Okami HD (PS4)

This re-re-release of Okami doesn’t add much to either the original game or the 2012 HD version. There are no extra characters or cosmetics, no added DLC, and no galleries of concept art. All this latest version of Okami does is upgrade the visuals to 4k (assuming you have the hardware). Fortunately, Okami doesn’t need any fancy added extras; it’s every bit as good now as it was in 2006. The Celestial Brush mechanic is a joy to play around with in combat and puzzles, the art style is sublime, and you meet memorable characters on your journey. I wish it were shorter and a bit more challenging, but I still enjoyed my time with Okami. You rarely feel like you’re playing an old game; just a damn good one.

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You play as Amaterasu (Ammy), a white wolf and Goddess, and are accompanied by Issun, a small creature known as a Poncle who has a keen eye for the ladies. One hundred years ago, another white wolf, Shiranui, teamed up with Nagi to banish the evil Orochi. Following this, there was peace in Nippon for one hundred years until a descendant of Nagi, Susasno, carelessly released Orochi back into the world. Much of this backstory is told through an incredibly long opening cutscene of around fifteen minutes. It’s an early warning that when it comes to storytelling, Okami doesn’t quite know when to get out of its own way.

Ammy might be a god, but she’s not powerful enough to take on Orochi. Not yet. With the help of Issun, you travel the world in search of the thirteen Celestial Brush techniques and use them to defeat enemies, solve puzzles, and reach new parts of the world. As long as you have enough ink, you can freeze the game whenever you like and draw different techniques on the screen. Think of them as spells, because that’s objectively cooler. A quick slash across the screen will cut certain items or enemies. Drawing a circle on water creates lilies for you to traverse rivers. You can even change night to day by drawing a sun in the sky. Thirteen might sound like a lot of different images to remember, however many of them have something in common such as connecting fire or ice to melt or freeze things respectively. It quickly becomes second nature.

Combat has tonnes of variety, so no two fights need to be the same. In addition to the Celestial Brush techniques, you can choose between using a reflector, rosary, or glaive as a melee weapon. There are also special moves you can pull off such as using a Celestial Brush slash on enemies when they are stunned for extra damage or in the split second after they die for bonus items. Add in the ability to draw bombs, cut the wings off flying enemies, or create wind to pin an enemy against a wall, and you have a deep system that is a hell of a lot of fun to mess around with.

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Unfortunately, the fun fades when you quickly realize that the combat never ramps up in difficulty. You can get through nearly every fight with just random swings of your rosary beads. Defeating the enemies quickly and without taking damage awards you extra items like XP and health/stamina/defense buffs, however given how easy Okami is, you’ll likely never need the consumables.

The idea of mixing up Celestial Brush techniques to defeat enemies is a great idea, but the combat is so easy, you rarely need to worry about it. Why bother conjuring a bomb when your basic melee attack does the job just as well? You pick up slightly more powerful versions of your melee weapons as you progress but you’ll struggle to notice the difference. You can also equip weapons in the secondary slot for an extra ability such as a shield for a powerful block and riposte move, but again, all this potential is wasted on such easy enemies.

Puzzles follow a similar pattern. There’s a simple charm to solving problems by using your brush to create new paths, move water around, and melt blocks of ice. As new options are introduced, you’d expect these puzzles to increase in complexity but they barely do. Near the end of my thirty-five hours with Okami, the puzzles started to get a touch harder, but by then it was too late.

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Boss fights are better described as puzzles as opposed to combat. Once you’ve figured out how to beat the boss, executing on the plan won’t be much of a problem. Issun also offers regular hints, so it’s tough to ever get stuck in these encounters. This can be a blessing and a curse. You’re able to breeze through Okami without frustration, but there’s also a lack of satisfaction from overcoming a challenge.

The only time Okami ever gets remotely tricky is due to some slightly obtuse map design and waypoint markers. For example, in one section you have to find three items, however there’s nothing telling you that you have to find them in a certain order. If you go to the wrong location first, you’ll find yourself wandering around completely clueless as to where the item might be. Furthermore, the first item took some weird logic to discover. This sort of thing was typical of games from that generation and it’s not something you’d expect to change in a remaster. It’s still annoying.

The lack of challenge wouldn’t have been a problem if Okami weren’t so long. It ends after about 12 hours and then ends again after about 25 and then finally actually ends after 35 hours. I’ve not been so exhausted by a repeated set of fake endings since I watched Return of the King. A third of the game could have been cut without much loss, especially because a huge chunk of time is spent repeating previous boss fights. The worst fight is Orochi. It’s an easy fight, but takes time to move through the entire process. You’ll be relieved after finishing the fight the first time, exhausted after the second, and utterly fed up after the third.

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With the exception of Ammy, who doesn’t speak, the characters are largely memorable and entertaining. Susano is determined to defeat Orochi and is completely oblivious to how dead he would be without Ammy’s help. Issun plays the cheeky chappy with just enough charm that you can overlook his constant comments about nestling between whatever set of breasts happen to be on screen at the time. Waka is an odd character who continually pops up to help and hinder Ammy, while predicting the future and casually throwing out French phrases.

It’s a shame that voice acting is limited to a series of Banjo-Kazooie style beeps. I don’t care when Okami was initially released, these noises were never a good replacement for actual speech and I preferred silence.

While the audio is lacking, the visuals certainly aren’t. The stunning watercolor cel-shaded artwork looks glorious in 1080p (and presumably 4k if you have the requisite tech) and it never gets boring to look at. Interiors vary from Japanese temples to shipwrecks to the inside of an Emporer. I often felt like I was playing a watercolor painting come to life. There’s plenty of pop-in, but it never bothered me all that much and an increased draw distance would have spoiled the visuals anyway by adding too much clutter.

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Okami is a relaxing game. The lack of challenge isn’t ideal but it lets you focus on what is beautiful about the world and the characters while enjoying the high-fantasy Japanese story. I loved drawing images to fight and change the world around me and was constantly learning new techniques. Okami could have done with some editing to trim the length and a steeper difficulty curve to keep you interested throughout. However, even with its issues, Okami is an absolute joy to play and a steal for $20.

No matter how many times Okami is re-released and remastered, it never quite seems to get the attention it deserves. I hope this version helps it capture a few more hearts and minds like it should have done back in 2005.

4/5

P.S. Okami is better than any Zelda game I’ve played.

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