Okami HD review: Amaterasu returns, more beautiful than ever

Okami-HD reviewIn 2006 Capcom published a PlayStation 2 game developed by Clover Studio called Okami. Though it was one of the last games released for Sony’s best-selling console, Okami was an ambitious project. At that time Clover was known solely for the stylish beat ’em up series Viewtiful Joe, but with Okami it hoped to marry Japanese mythology and historical art styles with modern gameplay concepts to create a sprawling, epic adventure. As reviews published around the time of the game’s launch will attest, Clover was wildly successful. Critics seemed to unanimously agree that Okami was a masterpiece. Despite all this positive press though, Okami never sold very well. Clover Studio was shuttered by Capcom after releasing only one more game.

I offer this history lesson not just to educate you all on the history behind the game I’m reviewing today, but also so that I can publicly apologize for not having purchased Okami when it debuted. I probably didn’t directly cause Capcom to close Clover down, but after having finally experienced this modern classic I can’t help but feel guilty about how the whole situation panned out.

Okami HDAs with the original Okami, Okami HD tells the story of a world threatened by the demonic hydra Orochi. The opening describes a legend of a white wolf protecting a Japanese village from Orochi at the cost of her own life. Of course, this being mythology, eventually Orochi returns to menace the world again and the wolf reappears to once again defend humanity. Trust me, that introduction sounds a lot better when presented in front of gorgeously stylized sumi-e imagery. By the time you’re actually given control of Amaterasu (that’s the wolf’s name; she’s a Shinto sun goddess), not only does it make perfect sense that you’re now running around as a white wolf with a flaming disk on her back, you’re also absolutely primed to explore this new world and find some way to stop Orochi.

Old Dog, New Tricks

While Okami has always been a gorgeous game, it was released more than half a decade ago on a console now considered “last gen.” Thus, as we’ve seen in other recent high definition remakes like the Ico & Shadow Of The Colossus Collection, Okami had to be equipped with new, modern features that simply didn’t exist when it was initially developed. These new accoutrements include the standard things you see in all PlayStation Network releases (like Trophy support) but the two most important additions to the game are definitely its new high-definition graphics and Okami HD’s support for Sony’s Move peripheral.

Retrofitting older games with high definition graphics isn’t anything new. Unfortunately, it’s also rarely as impressive as you might hope. Most developers, when converting a PlayStation 2 title to the increased graphical specs of the PlayStation 3, simply boost a game’s resolution, which is helpful but does nothing to improve the textures used in the game that were originally created at the lower PlayStation 2 resolution. Actually, the increased resolution can often highlight these shortcomings, making an HD version less attractive than its original iteration. To Capcom’s benefit though, the sumi-e art style used throughout Okami almost completely masks any glaring issues that would instantly give Okami HD away as a PlayStation 2 title. I won’t say that Okami HD looks good compared to the other big-name releases hitting store shelves this year, but it could very easily pass as an Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 title from as recently as two years ago. If you’ve never played Okami before, know that Okami HD is gorgeous. If you have played Okami before, you already know that the game is gorgeous, but trust that the high definition improvements are even better than you might have hoped.

Unlike the newly improved graphics, I’m of two minds on the implementation of Move support in Okami HD. The Move support itself works perfectly. Controlling the Celestial Brush (long story short: Amaterasu can alter reality by painting on it; this is one of the core game mechanics in Okami) is quite simple with the Move, as long as you have the system set up correctly. Although Okami was developed long before Move, the Celestial Brush mechanic just so happens to perfectly suit Move. It’s quite comfortable to use the Move controllers during gameplay, the motion control is as intuitive as you could possibly want it to be, and if you prefer not to use it, the feature is never forced on you.

Okami HD

Despite its impressive functionality though, I just can’t see why anyone would ever want to play through the entirety of Okami HD using those day-glo wands. I played the game for a few hours using Move and while I will admit that the addition has some novelty at first, it quickly made me wonder why I was flailing my limbs when it was far more comfortable and familiar to perform the same actions via a traditional controller. It’s sad that I have to criticize a game for a feature that absolutely works, but in this case Move is, at best, a gimmick with very niche appeal.

A Link To The Past

Beyond those new additions, Okami HD features the same classic gameplay found in its predecessor. And, it should be said, in all of Nintendo’s recent Legend Of Zelda games. 

It’s never been much of a secret that Okami’s gameplay was directly inspired by and/or an homage to Nintendo’s franchise. Okami HD features essentially identical gameplay to its predecessor, so the Legend Of Zelda influences are also prominent in this game. As in the modern, 3D Legend Of Zelda titles Okami is largely an adventure focused on whimsical fantasy, acquiring new abilities to enter new areas and getting to know the eccentric locals you meet in your journey. Combat is real-time but relatively simple (the Celestial Brush doesn’t complicate battles as much as you’d expect), the story is alternately epic and humorous, and enemies are suitably puny/impressive/horrifying as the situation dictates.

Normally I’d slam a developer for so blatantly lifting design cues from another developer, but if you have to swipe ideas you may as well swipe from the best. Plus, the results speak for themselves: Okami is a thrilling adventure that is not only inspired by The Legend Of Zelda, but also stands alongside some of its best entries in terms of sheer entertainment value. Since it’s anyone’s guess when Nintendo might release a proper Legend Of Zelda sequel on the Wii U, Okami HD is the best way for fans to get their action-adventure fix.

Okami HDConclusion

Subjectively I want to give Okami HD a perfect score. Not because of my latent guilt over the closure of Clover Studio, but because the firm’s biggest game was also a gorgeous, engaging adventure that is only improved by the thick coat of polish seen in Okami HD. That the game is being sold for $20 as a convenient digital download only improves the already fantastic offerings here.

Objectively though, as I said, while Okami looks great it’s not quite up to modern standards. Graphics certainly aren’t everything, but there are a few other issues caused by the game’s age. They’re minor to be sure (save points are occasionally too scarce, controlling the camera with the right stick takes a bit of getting used to), and are certainly just the result of game design conventions gradually changing over time, but taken as a whole these issues prevent Okami HD from earning a perfect score.

Still, I can’t recommend this game more highly. $20 is a phenomenal bargain for the grand adventure that is Okami HD.

Score: 9/10

(This review was written using a downloadable copy of Okami HD provided by Capcom.)

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