Clover Studio's masterpiece, Okami, didn’t exactly light up the charts on its initial release on PS2 back in 2006, despite critical acclaim and a wealth of awards. The games subsequent releases on Nintendo’s Wii and the HD remaster for PS3 in 2012 have since opened the game up to a whole new audience, including those who overlooked it initially. Now the game is available on PS4, PC, Xbox One and Switch with this latest re-release built off of the PS3 HD remaster and supporting widescreen 4k visuals on PS4 Pro, PC and Xbox One X.
Okami is one of those games that falls into the 'games as art' category, a sumptuous visual masterpiece even back in 2006 whose watercolour and painted visuals haven’t aged at all. Designed to look like a Japanese sum-e painting, Okami took the cel-shaded visual style that was becoming popular at the time and created something truly unique out of it. There is no part of this game that doesn’t look amazing, from the character designs to the stylised backgrounds composed of linework, Okami could get by on its unique visual style alone.
Thankfully, the game doesn’t have to as it plays just as well as it looks, if not better.
Okami definitely takes its gameplay design style from The Legend of Zelda games, producing a large world to venture through with secrets and new areas unlocked as you acquire new powers. The story is easily 30 hours plus of questing, exploration and monster-bashing and that’s before we even add in the amount of time you’re probably going to spend just staring at the game's locations, or figuring out new ways to use Ameterasu’s powers in the environment or against enemies.
Just as the visuals are meant to invoke a moving painting, painting forms a large part of the game's central mechanic: the Celestial Brush. Throughout the game you’ll acquire new techniques to use in the world and against enemies that requires you to pause time, at which point a giant brush will appear on the screen and, using celestial ink and a simplified gesture system, the brush strokes you make impact the world.
Thin lines across the screen work as slashes in the game world, while other gestures let you restore objects in the environments, give life to dead plants and trees, make the sun rise or set and even change the direction and strength of the wind. This mechanic of course works itself into the environment, the puzzles and even the boss battles that require you to mix up your techniques to beat them. It makes the base combat, which is slightly button mashy, something you have to pay attention to as you can stun and defeat monsters easier, either by slashing them in half or summoning a giant bomb to blow them to kingdom come with, for instance. The techniques also allow you to reach new areas.
Along with the brush, you’ll get the usual assortment of health items, ink refills and new weapons, each with their own combos and uses.
Ameterasu's main quest involves stopping the demon Orochi who, along with his demons, have stolen the life and colour from the land. Using your celestial brush and braving the game's dungeons or bringing a guardian tree back to life helps to free a section of the world from the darkness. Watching the world spring back to life with the amazing 2D particle explosion that flows across the screen amid sprouting trees, grass and splashes, never gets old and is one of the game's effects that I never grow tired off. When a section of the world has been saved, sometimes new locations, hidden beneath the corruption scouring the land, reappear with new NPC’s to speak to and quests to do. The sense of accomplishment for doing this, and watching the world shine through is its own reward, creates a sense of pride that most games, requiring you to synch a tower or fell a lookout post, can’t compete with.
The games currency comes in two forms. Money can be used to buy new moves and items while the other currency comes in the form of praise received from just about everything in the world. Whether you’re rejuvenating dead trees or feeding the game's numerous wildlife, you’ll collect this satisfying currency. Whether I used it or not, I spent more time exploring each location for animals to help and trees to heal simply for the pure sense of joy it brought watching life slowly return to the world.
In many ways, Okami also feels ahead of its time, especially in the fluidity and control department, making certain that it just isn’t the visuals that haven’t aged. Ametarasu controls so smoothly that it makes you wonder why so many games today, with better technology, feel like a clunky chore to control. Ameterasu's speed and responsiveness is quite a change from today's ponderously slow character speeds.
If Okami has any faults, it’s that at times it never seems to end, with more twists, turns and surprise locations popping up just when you think the story is coming to a close. And that, eventually, it actually has to.
Having played it on its original PS2 launch, then the PS3 HD version and now on PS4, Okami has lost none of its charm or captivating gameplay. Despite having seen it all twice before, I still found myself taking in the breathtaking scenery, completing every quest, feeding and rejuvenating every tree and delving into the world’s deepest corners for all of its secrets.
Okami isn’t just a game, it’s a visual masterpiece of art and design and a testament to creativity that needs to be experienced as words alone don’t do it justice. This is the definitive edition of the game, and a game that you absolutely should not miss out on.
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12 December 2017
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