Release Date: October 30, 2012
Developer(s): Clover Studio, Capcom, HexaDrive
I first played this game approximately six years ago on the PlayStation 2. From what I remember of it, it was one of the more memorable titles I ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Fast forward six years in the future, and now this game is being re-released on the PlayStation 3 for only $20 with HD graphics. I must admit, the result of this re-release is a joy not just for me— I get to relive all of the wonderful memories I made with it the first time around— but rather anybody who still hasn’t had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out this magnanimous work of art.
To call Okami a work of art is but an understatement, in fact, no simple words can describe the chef d’oeuvre that it is (even if isn’t a literal work, mind you!). Like a lyrical and unforgettable haiku, Okami is poetry superimposed onto a video game format. Now that this game is finally in high definition, the sheer amount of effort, detail, love, and heart can be fully appreciated by the naked eye. It was quite obvious that this wasn’t the typical video game you would find at your local retailer or movie/game rental kiosk, and that only helps to reinforce that this game is truly a diamond in the rough. I cannot, I repeat… I cannot emphasize just how astonishing Okami HD is. I’m going to try to accomplish something by end of this review; I’ll try to convince anybody reading this to either try or buy this game. That will be my goal.
Okami HD (or just Okami) revolves around a sun Goddess by the name of Okami Amaterasu who after 100 years of slumber, comes back to life in order to restore her precious land of Nippon (Japan) to its former self. 100 years in the past, Amaterasu waged war against Orochi, an eight-headed demon that threatened the very existence of mankind. After a difficult battle against the beast, and with the help of a swordsman named Nagi, Amaterasu managed to defeat the eight-headed serpent. During the fight she was heavily wounded and unfortunately succumbed to her wounds. 100 years later Amaterasu is revived once again thanks to guardian spirit Sakuya, Nagi’s descendant Susano, and Orochi himself. In present time the land of Japan cries out for Amaterasu’s divine intervention.
There is plenty of divine intervention to be done here. Amaterasu carries a glowing weapon known as a “divine instrument” on her back which is her main weapon in combat. This divine instrument allows the wolf Goddess to tap into the power of her “Celestial Brush.” This is where the restoration comes in. Using the Celestial Brush technique one can literally use a brush to either attack enemies or draw life into the withering environment around you. This is one of the many fantastic control mechanics involved in this avant-garde adventure game, and thankfully, they are intuitive and easy to learn. By pressing the right bumper on the PS3′s DualShock controller, you bring up the Celestial Brush. You move this technique with the left stick. Time will come to a stop, effectively giving you plenty of time to execute it. Even better is that Okami doesn’t punish you for messing up, therefore, don’t hesitate to bring out the artist in you as you control that brush. There is no way to circumvent this control scheme, but in the long run, it adds more gravitas than you’d imagine.
After all, it is thanks to the Celestial Brush that you can appreciate Okami’s beauty at its best. The Celestial Brush allows you to rejuvenate the world with Amaterasu’s 13 different techniques. You can restore broken bridges, open pathways, make withered trees bloom, create divine wind, climb walls, summon the elements, and even slow down time with the Celestial Brush. In other words, it is literally essential to use these different techniques to advance through the game. Like I said before, you can use this brushwork outside of battle as well and this is where Okami’s environmentalism comes in. As you trek across the dying land of Japan, you will be required to breathe life back into it using your trusty brush as your tool. For example, are the several cursed areas of Japan that you must wipe away by restoring giant withered cherry trees, which you must revive as they bring back peace and good fortune to the land and its people. You’d think making a tree bloom wouldn’t be the best way to describe this, but you would be surprised.
And it doesn’t end there. Since you are God after all, you must perform all of your Godly duties such as getting people to believe in you again. What a better way to do that than to win them back through personal requests. These requests will net you Praise, that you need to level up Amaterasu’s health stats, ink pots (for Celestial Brush use), and the coin pouch (used to buy more weapons, etc.) You also earn praise from rejuvenating the environment (e.g. making trees bloom, purifying “cursed zones”), and from feeding wild animals. That last part is why I consider this game to be as artistically significant as it is. Like I said already, making a tree bloom or feeding wild animals does not sound like it would make this game stand out from the rest, but it truly does. The small little details are what make this game shine differently from all the rest. All of these different tasks you must perform in order to deify yourself— since as a celestial entity, you need believers— only serve to corroborate that Okami isn’t a typical adventure.
