I remember back when Okami first came out in 2006. I received a copy for the Wii, and was immediately impressed by the game’s beautiful art style. There was just one problem–I hated the controls. It wasn’t the game’s fault; I had trouble getting used to Wii controllers as a whole. Nonetheless, my frustration with the new gameplay style prevented me from getting more than two or so hours into the story. Okami remained on my lists of games I was interested in but would likely never actually play until late last year with the announcement of a re-release, Okami HD. I eagerly bought a copy for the PlayStation 4 (no control issues there) and dove into the game for what was essentially the first time. So, how does Okami hold up a decade after its original release?
Like the original version, Okami HD is visually impressive. The “HD” really just refers to some graphical polishing; there’s no new content of note here. Fortunately, the base that’s being polished is strong. The original Okami was, after all, the prettiest game I had ever seen at the time of its release. Twelve year later, it no longer holds that same title, but it’s a pretty game nonetheless.
The bright colors throughout the game’s environments are pleasing to look at, and all the nature imagery helps establish a relaxing mood (at least early on). The various animals that populate the world are very cute, and one of the game’s greatest pleasures is finding cranes, cats, horses, and more scattered across the map. The architecture to the city areas also tends to look quite good.
Amaterasu, the white wolf you play as, is awesome. Her facial expressions are frequently hilarious, and it’s cool to play as a non-humanoid character for a change. Unfortunately, Amaterasu doesn’t go on her journey alone. Her main companion is the tiny Issun, who contains misogyny and distasteful behavior that dwarf his small body in size. It’s hard to have a good time when there’s literally someone spouting annoying drivel in your player character’s ear the entire time. The game becomes infuriating virtually any time Issun and a woman are on-screen at the same time. There’s a difference, after all, between harmless flirting and endlessly commenting on strangers’ breasts.
None of the other cast members are as terrible as Issun, but they are a mixed bag. A lot of the talking dog characters are likable, as are some of the shopkeepers. Waka, who pops up here and there seemingly just to annoy the protagonists, is also fun. Some of the other reoccurring characters are quite bland, though. Susano, for instance, is meant to be a joke of a warrior who steels himself and acts more bravely as the narrative progresses. Unfortunately, his character arc never successfully makes him admirable.
Story-wise, Okami is decent. The mythological roots of the narrative make for a unique gaming experience, which I like. I’m not sure how I feel about the game’s length, though. There’s a point about halfway through the game where the build-up indicates the next boss is the final one, but it isn’t. You end up fighting other mysterious threats for the second half of the game, but none of them are as cool or feel as significant as the faux-final boss, Orochi.
My other main qualm with the game’s length is linked to the gameplay. Amaterasu unlocks more powers the further into the story one gets, but the battles paradoxically get more repetitive as you unlock more options. This is because many villains can only be harmed when you use a specific power. Things go smoothly when you know which power to use for a given foe, but if you don’t, then you have to try all your options until you stumble upon the right one. By the end of the game Amaterasu has thirteen different skills, and the number of villain types you encounter multiplies dramatically. As a result, combat becomes a tedious exercise in trying things to no avail over and over again.
With that said, I still have to give props to what the game developers accomplished with Amaterasu’s powers. Players utilize the Celestial Brush to draw out the abilities they want to use, and it works quite well for the most part. The game’s ability to recognize hurried combat scribbles is impressive. I had multiple occasions where the game didn’t recognize what I was trying to do, but that was more because of my shaky hands than any actual flaw in the game design.
A lot of Amaterasu’s non-combat powers are fun to use. One of her most frequently useful abilities is lily pad creation. Drawing a sequence of lily pads on water allows you to cross gaps that you would otherwise drown in. The lilies are lovely and even feature a tiny jumping frog. It’s small details like this that make your powers visually pleasing to use. I also like Amaterasu’s wind powers; it’s fun to blow objects around in various directions. The “Bloom” ability is cool too; it allows the player to bring previously lifeless patches of vegetation back to colorful life.
Overall, I had fun with Okami HD until I didn’t. Early on, the game’s positives outweighed its negatives. The art style was unique, the drawing interface was impressive, and a lot of the small details were charming. Unfortunately, as I got further into the game, I was less willing to forgive its cons. Issun is disgusting, the gameplay gets frustratingly repetitive, and the difficulty spike of the last few areas isn’t handled smoothly.
The most damning thing I can say about Okami is that I didn’t bother to finish it. I persevered through my frustration until one day my boyfriend looked at me and said, “Stop playing; you haven’t enjoyed yourself the last four times.” He was right. I turned the game off and haven’t returned since. I may have been close to the end, but I have too short of a life to waste time on games I don’t enjoy. Ultimately, Okami HD is an impressive port of a game that deserves its classic status–but the flaws are still there, and I couldn’t forgive them in the end.
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