Okami HD on PlayStation 4
Okami holds something in common with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, seeing as how both titles never seem to cease re-releasing on new generations of console hardware. The recently launched port on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC does have one underlying difference from Bethesda’s dragon-slaying epic, however. It isn’t always guaranteed to sell.
Indeed, when Okami first released on PlayStation 2 more than a decade ago, it had sold less than 300,000 units. Its novel, artsy aesthetic was lost in a year that saw the release of other big name titles like Rockstar’s Bully, Activision’s Call of Duty 3, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The lackluster sales figures of Okami and developer Clover Studio’s next game, God Hand, undoubtedly had an effect on Capcom’s decision to shutter the studio back in March of 2007, though publisher Capcom cited a “desire to improve its overall development structure” as the official reason.
As per Capcom’s tradition with its franchises, Okami did get the chance to shine again when a Nintendo Wii version of the title launched in April of 2008 and when a visually enhanced HD version released on PlayStation 3 in October of 2012. Five years since its last appearance on consoles, Okami once again launches on current generation hardware. Though the unique art style and story fundamentals are still there, there’s no denying the fact that the game is 11 years old now. It’s perhaps more deserving of an eighth generation sequel rather than an eighth generation remaster.
Okami borrows heavily from Japanese folklore, legends, and myths to craft its presentation and narrative. It follows the white wolf Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, or Ammy, as she journeys across a pre-industrial Japan in an effort to cleanse the country from a curse by an eight-headed demon Orochi. The setting of the game binds well with its story as players get to experience color being restored to an area after it has been rid of evil. The cel-shaded, Sumi-e style comes alive in a splash of marvelous watercolors, though it is unfortunate the title’s low polygon count distracts you from time to time. The added 4K resolution helps lessen the unattractiveness, though awkward camera angles is an example of the game’s age.
This being said, there’s real satisfaction to be had when defeating bosses and seeing lands come back to life. It can be argued that this feeling is intrinsically tied to successfully completing any generic boss battle in a game, sure, but Okami’s well-written script and personable characters are excellent motivators to keep the player engaged and motivated enough to win. This desire of wanting to do good by the game’s cast is only amplified when taking side quests into consideration, which allow Amaterasu to flesh out the relationships she initiates with the people on her journey. From helping Kaguya return to her Moon Tribe to making the sun appear to make laundry dry faster, Okami wants the player to be actively involved in the lives of its NPCs despite the fact that they all just amount to lifeless artificial intelligence. Being a part of everyday routine makes the player feel that much more consequential.
Gameplay in Okami HD relies largely on two buttons and 15 interchangeable weapons (within Reflector, Rosary, and Glaive categories) and buffs. The Celestial Brush adds flair to an otherwise standard action-oriented combat affair and though the title limits its use through ink-pots. These replenish so quickly that there’s pretty much nothing preventing players from abusing the mechanic. You can expand Amaterasu’s abilities by going to one of three Dojos that appear in the game, though whatever these new additions confer pales in comparison to using the Brush.
Okami HD allows players to experiment with weapons and go into battles with varying degrees of strategy, but there’s just not a lot of incentive to do so when a standard arsenal can still get the job done. This deficit alongside the game’s other bare-bones RPG elements (which just amount to increasing Amaterasu’s hit points, adding more ink-pots, increasing purse size, and increasing the size of the Astral pouch) are especially apparent when considering modern titles like The Witcher 3 or Horizon Zero Dawn.
What’s perhaps most indicative of Okami’s age, however, are camera woes. Seeing as how all enemy encounters take place within closed areas, larger sub-bosses and bosses proper that players encounter later on usually allow foes to take up large portions of the screen while you yourself are relegated to a cut-off bottom area. The wonky camera messes with the player’s ability to come up with imaginative moves that deal more damage and usually only provides openings that see one spamming attacks in order to succeed. This, unfortunately, is only compounded during platforming segments that grow in frequency toward the later half of the game. For some reason the camera pulls in odd directions mid-jump and dizzies the user when perspectives change through dreaded jittering and worrisome panning.
Another instance that shows signs of the title’s age is less glaring should you have grown up with Zelda games, though is still worth mentioning if you’ve come to expect actual dialogue in video games nowadays. Most characters communicate with Amaterasu through a gibberish-sounding noise reminiscent of insects. Issun, the actual bug that accompanies the sun deity on her journey, seems to like talking a lot, forcing you to read through walls of text while annoying squeaking serenades you in the background. This is very much a mechanic that was a product of its time and though it can still be found in some titles today, it’s more or less been phased out.
Okami HD definitely has wrinkles when it comes to its presentation, gameplay, and mechanics but still has enough heart to make it shine as a cult classic. Its flaws can be overlooked for the great substance it provides, notably in how there’s real emotional incentive to be found in Amaterasu’s journey. This investment by the player evokes something akin to a spiritual side, a human quality that other titles on the market could only dream to encapsulate over the course of 30 hours.
It’s for this reason that it’s not hard to see why the game has amassed a following throughout all these years. A memorable Japanese ethos lives and breathes through Amaterasu and all the characters she encounters on her journey, not to mention the world that bursts to color beneath her paws. The developers that made up Clover Studio should still be proud of the accomplishment that is Okami. Here’s hoping Capcom sees it as a franchise worthy of a modern-day sequel.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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