A magnificent beast.
Released on the PS2 way back in 2006, the original Okami was a hit with game critics both in Japan and the Western gaming market due to its unique art direction and mesmerising visuals. Unfortunately for developers Clover Studio, the game was released shortly before the launch of the PS3. With all eyes focused on the powerful new console and the PS2 essentially forgotten by next-gen harbingers, Okami fell flat on its beautiful face and sold so badly that Clover Studio ended up closing its doors forever.
Perhaps ironically, Okami nevertheless went on to earn a cult-like status among gamers on both sides of the ocean, earning itself a fiercely loyal fan base and having a quiet – but significant – impact on modern games that can still be seen in such titles as Epic Mickey and its upcoming sequel.
Now re-released on the PS3 as a digital download in full HD, Okami is back and looking even more stunning than ever. The game is eye-wateringly beautiful and while it still may be a little ‘out there’ for some – it’s certainly never going to win over the Call of Duty fan base – the game has finally been given the second stab at life it deserves.
Worship The Sun
You play as the sun god Amaterasu who takes on the form of a white wolf. Along with a swordsman called Nagi, the sun god fought with an eight headed dragon some 100 years before the game is set, in order to save a village and prevent Nagi’s wife from being sacrificed to the savage multi-headed beast. The pair manage to seal the monster away, although doing so costs Amaterasu her life, and a memorial is built in her image.
The bulk of the story is set in the ‘present’, which is in fact still in Japan’s past, just not quite so FAR in the past. Susano, the descendant of Nagi, ends up releasing Orochi back into the lands by accidentally breaking the seal. Understandably irked at being trapped in a statue for 100 years, Orochi gets its own back by turning all the humans into stone. A wood sprite called Sakuya appears and calls forth Amaterasu, awakening her from her 100 year slumber as she breaks out of the memorial. Sakuya asks you to remove the curse from the lands and a pint-size travelling companion named Issun who helps along the way.
Brushed Up Well
One of the game’s most unique elements is Amaterasu’s power to wield the ‘celestial brush’, which the player uses to cast magic by moving the brush in different strokes. Each stroke technique is learned throughout the game by finding missing stars to complete constellations, which releases the celestial brush gods who each show you how to perform a new move. If this all sounds too trippy for you, stop reading now because the game doesn’t get any more down to Earth than that.
The game is PlayStation Move compatible and using the peripheral does make the brushwork feel more natural and fluid.
Once learned, these moves can be used in combat (for example drawing a straight line through an enemy cuts them), to solve riddles (fixing bridges by painting in the missing pieces) or for more general uses (drawing a loop to create a gust of wind). The amount of ink you’re given to perform these strokes with is limited, so a certain amount of strategy and forward-thinking is required on the player’s behalf, although the ink does slowly refill when the canvas isn’t being used.
The game is PlayStation Move compatible and using the peripheral does make the brushwork feel more natural and fluid. The Move responds to brush strokes with far greater accuracy and fluidity than the Wii motion controller, so if you owned the original Okami on the Wii and found yourself disappointed with the game’s lack of responsiveness, this is definitely worth a look. Moving the brush with the Move while using the navigation accessory to control Amaterasu’s movements feels incredibly natural and is by far the best way to experience the game. That said there’s nothing wrong with using the DualShock controller, which allows you to control the character with the left analogue stick, the camera with the right stick and the paintbrush by holding R1.
Okami HD is a surprisingly long game and there are plenty of side quests to keep completionists happy. Finishing these earns you ‘praise’, which can be used to earn more inkwells and health points. You can also earn yen after fights, which can be used to unlock new moves, items and weapons. There’s a bit of a twist where you think you’ve completed the game only to find out that you’re actually only halfway through.
The game’s unique style makes the visuals look very much akin to a living, breathing Japanese watercolour painting. Its distinctive sumi-e inspired cel-shaded graphics have always been its most memorable feature and the HD makeover only enhances it, creating a more vibrant colour palette and making the line work crisper and more beautiful than ever. The design is steeped in Japanese culture and folklore and while a reviewer could sit for hours gushing over Okami’s stunning visuals, seeing them in action is the only way to truly appreciate them – words and screenshots simply don’t do it justice.
A review code of Okami was provided courtesy of Capcom.
Wolf It Down
The original Okami was a beautiful, deep and engaging title already, but this HD update makes it even more stunning to behold. That the game sold so few copies first time around is a crime – now it’s been updated for a brand new audience and at £15.99 this is a game any fan of Japanese culture should have in their collection.