Any gamer who has been around for a while is probably aware of this game if they haven’t played through it already, either in it’s original incarnation on the PS2 or its slightly graphically enhanced version on the Wii. This time around the block, Okami has been remastered for high definition and looks even more amazing now than it ever did. Truth be told, I owned the first version but never seemed to get around to beating it. In a way, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because I likely wouldn’t have felt the draw to play and experience this one, and I would’ve sorely missed out.
Okami was originally developed by the now-defunct Clover Studios and published by Capcom. It was created in an attempt to have a Zelda-like experience for the PS2 at a time when the console seemed to be lacking in the adventure-ARPG arena. Initially in its development it was intended to be a more realistic-looking game, but as that put a strain on the system, the developers decided to switch to cel-shading. This combined with thick, black lines and a certain shudder in the graphics gave the game a particular artistic look inspired by traditional Japanese calligraphy. There’s even a filter you can use in the settings to make the screen look more like parchment.
The game begins with a story taking place 100 years ago about the wolf god Shiranui helping the warrior Nagi to destroy the demon Orochi. Amaterasu is then brought into existence as the god’s reincarnation to once again fight the demon, and Issun is the plucky miniature artist that accompanies him. The plot of the game is complex, if a little convoluted, and takes you to many varied locations, all of which are teeming with artistic inspiration, and introduces you to many characters with their own personalities. 13 of those characters are other gods like Ammy who each give a brush technique to the wolf which cause events in and out of battle, such as making bombs and creating a vine that catapults you into the air. These Celestial Brush techniques become a major part of the game.
Just like the game Okami is modeled after, gameplay largely adheres to the formula of fighting your way through dungeons, beating the bosses, and completing small quests in-between as a way to get a leg up (sometimes literally) on the bad guys. However, while the typical Zelda formula involves killing lots of enemies and solving puzzles on your way to the bottom of each dungeon, Okami changes the script and makes many dungeons almost exclusively puzzle-based, utilizing the Celestial Brush techniques to access areas that would otherwise be closed off. Combining this with the sheer amount of things there are to accomplish and discover, I found the formula to be one of its most redeeming qualities, ensuring that gameplay is never boring.
Unfortunately, the game is not without a few issues, one of them attached to the game-defining Celestial Brush. For the most part I found the game to be pretty forgiving when it came to using techniques, but it could become especially frustrating when the game expected me to use them in limited time events. It became almost impossible to do what the game wanted me to, be it to jump across banners that were made into platforms by the wind I created or attaching vines from a fast-moving log to anchors on the sides of a river. Luckily these issues were few, but there were also a few points when I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to progress the story and the prompts weren’t giving me much information.
The other major problem is the reason it took almost a month for me to finish this game: there is no instant transport function and there is A LOT of running back and forth between areas. I clocked in at around 70 hours total, though if one wanted to just play through the story, it could probably be accomplished in 40. I easily could’ve shaved 25 hours off that if there was either an ability to teleport or if there was a fast-forward function (many ports of old games have this capability now because we just don’t have the patience we once did). There are two methods of fast transportation in the game, but both of them are quite slow. As such, you will still spend much of your time in the overworld going from place to place.
Okami HD has a lot going for it: fun gameplay, challenging battles, complex plot, endearing characters, beautiful graphics and music. It’s no wonder Capcom has held on to this gem in order to re-release it to the masses for an easy payday. Though there are some issues that should have been ironed out, none of them detracted from one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. Even though some might complain that it is simply Zelda in a wolf skin, they would be missing all the artistry and culture this game exhumes. As such, Okami should be regarded as a classic that every gamer should play through at least once.