|Platforms||PlayStation 3/4; PC; Xbox One; Nintendo Switch (reviewed)|
|Release Date||October 30, 2012 (PS3); December 12, 2017 (PC); December 21, 2017 (PS4/Xbox One); August 9, 2018 (Nintendo Switch)|
Life isn’t fair, is it? Sometimes, your ice cream falls off the cone. Sometimes, you fail the test you studied ages for. And sometimes, your incredibly unique and creative take on the video game market flops commercially even when it receives critical acclaim.
What? That’s never happened to you?
Well it sure happened to Clover Studios back in 2006. Okami, originally published for the PlayStation 2 and later the Wii, was a commercial flop when it first released, despite such acclaim as winning IGN’s Best Overall Adventure Game from E3 2006. Over the years, it’s developed a cult following, so much so that it received the pinnacle of honor to a cult classic: an HD re-release. Okami HD was released for the PlayStation 3 in 2012, Xbox One and PS4 in 2017, the Nintendo Switch in 2018, and apparently, Amazon Luna in 2022. With all those ports, it’d be easy to think Okami HD is something special. And, to put it quite bluntly, you’d be very right.
Violence: Amaterasu battles demons with weapons like shields, reflectors, and beads that act as whips. You can blow up enemies and environments with bombs. There is no bloodshed. An elderly woman threatens to kill and eat Amaterasu, wielding a large cartoony knife.
Language/Crude Humor: Several usages of words like “heck” and “darn.” Dog enemies attack you by urinating on you.
Sexual Content: Some female character designs focus on cleavage and rear ends, with slight “jiggle physics.” One female character is shown in underwear briefly. One character makes a comment about spending time in someone’s kimono, though this is meant literally, not an innuendo. Later on, a character mentions “nighttime pleasures.”
Drug/Alcohol Content: Characters drink sake, and one character makes a living off of brewing it. Amaterasu can drink sake as a powerup. Some characters show signs of intoxication after drinking.
Spiritual Content: The entire game focuses on conflicts between gods and demons. Amaterasu is the sun goddess, and characters make frequent mention of this fact. You will meet various other lesser gods, and you will fight demons that take several forms, including imps and ogres. Items to fight these demons include things such as exorcism slips with prayers on them, though these prayers are never explicitly read or heard. There are mentions of fortune telling and bone reading. You collect Praise for doing various tasks, which is used to upgrade abilities.
Other Negative Elements: Issun, a major character, makes frequent comments objectifying women and disrespecting most people you come in contact with, and is rarely, if ever, confronted about it.
Positive Elements: The game encourages helping everyday people in their tasks. There are lessons about facing responsibility even when afraid, and standing for what’s right in the face of evil.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Okami when I first bought it. I knew the game’s main draw was its beautiful art style, which is based off ink wash paintings. And there is no denying that this is where the game truly shines. Every environment is wonderfully colorful and vibrant, with dark strokes making every object and ledge pop. The entire game feels like it’s leaping off the screen. But beyond the art style, I was absolutely charmed by the overall design of the game. The main areas are laid out in such a way that it’s easy to keep track of where you are and just run and explore. It somehow hits a blend between feeling open enough to encourage exploration, but focused enough to keep the player from getting lost. Combine this with the snappy and kinetic controls, and exploring this ink painting is a blast before you even get out of Kamiki Village.
The character designs are also incredibly creative. Each character has an overall motif, going from their physical characteristics, to their clothes, and beyond. I want to give a special shout out to Onigiri Sensei, who appears to be a tired old man when you first meet him. However, after shelling out the training fee, his head literally turns upside down, turning his droopy mustache into a pair of long, angry eyebrows, and his previously short stubby eyebrows are now a pointy mustache, turning him from a droopy old geezer to a strapping warrior.
I also love the way the game leans into Japanese culture so unabashedly. The game’s story borrows heavily from Japanese myths and legends, as well as overall Japanese culture. The way the game embraces its cultural identity so strongly makes it that much more of a unique experience. One of my personal favorite moments is when I realized that the giant statue in the Tsuta Ruins was a shakōkidogū, which are some of Japan’s most famous relics. In fact, the statues are so famous, that, if you’re a Pokémon fan, you might find the statue familiar for a different reason.
