolf with a brilliant white coat who watched over the village, Shiranui, who was wrongfully dubbed a familiar of Orochi. One brave soul took it upon himself to challenge Shiranui but was unable to beat the wolf’s swift movements. With his loves life threatened as the chosen sacrifice, Nagi travelled to the beast’s cave in her stead. His valiant attempts were thwarted. Fatigued and staring death in the face, Shiranui appeared and stood ground before the evil beast to protect him. Claws and fangs clashed long into the night but even Shiranui’s divine powers were no match for the mysterious force that protected Orochi. Refusing to give in, a crimson-dyed Shiranui unleashed a mighty howl towards the heavens, shining a light of hope upon Nagi’s sword. With all his strength, Nagi separated the heads one by one and brought an end to Orochi. With the curse lifted, the village was safe, but Shiranui had sadly succumbed to the beasts poison. A shrine was erected for Shiranui and the sword dubbed Tsukuyomi was placed in the cave and thus brought a new era of peace.
Or so it seemed…
Our story takes place 100 years past this heroic act. Through a series of events, a great calamity has befallen the land and plunged it into darkness. Taking on the role of the reawakened Amaterasu, the mythical sun goddess herself, along with some seemingly unreliable companions, this story takes you to various lands across Nippon where you must restore life back to the land and thwart the reawakened evil that terrorises the lives of those who live there once and for all.
If you think that introduction was long then brace yourselves, this is a long tale that will easily consume 40 hours of your life, but one that is definitely worth your time! Okami is steeped in Japanese folklore and whilst there may be subtle differences (as with any tale), the essence remains the same. As one that loves such things, I have easily lost myself in its charm; my only regret is not having experienced it sooner! For starters, the soundtrack is just divine and I can feel my spirit easing as I listen to it. There is nothing untouched by tradition and with the use of traditional Japanese folk instruments such as the koto, taiko, tsuzumi and shinobue I feel like I am right up there on that celestial plain with the gods; it’s incredibly peaceful! Have you ever been so calm and happy that for no good reason at all you just shed a tear? Yeah, that’s the emotion this invokes.
Besides the tranquillity, the heat of battle is often perked up by more energetic tracks and upbeat and quirky tunes for the occasional comedic moments that lighten the mood. If there was one thing that lets it down however, it’s the scrambled samples emanating from the characters mouths. Whilst this grumbling of sorts works for other games such as Animal Crossing where it’s done in a rather cute way, in Okami for me personally it just seems emotionless and annoying. Whilst expecting a full voice over would be too much, I do wish some of the main characters and personalities were given more of a voice, with the exception of Ammy, who as a wolf remains mute. Needless to say, I sure hope somebody would release this onto a beautiful collective vinyl release!
The tradition does not end there, as the visuals also represent traditional techniques that make this really feel like a tale of old. Okami uses a mix of styles such as sumi-e, otherwise known as ink wash painting that, although at times looks a little blurry, really brings the world alive and represents the movement, even the life of everything around you. The goal of sumi-e is to not exactly reproduce the look of something but merely capture its spirit and the unseen. Even Amaterasu appears as dumb white wolf to those who cannot see her godly form! This only intensifies the underlying Shinto religion that is represented in the story, where not only kami are represented but also the sacred essence that resides in all things, such as trees, rocks, rivers, animals and even places themselves, all of which deserve respect. It is a message that still holds true today with concerns like global warming, a representation that the land has been polluted, disrespected and that we need to rectify our mistakes and cleanse the world of such impurities. With a washi paper background, landscapes at first appear barren and pallid yet once restored are filled with a vibrancy that is quite stunning to look at. The characters themselves have lively and cute designs and I find them very inspiring. Although very few textures look a bit sketchy at times, it is charming and delightful to look at, you could even mistake it for a brand new release! To put it simply, it is timeless and something that could easily be enjoyed even years from now. For those of you with the right set-up, this can be enjoyed in glorious 4K whilst even players like myself can enjoy its splendour even in 1080p on the PlayStation 4. There is so much detail that impresses me, from the floral trails that follow Amaterasu as you run, even the transitional cutscenes that take you from sunny day, amber evenings to the darkness of dusk are beautiful moments that show off the scenery.
Enough about that, let’s get into the gameplay.
