Review: Okami HD (PS3)

Title: Okami HD
Format: PlayStation Network Download (6.2 GB)
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: ChexaDrive, Clover Studios
Price: $19.99
ESRB Rating: T
Extras: PlayStation Move Compatible
Okami HD is a PlayStation Network exclusive.

When you find yourself in a party with a couple of your gamer friends, and the conversation turns to “art in video games,” one of your buddies will be mocked for claiming that Call of Duty should be considered art. He will argue that “eye of the beholder” nonsense, and you will agree to disagree with him, turning to your other buddies and saying, “Ok, but in all seriousness…”

That’s when games like Shadow of the Colossus and Okami will enter the conversation. Gamers have a difficult time conveying that their passion could/should ever be considered art by the world. Some even disagree with the notion, despite their love of gaming.  But if there are any titles that could be considered champions for the cause, Okami and Shadow of the Colossus would definitely fit the bill.

The chance to play Okami in glorious HD, with Capcom’s recent release of Okami HD to the PlayStation Network Store, is an experience that no gamer should live without, least of all if you would like to see what everyone is talking about in those “games are art” conversations. I’ll elaborate more on “why” within each section, but for now, I will touch on the narrative of the game.

Okami begins in the small village called Kamiki. While quaint and serene, Kamiki has a dark past (one in which your character plays a great role). One hundred years past, the legendary demon, Orochi descended upon the land and brought upon it a curse, destroying life and leaving a barren wasteland in its wake.

Women from the village were offered as sacrifices to the monster. But as legend goes, a warrior rose up to confront the demon, when his love was chosen for the sacrifice. During the battle with the multi-headed creature, the warrior was hurt, and all hope for success was futile. But the climactic events of that day came when the sun god, Amaterasu, came to the aid of the warrior. Amaterasu turned the tides of the battle in its white wolf form, and the land was brought to peace again. Amaterasu vanished to the heaves to rest.

Now, a hundred years hence, rumors of Orochi’s returned has surfaced, and the land has once again become littered with patches of cursed darkness, populated by demonic creatures.  Kamiki has a new hero who has been training for this very possibility. As the player, you do not assume the role of this Susano. Instead, you play the role of Amaterasu, returning again to lend aid to the helpless people of the land.  At your disposal are heavenly weapons that aid you in physical combat, and the other element of Okami that makes it a unique experience: The Celestial Brush.

Okami’s visual style is that of a Japanese painting, and the Celestial Brush allows you to paint upon its canvas. This interaction is how Okami allows you to implement god-like powers into the game’s universe. For example, if you are traversing the world at night, and need some light, why not draw a circle in the sky and make the sun rise? If you reminded of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the effects of the ocarina, you would be correct to make the comparison. Your brush has a number of useful functions, not least of all the ability to deal deadly blows to the enemy (by drawing a slash across the bodies of weakened monsters).

The clever use of the brush in the narrative comes into play as you aid Susano (the warrior I mentioned earlier) in venturing across the world in an attempt to claim the glory of defeating Orochi himself. So, in a way, you are basically helping him achieve the glory, while you take backseat and do the real work. Susano isn’t really cut out for the job, but if he needs to cleave a mountain in half, you might be there to slash it with your brush, giving him the impression that it was all his doing.

You are not alone in your journey, as the traveling tiny artist (Issun) follows you everywhere, offering advice and otherwise getting on Amaterasu’s nerves. Yes, you are once again correct to make the comparisons to Navi (Ocarina of Time). Where Issun shines is in his ability to deliver some genuine comedy into the game. He is not the annoying fairy that reminds you to turn the game off after playing too long. Issun makes commentary on the women of the villages, and otherwise speaks for you, even if you don’t really want him to do so. He provides you with helpful information and makes the journey more interesting. If I had to choose a little person to go with me on a 40 hour journey, I’d take Issun over Navi any day.

This game is not short, by the way. There are so many places to explore and areas to discover (including hidden caves that you reveal by using bomb drawings). Apart from this,  Okami also includes its own version of a fishing game, and other mini games. If you are looking for a journey to dive into that won’t be completed in twenty hours, then Okami has you covered.

Okami has a lot in common with Zelda, and as a huge fan of the series, I can honestly say that if you had to take cues from any game in the industry, Ocarina of Time would be my choice. So combat, exploration, and even how you discover hidden items all feel very familiar to the traditional “adventure” genre gamer.

Control of Amaterasu is spot on, and while the game doesn’t sport a manual lock-on during combat, I never felt less-capable of defeating enemies because of it. The combination of physical attacks, plus the use of the Celestial Brush become second nature within hours of playing it, and before you know it, you will be using the techniques like a pro.

While the PlayStation Move controller seems like a natural fit for the drawing elements, it’s not really needed, in that the shapes that Okami requires you to draw are simple and perfectly achievable with the standard controller. But it’s a nice feature, and one that I immediately wished for when the Move controller was released, “Ohhh, this would be perfect for an Okami game.”

I dare you to not be impressed by Okami’s beauty. You could throw out normal mapping, and hi-definition textures. You could throw out reflective textures. You could do all of this, and you’d still be missing how simplistically better Okami looks.

This will be the case ten years from now (when our games look photo-realistic) because Okami’s elegance comes from its style. And this style is now observable the way it should be, in glorious HD. Seriously, even if you have completed the original, the sharpness of the HD upgrade makes it an almost completely new game. 

At times HD remakes reveal imperfections and shortcuts taken by developers, who have the knowledge that no player would ever see certain things, because their game would only be seen in standard definition.  Okami is not one of those games. It looks like it was made for HD before HD had taken over people’s homes.

The music and sound effects within Okami share a similarity with the visuals, in that they are heavily-inspired by Japanese art and music. Wind instruments dominate the score beautifully, and envelop you into the same world that the visuals work to convey.

The chatter of characters talking does get a little grating after talking to a character for three minutes straight, but I grew up with games like Shining Force, so having notes play for every letter spoken has somewhat become expected for games of this kind.

On the other hand, the wind blowing through the swaying trees, combined with clean effects of other elements in the environment enter your senses and compliment the visuals in such a seamless way, that you truly believe that these sounds are coming from the virtual environment.

This game is single player only.

One of the most amazing-looking games of the PlayStation 2 era received a facelift, and this is a good thing. No, it’s an amazing thing. While I can’t comment on whether or not I think videogames are art, I can certainly say with great confidence that Okami fits the bill, and if I ever had to make a case for the “art” group, I would use this game an example of expression through interactive media.

If you have played Okami on PlayStation 2 and enjoyed it, then it might not be a huge deal for you to experience it once again in hi-def. But if Okami was one of the greater experiences you had on the PS2, then you owe it to yourself to own the definitive version of the game on the PlayStation 3. Now, can someone get me a Vita port?


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