When Okami first released on the PlayStation 2 in 2006, it was a critical success that was ignored by the masses. In 2008, that was pretty much repeated upon its release for the Nintendo Wii. Four years later, we find ourselves with the definitive version of a modern classic, but is there enough in Okami HD for people to finally give the game the attention it deserves? Yes. Oh goodness, yes. For the uninitiated (and PS2/Wii sales numbers say that they vastly outnumber the game’s rabid fanbase), Okami HD is a game steeped in ancient Japanese folklore. One hundred years ago, the evil serpent Orochi was defeated in battle by a warrior named Nagi and a white wolf named Shiranui…or so the legend goes. Now, someone has removed the sword that legend says was keeping the eight-headed beast prisoner. The watercolor land of Nippon is subsequently washed in a terrible curse, painting once-beautiful landscapes with grey and red decay. Ameterasu, the sun goddess-slash-wolf, is summoned to not only defeat Orochi, but to restore the land to its former glory.
Although you won’t find any BioShock-level plot twists, the story in Okami HD is extremely well-told. While the plot is a loose retelling of some Japanese mythology, the mixture of fun character interactions and cut scenes featuring era-appropriate ink paintings are highly engaging, but there are a couple of missteps with the story presentation. First is that the some of the cut scenes simply drag on too long, especially at the very beginning of Okami HD. Normally I’m patient enough to indulge a game in its exposition, but that brings me to the second problem: those voices, or lack thereof. There isn’t any real voice acting in Okami HD, where the developers instead opted for gibberish and text. You can usually just press a button to speed the text along and make them stop talking, but not during cut scenes. Five minutes listening to nonsense is not five minutes you want to spend in Okami HD, friend.
If you’ve played any Legend of Zelda game released since 1998 then Okami HD will feel instantly familiar to new players. The sense of exploration, use of dungeons and puzzles, and combat hit the same rhythms, especially during boss fights. You’ve even got the silent protagonist and chatty sidekick. However, the world and mythos surrounding Okami HD is truly unlike anything else in video games, making those fundamental similarities more than acceptable.
Another key way Okami HD separates itself from Nintendo’s franchise – and all others – is with the Celestial Brush. This is the very crux of the gameplay, ever present both in combat and in your exploration of Nippon. Over the course of Okami HD, Ameterasu encounters many other gods in forms of constellations, and each of them bestows upon her different techniques to use. Bloom, for example, can revive dying trees and grass, while the winds created with Galestorm can put out fires and create new platforms. There are 13 techniques to be found in Okami HD, each offering different restorative and destructive uses, usually with some form of elemental effect. At its best, the Celestial Brush makes the beautiful art of Okami HD feel like the direct result of the player’s input, and the feeling is delightful. However, controlling the brush isn’t as precise as it should be, especially if you opt to play with a DualShock 3 controller. Making straight lines and circles isn’t really suited for an analog stick, and there are plenty of times where your intentions are met by failure to do anything at all. This becomes especially frustrating when you have to make these brushstrokes quickly in certain minigames. Okami HD also offers PlayStation Move support, so some improvement is there for those of you with a Move setup.
The camera in Okami HD is also a bother, being the root of most of the game’s other problems, as it simply isn’t good. There are points that require a bit of precision platforming, which is when the game usually decides that zooming as far away from Ameterasu will serve you best (it won’t). Once you engage in combat, it goes from annoying to criminal. It’s virtually impossible to manipulate unless you stand still, which is generally a pretty terrible battle tactic. The camera doesn’t move much at all during regular fights – which take place in a confined, circular space – so you’d better hope that enemies that start near the foreground move further back when you get to them. The camera in Okami HD is much better during boss fights, fortunately, thanks to the fact that they take place in much larger areas.
Once you coerce the camera somewhere decent, you’ll notice that Okami HD is a disarmingly beautiful game. Everything about the art direction ensured that the game was not only beautiful in 2006, but would retain that beauty for years to come, even as more “realistic” games would start to show their age. Bringing those watercolors from standard definition to glorious 1080p is exactly what everyone hoped for back in ’06, even if they didn’t quite know it just yet. The colors of Okami HD are as vibrant as anything else you’ll ever play: restoring areas of Nippon results in an explosion of pinks, blues, and greens that stands in direct defiance of the grey-and-brown palettes in modern games. Small touches such as distant mountains being no more than brushstrokes against the blue sky are also a treat. There’s some noticeable pop-in with trees and animals, especially up close, but it’s nothing that will pull you from the experience of Okami HD.
Okami fans will be pleased to hear that Okami HD has made the graphical jump beautifully, taking full advantage of current-gen amenities like PSN Trophies and PlayStation Move support. Nothing was broken in transition, and overall, it is well worth spending $20 on. For those who have never touched the game before now, Okami HD represents an opportunity to go in fresh with one of the greatest games of all time. There’s a certain joy to Okami that isn’t seen in many games, where your satisfaction comes from creating something great rather than leveling it to the ground. If that’s something that you’re up for, then that’s worth $20, too. Listen to Joe, Malcolm, and Tyler talk Okami HD on Firmware Update, or visit the official Okami HD website.