Up to this day, 2006’s Okami remains one of the most well-regarded titles of the catalog of every platform it has been released. The secret to this universal acclaim is an absolutely unique mix of gameplay, visual style, and story, building a video game experience truly like no other in the industry. Now Hideki Kamiya’s masterpiece returns with a new HD version releasing on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, giving a new generation of players the chance they deserve to discover one of the rare titles where ‘art’ and ‘video game’ become synonyms.
The concept for Okami was originally built upon the idea of depicting nature. One of the earlier prototypes simply showed the figure of a wolf running in nature, with flowers magically appearing behind this figure. This small detail helps in a huge way to understand where Okami is coming from and what is trying to accomplish. We are talking about a game that offers players simple objectives in order to help them appreciate the incredible beauty they will find in their path.
But the risk of reducing a videogame to a mere visual spectacle is that the actual interaction with the player becomes a boring afterthought. The team at Clover Studio managed to avoid this implementing a gameplay feature that would end up defining the game just as much as its singular art style: the Celestial Brush. This virtual tool allows players to not only witness the beauty of the world, but also interact with it in a way that makes them participant of shaping the environment they see, creating new elements, and changing those that appear on screen. And all of this in a way that makes sense as part of the lore of the story.
Okami bases its premise on the traditional Japanese folk tales and art style. Many of its characters are directly based on fantastic figures from classic fables, and the visual style evokes the Japanese watercolor and wood carving art of the Ukiyo-e style. Counting with that base, it is not surprising that the main plot of the game follows a very familiar pattern of a cataclysmic threat that can only be overcome by a legendary hero with an unlikely origin.
The introduction of the game narrates an ancient legend that took place on the world of the game 100 years ago: For a long time the Kamiki village suffered under the threat of the eight-headed monster Orochi. The creature would visit the village regularly, claiming the life of a young girl as a sacrifice. However, one villager called Nagi finally decided to try to defeat Orochi, as he could not stand the fact that the girl he loved would be offered to the beast. Nagi traveled to the cave where the creature lived, and attacked it until most forces abandoned him. Luckily, the mysterious wolf that would wander outside the village appeared in the cave to help Nagi and fought together with him until Orochi was defeated and its spirit sealed. A statue of Nagi holding the sword that killed Orichi was erected inside the cave, while another one of the wolf, Shiranui, who died from the wounds of the battle, was placed in the village.
Amaterasu is fascinating as a video game protagonist
A century later, a mysterious figure finds the statue of Nagi and lifts the sword, setting Orochi free once again, and unleashing the calamity over the land of Nippon. At the verge of exhaustion, the guardian entity of Kamiki Village, Sakuya, summons the the spirit of Shiranui, who is none other than the Sun goddess Amaterasu, so she can purify the land from the evil that has arisen.
Amaterasu is fascinating as a video game protagonist, as she is able to build her own identity despite the fact that she’s largely a silent character. Players only get to perceive her grace and benevolence through her actions, body language, and some occasional sounds. She is referred to as a mother by the rest of kind spiritual entities that she encounters in her adventure, making her not just a hero that seeks to defeat evil, but one with a maternal instinct that cares about the world as if all the living beings were her children. The personality of Amaterasu is also exposed in contrast with her extremely talkative friend Issun, a small artist of the size of a bug that narrates everything that happens on screen in a more or less tedious way, although their relationship becomes more charming as the story progresses.
The condition of deity of the protagonist is not just a mere plot device. The powers of Amaterasu allow her to make use of the Celestial Brush to interact with the world while exploring or in battles. There are many different techniques that she can use, and each of them are granted by the Celestial Gods hidden in the constellations she finds in her journey. In practice, this means that players can pause the game to draw a symbol on the screen, which then provokes different actions: a straight line will ‘cut’ enemies in half or at least damage them, a circle will make a sun appear on the sky, a water lily on any water surface, and revitalize cursed trees, another sign makes firework bombs appear in front of an enemy, and many more.
The new HD version for PS4 also adds new functionalities through the touch pad
The Celestial Brush definitely sets Okami apart from any other adventure, and it it essentially the element that provides the most complexity to the gameplay, besides the use of different equipment and objects. Over the years, the use of the Celestial Brush has been adapted to the possibilities of each platform. On the PS2 it was used through the analog sticks of the Dualshock 2, on the Wii it famously made use of the motion controls, as well as the PS3 with the Move controller.
The new HD version for PS4 also adds new functionalities through the touch pad, which can be used to draw the signs with the virtual brush or to control the camera. While touch controls are definitely an improvement when it comes to draw the most complex signs, the position of the touch pad on the controller makes it slightly inconvenient to reach if you use it every time you use the brush. Instead, I found a nice balance by using the analog sticks for the simpler signs, and the touch pad for the most complex ones.
Graphics-wise Okami HD delivers just what it promises: it’s the classic game that everybody loves, now in crispier HD resolution. The images are cleaner and the colors are brighter than ever before, although the simplicity of the textures, the NPC models, and character moves give away that this is a production from two generations ago. However, it is worth mentioning that the graphic glitches from the PS3 version have been corrected on PS4, featuring seamless transitions in and out of battle areas. The most disappointing aspect might be that the game still runs on 30FPS, even if its performance is more stable now.
Okami HD is the best version of Hideki Kamiya’s unforgettable production. A combination of art and gameplay which appeals because of its stunning visual style and ground breaking interaction between players and the world of the game. Longtime fans will not find many new features apart from returning mini-games, better visuals, and a seamless graphic performance, but it is a specially good chance for new generations to discover one of the most unique video games of all time.