Games that, put you in control of a god or a god-like being are commonplace now but none have ever felt as majestic as Okami. Originally emerging as part of the PS2’s golden age of gaming, Okami was rejigged for the PS3 and Nintendo Wii and now arrives on the Xbox One and PS4 in a sparkly new version dubbed Okami HD. Obviously, the visuals have been boosted to meet modern standards, and Japanese remastering specialists HexaDrive have even added lush 4K visuals that are sure to delight those who’ve shelled out for a PS4 Pro or Xbox One.
Set during a non-specific period of ancient Japanese history, Okami’s world combines several Japanese myths, legends and folklore. You play as Amaterasu, who (deep breath) is a white wolf believed to be the material manifestation of a long-deceased Sun goddess who once defeated an evil multi-headed Dragon that polluted the beautiful world with darkness and destruction, and you must now pick up where your predecessor left off by ridding the world of the recently released darkness. The plot is certainly vague, but it’s far from shallow, and it’s told through strange sequences where passages of text are accompanied by weird mumbling sound effects that mimic speech. While this reflects the fact that Okami was initially created in an era where fully voicing a game from start to finish was not as common as it is today, it does feel a bit old-fashioned and eventually gets annoying. This shouldn’t put you off the game though, and the dialogue is spot on, with your little green cling-on friend, Issun, providing some much-needed comic relief amidst the general doom and gloom.
Playing Okami is a blast. As a white wolf, Amaterasu is quick, nimble and agile and, thanks to a magic disc hovering above her back, is pretty handy in a fight too. Traversing the game’s many gorgeous locations is a pleasure, with Amaterasu initially able to double jump and run faster the longer she keeps moving; and learning fancier tricks as the story progresses. You enter combat whenever you run into enemies wandering the world, with a fiery red border creating an impromptu fighting arena and a press of the attack button whipping the magical disc from Amaterasu’s back and smashing it into your foes. Completing strike combos on enemies puts them into a temporary frozen state, and it’s here where your secret weapon comes into play: a paint brush, or rather a celestial brush. Activating the brush pauses the game and turns the screen into a canvas over which hovers your magic brush. You can then draw lines through each enemy which, once brush mode is deactivated, cuts them in two. It’s an interesting mechanic and one that’s also put to use in the many puzzles strewn across each area. For example, drawing circles with the brush on certain broken objects magically fixes them, and drawing circles in certain places in the sky can cause the sun to appear, with these ‘miracles’ essential to understanding each puzzle and key to solving them.
Outside of the main objective, many villagers or other NPCs have green triangles on their always visible floating thought bubbles (it’s part of Okami’s distinctive visual style). These characters have side tasks for you to complete, and it’s well worth taking the time to do so as these menial chores, like digging for crops whilst avoiding the farmer and looking for fish for a hungry old woman, give you Yen that you spend on healing/boosting items and upgrade points that unlock new abilities.
Of course, the main attraction here is the visuals. Okami is a game like no other, and its visual art style and aesthetic has never been replicated. The game’s lush graphics mimic a Japanese art technique called Sumi-e, a kind of watercolour painting that is simply beautiful to look at and offers a flowing, organic counterpoint to the pin-sharp polygonal perfection found in most AAA games. Vitally, Okami never diverts from it, and everything is astonishing to gawk at, including the ground, plants, Amaterasu’s magical abilities and even the wild animals that are freed every time you win a fight. There are no textures or detail, Okami doesn’t need it, just swishes of colour that feel like watching the work of a highly skilled painter who’s spent his entire life perfecting a masterpiece. This feeling is maintained throughout the lengthy campaign, and freeing an area of darkness triggers a breath-taking animation of flowers blooming in explosions of bold colour that’s one of the most visually stunning sequences in all of gaming.
Although Okami has been compared to the fantastic Legend of Zelda games, it’s not without its issues. Lengthy text and, more importantly, overly intrusive pauses in gameplay for you to read that text, can sometimes make the game feel like a grind, with the first few hours especially sometimes feeling like you’re doing more watching than playing. Persevere though and you’re rewarded with a gorgeous adventure unlike any other.
Developer: Clover Studio
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 12th December 2017