Okami contains an adventure mixed with action and puzzles as you traverse the land. Whilst the world is free for you to explore at your own pace, the story’s linear progression (and guide Issun) will often prevent you going in the wrong direction, with areas made inaccessible until certain criteria are met. As you talk to residents you will uncover the strange phenomena that are afflicting the area and these stories or clues will guide you to your current goal and progress the story. Some residents may also require individual help, opening up side quests that you can complete at your own leisure, such as hunting specific demons or finding treasure through a timed cubic maze, the latter of which can be particularly frustrating! As you traverse Nippon, you will encounter many battles which will occur as the story unfolds and after cutscenes. You can also initiate combat by running into or being caught by demonic scrolls. Combat takes place in an often small sealed arena that disperses on victory. Should you need to flee, small cracks in these demonic realms can be attacked, allowing you to escape. Every battle will be rated on completion, with bonuses awarded for quick completion and the amount of damage dealt which will boost yen earned. Okami is filled with a plethora of demons, each with their own unique attributes and attack styles. The same tried and tested technique will not always work and you will need to analyse each kind to figure out their weaknesses and the best strategy and ability to defeat them.
There is one basic attack that sees you pounding your enemies. However, there is something more unique to Okami, the Celestial Brush! On your previous untimely demise, your divine power was split into 13 different Celestial Brush gods, each inspired by the Chinese zodiac. As you progress through the game you will encounter constellations that you will need to complete in order to release the hidden god and recover their techniques. Each technique is different and requires different brush strokes in order to perform. By pressing R1 and pausing the game you can use a calligraphy brush (which happens to be your tail) and ink to draw strokes to unleash various attacks. A straight line will produce a power slash, whilst drawing a circle with a line will create an explosive cherry bomb! It’s a super fun element but can sometimes require precise strokes and take time to get right. Whilst the touch pad can make use of this feature, having to press multiple buttons at the same time makes it a less convenient option. It’s a shame the sensitivity was not implemented as this would have utilised the controller’s features in a fun way. It is important to utilise and manage basic attacks and the Celestial Brush powers as your ink well is limited. Using it all up will render your powers useless and turns you into a plain white wolf until enough time has passed for the ink to fill again. Alternatively, ink can be filled by defeating an enemy and collecting fallen ink pots or found in objects smashed or dug up on your travels.
As you defeat some enemies and bosses you will recover new Divine Instruments that you can equip as main or sub weapons. Some will enhance your attack whilst others will grant new abilities such as Ink Bullet, which allows you to attack from long range. Other items can help you in combat, such as exorcism slips that damage nearby enemies or sake that raise your attack or defence. These can be found throughout Nippon or purchased from stores, however, I found no need to use any of these items in my battles, even later in the game. New moves can even be purchased and learnt at a dojo to help you reach new heights, though most are completely optional.
For me, the most fun I had in the game was outside of combat. Unfolding the story and just exploring the beauty of Nippon has been a fully satisfying experience; it is the little things that have me enraptured. It is most of these small acts that will earn you praise, the source of your power which can then be used to increase your attributes such as Solar Energy (your life force) or grant you larger ink pots. There is so much to explore and uncover and curiosity is often rewarded.
Celestial Brush techniques are not only used for combat but help you past obstacles on your path of discovery or assisting villagers. A swirl can create a galestorm that gets a windmill going or banishes flames whilst cute little bunnies cling to the ground as they get caught up. A stroke or two can make a bridge appear whilst a circular swirl can revive the cursed and defiled land, making a tree bloom again through Divine Intervention which in turn releases a purifying wave that rejuvenates the land with great vibrancy and life. Even taking time out to go fishing or feeding all the animals I encountered was extremely addictive and satisfying as I watched them munch from a feedbag, for which the cutscenes are quite adorable!
The story of Okami is as much about restoring the people’s faith and the vitality of the land as it is defeating the demons that threaten them. The Celestial Brush techniques offer a fun and unique gameplay experience and the characters are full of life and comedic moments that had me chuckling. It oozes so much Japanese culture that I adore, I hang my head in shame that it has taken me this long to get to this hidden gem. Whilst it can be a bit slow and long at times, there was a surprising twist I didn’t expect. Okami is a timeless adventure and more than worthy of this HD remaster. Now is the perfect time to delve into this fantastic tale of Japanese folklore!