The cel-shaded, watercolor doused art direction highlights the artistic virtuoso of those working at the once-established Clover Studio. Who knows what inspired them to make Okami how they did, though whatever it was certainly came from a very special place. I did read that Hideki Kamiya, Okami’s lead designer was a fan of The Legend of Zelda. This in turn would inspire Kamiya to make games in a similar vein, and this is quite relevant here. More importantly, you can see how much love and effort was placed into this video game as it draws elements from Shintoism without offending anyone’s faith and beliefs in the process. That is a feat in itself, since Okami could have easily failed when you stop to contemplate its scope and ambition. Clover Studio placed a watermark so apparent in this game, that it easily demolishes the limitations of the medium. When a video game manages to come off as culturally significant, even spiritual, that’s when one must stop, think, and admit this to be something special.
Okami’s gorgeous cel shaded visuals have never looked this good, and in reality, this is how this magnum opus was meant to be seen. The entire game is washed in a watercolor-like hue which further substantiates its integrity. The rugged black outlines surrounding Okami’s designs are its de facto principles demonstrating its artistic foundation. There will be plenty of times when the artistry here will leave you breathless, as the entire game is all about restoring its own beauty. It’s like an old watercolor painting just waiting to be restored by its new owner. I’m sure Okami wasn’t only a love letter to Japanese culture and religion, but also to art and mother nature. In fact, the entire thing looks like an elaborate Japanese 3D sumi-e, or like a multicolored elaborate origami sculpture created in flat space that changes as you shift your eyes around it.
The drop dead gorgeous art direction is complemented further by the game’s original score. The score embodies work from a variety of different artists all inspired by Japanese classical music. In other words, while the music is very Japanese (much like the rest of the game), it is pivotal to Okami’s existence and couldn’t be more precise. Several tracks in the score serve to establish a mood and set a tone whenever you hear them. I bet you never thought video games could help you relax and meditate. Well, that prejudice will go away as soon as you watch Amaterasu feed a wild animal and hear the song which accompanies it. Another relaxing moment will take place whenever you make one of the [aforementioned] giant cherry trees bloom. The song which follows the restoration process (including the images and colors) might even be formidable enough to change your mood. The music here will truly test your faith.
The PlayStation Move makes it even more contemporary than it has ever been. Now, the Celestial Brush can fully be controlled using the PS Move, although the controls aren’t completely precise. Using the PS Move peripheral certainly adds novelty, but regrettably not the “innovation” I expected. The device notices your motions around a third of the time, however, with imprecision. You will therefore be going through the same motions more than twice. This gets a bit frustrating when you’re drawing a simple circle or a straight line, as more than half of the time these will look oddly misshapen. I also played the Wii version of Okami and noticed similar issues with the Wii Remote. Okami HD will be best experienced with the DualShock controller. The DualShock isn’t 100% accurate all the time either, yet it works much better. Having said that, the slightly imprecise control scheme present isn’t a godly affliction.
This re-release with HD graphics, full PlayStation Move controller support and trophies, has never been more relevant. I once mentioned how Journey from Thatgamecompany challenges the viewpoint of naysayers questioning the artistic integrity of a video game. Okami [HD] is another one of the very few behemoths that can safely fight off its opposition. A true test of faith and hope, Okami manages to be twice and even three times more memorable than newer video games whenever its re-released. A true instant classic in every sense, shape and form, and now looking better than ever; Okami HD is the most deified form of its titular Sun Goddess that should be indisputably picked up. At only $19.99, I would have payed more than five times that amount for an experience this meaningful. I would gladly pay again, and so should you. Armed with a Celestial Brush in its chops, Okami gracefully leaps beyond your own beliefs and goes where video games have very rarely gone before.
- Enchanting cel shading visuals
- Relentlessly imaginative premise
- Colorful cast of legendary characters
- Firmly upholds its hype and impresses every time it’s re-released
- Pushes the artistic boundaries of the medium
- Manages to even become a spiritual experience
- PlayStation Move controls are impractical