Okami was a watershed release for Clover Studio when it first hit shelves in 2006. While the studio had crafted some beloved games like the Viewtiful Joe games, nothing quite hit the AAA sweet spot. Okami was a visual stunner on the PS2 and showed that when given the chance, the company could rise to a new level. More recent times have seen Guerrilla Games do something similar with Horizon Zero Dawn showing that they could do far more than shooters when given a chance to create a magnum opus – and Okami was easily Clover’s high mark as a studio.
When the company closed, Capcom kept the Okami franchise alive with not only a sequel – but several re-releases that exposed the legendary adventure to new audiences. A Wii release brought it to Nintendo platforms with motion controls making the brush strokes feel more natural, while the PS3 release of Okami HD was easily the definitive edition of the game in its day since it brought that over while also featuring the best-looking version of it yet. Higher-resolution assets were used and the internal resolution was actually 4K and downsampled – an incredible feat for a 2012 release on the PS3 hardware. Now, thanks to the power of the PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, and high-end gaming PCs, that can be fully appreciated on a modern-day display. Okami HD on 2017 hardware stands the greatest chance yet of allowing the game to achieve the sales figures it has always deserved.
Okami has long been summarized as “3D Zeldas with a wolf” – but it’s more than just a simple summary. It offers a glimpse of a traditional Japanese forest setting with a bit of mythology and history thrown in. It tells a dark tale of a village overrun by a beast and defended by a wolf named Shirunai and a warrior named Nagi. They battled the multi-headed beast known as Orochi until they defeated him – but perished due to the damage caused by the battle. Okami Amaterasu is viewed by the people of Kamiki as the reincarnation of Shirunai, and has been called upon after Orochi has been resurrected and placed a curse back on the village. It’s a story of sacrifice, and one that manages to make fully-fleshed out characters out of animals in a way that wasn’t done better before Okami and certainly hasn’t been topped since.
Playing it once again after a very long break brought back not only memories of discovering the world all over again, but also just how fun the combat system is. The core formula is very much like the post-Ocarina Legend of Zelda games – but with some bigger wrinkles. Both games have a helper character, with Issun being a bit more of a wise-ass than anyone ever featured in a Zelda game. He tends to be more snarky and pokes fun at Amaterasu. Having her as a reincarnation out to prove her own worth is an interesting twist in the formula, and gives you an ever-present goal to do better in the world itself to not only save the world, but pay proper homage to your predecessor.
Okami’s versatility in battle allows you to dash around and attack with great ease. Amaterasu moves briskly and gets into a fast dash to dart around the world when you have a nice, long straightaway to build up momentum with. In battle, you can dodge and evade enemies with a fair amount of ease while also doling out damage when you want to. The celestial brush is one of the biggest ways the game was able to differentiate itself from the 3D Zelda games – even if it was in a sense its own version of Ocaraina of Time’s legendary ocarina. Both allow you to change the course the game via an in-game button combination, but the brush requires a bit more detail work at times to either fill in the gaps of the in-game world to progress or do damage to a rival.
The brush is an awesome little gimmick, but definitely something that is going to remain a point of annoyance for some. Your goals with the brush aren’t always clear – and while that can be resolved with an Internet search, it would be nice for clearer objectives to be given. The exact placement of the brush can also be tricky and even though you have unlimited chances to get it right, you still want to be as efficient as possible. Fortunately, you’re never at a loss for what to do beyond the brush strokes as an arrow guidance system works nicely at giving you turn-by-turn directions. Traversing the large world isn’t too tough thanks to that and it’s one of the game’s better anti-frustration features as it manages to be great many years after the initial release without any changes needed.
Visually, Okami’s watercolor design was a gorgeous experience on the PS2, Wii, and PS3 – but now it looks better than ever. The ability to play the game in native 4K brings out a level of beauty that wasn’t visible before and anyone with a high-end console or gaming PC will definitely enjoy the increased detail. Playing on a regular Xbox One S or basic PS4 isn’t a bad experience and the game’s fluid animation still looks gorgeous on any display. Amaterasu’s smoothly-flowing run cycles and attacks remain sharp now, and it’s a fine example of getting things right the first time and creating something that is future-proof.
Musically, Okami’s soundtrack has held up just as well as the visuals. The woodland instrumentation works like a charm at evoking the Japanese culture the game is so heavily steeped in and it remains a great soundtrack to listen to inside and outside of the game. The Japanese voice work with English subtitles is excellent and furthers the feeling that the adventure is all about Japan in a certain era – without any potentially iffy English dubbing to take you out of the moment. Sound effects remain crisp and clear, with slashes of claws and brush strokes all conveying exactly what they should.
Overall, Okami HD on modern hardware is the best way to play this classic title. The increase in resolution and graphical fidelity goes a long way towards ensuring that this is the definitive edition of the game for the foreseeable future. The core game is so good that even with over a decade passing since its original release, it’s still an excellent experience overall – despite a few rough edges with the presentation. Okami has never been a perfect game, and the flaws are part of its charm at times. Anyone who hasn’t had a chance to enjoy it should do so now, while veterans will definitely appreciate the visual boost here.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Okami HD for the PlayStation 4 provided by Capcom.