Considered to be one of the best games ever made, Capcom’s highly-acclaimed Okami has been constantly re-made and adapted for different consoles after its initial 2006 release. Nature-inspired action-adventure game Okami HD is a breath of fresh air from the popular FPS genre: its mastery of the sumi-e art style is perfected in high-definition, and the mythology-inspired story is still as memorable as ever.
You take on the role of the sun-goddess Amaterasu, who has assumed the form of a white wolf. Along with your sidekick, an inch-high samurai called Issun, you eradicate evil from Nippon, the Kanji term for Japan, and rejuvenate its wildlife. Along the way you meet many eccentric and superstitious characters, such as the lazy warrior Susano, the camp swordsman Waka, villagers, gods, and 8 adorable canine-warriors. The plot is entirely based on Japanese mythology and folklore, therefore immersing the player in Japanese culture, slowly revealing the history and legends as you play.
Part of the game’s inspiration is from the The Legend of Zelda franchise – Hideki Kamiya, the creator of the game, took inspiration from how Zelda explored nature, stating in an interview with IGN that “if there were no Zelda, there would be no Okami.” While playing the game, you can detect the attributes inspired by Zelda: both have the same world and dungeon format, and both take care in writing characters, creating landscapes and telling a story.
Here’s what I made of it. Minor spoilers ahead!
The story (without doing all the sidequests) takes about 25 hours to complete, which makes it not too intimidating. The storyline itself was pretty good, and at some points very engaging, due to the fantastical traits and narrative so unique compared to most mainstream games released today. The game had an impressive symphony of atmospheres that could appeal to any player, from the bustling Sasa Sanctuary filled with anthropomorphic sparrows to the creepy Sunken Ship, which had tame-yet-spooky elements of Japanese horror – including the ghosts of the bosses you’d killed staring straight into the camera.
The plot is based around superstition – each element of the plot is motivated by religion and spirituality, legends and prophecies. Assuming the role of a god, the player uses their powers to not only attack but to help citizens of Nippon, giving a fully-rounded experience of Amaterasu’s divine duties.
The storyline has 3 arcs, which keeps the game varied, and gives the player the ability to explore and discover much more of the stunning world. This also meant that there were moments of running around the map thinking ‘what’s the point?’ The game occasionally fails to give the player an ultimate end goal, which can make the repetitive battles and challenges seem unproductive at times.
One of the innovative and defining aspects of the game is the use of the ‘Celestial Brush’ mechanic, where the player activates special godly powers through drawing symbols that are learnt along the journey. These powers can be used in combat, to unlock secret areas, and to aid the humans of Nippon, unaware of Amaterasu’s divine status. Combat is staged in a circular arena, with the player using a combination of weapons and Celestial Brush techniques to attack or hinder the enemies.
Using the Celestial Brush was simple on the PC as it used the mouse to draw, and I can imagine the Wii would have a similar level of ease. For PlayStation and Xbox fans, however, it would be a little tricky to draw using the directional buttons to replicate the symbols. In terms of accuracy in detecting what I drew, there were many moments where my bloom technique (a circle around a dead patch of foliage) was recognised as a sun or just a circle of flowers. This doesn’t impact my playing experience though, as the rest of the brush techniques were detected 99% of the time.
The combat style quickly became repetitive, so I actively avoided extra battles. Something I really enjoyed about the combat style is the ease of employing power-ups to my health and abilities – unlike Legend of Zelda, where you can only hold a handful of potions, Okami allows you to carry up to 99 of each item, which can be used in combat by pausing the battle to access the menu, allowing the player to use as many items as they require. Admittedly, this did make the game a lot easier than its fellow action-adventure counterparts, but this allowed the player to concentrate on the game’s focus: the storyline.
My biggest criticism of the game is the quick-travel mechanics. Quick-travel is accessed through specific lakes, and requires a 500 Yen Mermaid Coin to activate. These lakes wouldn’t always come up on the map, meaning that I had to do a lot of travelling, which became quite tedious. Amaterasu is quite slow, and only picks up speed as you walk long distances, so travel was quite tiring and took a lot of time.
While Okami HD had a few blips, I enjoyed the general feel of the game. The art, narrative and classical Japanese music all come together to form a beautiful, culturally-enriching experience incomparable to anything else, and that’s what kept me playing. Okami is perfect for Legend of Zelda fans who prefer a narrative-based game, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who doesn’t usually play games due to its easy-to-grasp battle style and the hand-holding help that Issun provides. It’s a classic, and I think every gamer should give it a go, just to experience a piece of gaming history
Okami is available for PlayStation 2 and 3, and Nintendo Wii. Okami HD is available for Playstation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.