I haven’t played the original, but I can only imagine that, of all the HD remasters to come out in the past few years, Okami benefits the most. The game has a paper filter to make every scene look like it’s being painted right before your eyes, and being able to see everything in HD makes the whole experience a joy.
But as beautiful as the game is, none of that means much if the gameplay doesn’t hold up. So how exactly does Okami play? Well, Okami is actually a Zelda-like, complete with the gameplay being separated into three main styles: exploration, combat, and dungeon exploring.
I’ve already touched a little on the overall exploration when talking about art style, but to go a little more in-depth, you’ll find yourself in various villages and stretches of land between them on your journey. Each of these areas is filled with people to help and treasures to find. You do this by platforming and using your Celestial Brush to assist the townsfolk.
The platforming controls are, without exaggeration, some of the best in any game I’ve played. Amaterasu’s movements are snappy and precise, and it’s easy to predict jumps to get anywhere you need to go. The wall jump activates automatically when you jump into a wall, making accessing higher areas a breeze as well. Combine this with an absolute boatload of collectibles, and you’ll find yourself tripping over secrets and treasures without really meaning to. But, if you’re willing to put in the effort, there’s a lot more hiding behind the scenes of every area for you to dig up, sometimes literally.
The Celestial Brush is probably Okami’s most unique gameplay mechanic. At any point, you can freeze time, and the world is shown on a piece of parchment. You’re then able to paint various shapes onto the parchment to affect the world. You can attack enemies, bring out the sun, make trees and flowers bloom, and even summon a giant cherry bomb to reveal hidden passageways. The Celestial Brush movements all affect the world differently, and they make for truly unique and fun environmental puzzles. You unlock more brush techniques as you proceed on your adventure, which means backtracking to old areas is never a waste of time, as you’re likely to have an ability you need to unlock a secret that you didn’t have the first time around.
In the Switch port, you control the Celestial Brush in two different ways, either with stick controls or motion controls. The game defaults to stick controls, and these work fine enough, even if they are a little stiff. But Okami has done the impossible, and has provided me with a motion option that I actually prefer to the button controls. Swapping to motion controls gives you the ability to move the JoyCon like a paintbrush to activate your powers, and this control scheme is just chef’s kiss. The movement is one to one, and it’s extremely satisfying to line up enemies and cut through them with a well-placed ink slash.
The only complaint I have about the Celestial Brush is that it can be a little picky on the shapes you draw. There were several times I was trying to use the Bloom effect on a tree, but if you don’t have it lined up just right, it won’t work. Other times, I was trying to slash enemies in battle, but the game just didn’t register my swipe for some reason. Thankfully, you don’t use any ink if the effect doesn’t activate, so I wasn’t stuck wasting all my ink. But there were some times I missed out on end-of-battle bonuses because my gesture wasn’t recognized, and it happened often enough to be a fairly major irritant.
The combat combines the acrobatics and Celestial Brush of the exploration, but recontexualizes it in a really fun way. As you explore, you’ll come across floating scrolls called Demon Scrolls. If you touch one of these, a magical barrier will appear, locking you in with a small group of demons to fight. Or rather, they’re locked in with you. Amaterasu is a demon-slaying machine, equipped with weapons, sub-weapons, and her Celestial Brush to take out hordes of enemies. You can chain attacks together into combos, and use your Celestial Brush to break enemy guards or keep a combo going. Combine this with the snappy and acrobatic movement, and these battles become some of the most engaging combat scenarios I’ve ever played, even if they are a little easy.
As you go, you’ll unlock different weapons with different effects, and what’s more, each weapon has an entirely different characteristic when equipped as a sub-weapon. This means that there are dozens of combinations to try out as you fight, fitting just about any playstyle.
And finally, there are the dungeons. These follow the same basic premise as the larger exploration segments, but in close-quarters dungeons. This is where the game feels most Zelda-like, in all the best ways. You’ll need to solve environmental puzzles to make it through, and the dungeons are full of cleverly-hidden secrets for you to use your Celestial Brush on. If you don’t keep a sharp eye out, you will absolutely miss a few secrets your first time through. Finding these secrets is incredibly fun and satisfying, and crucially, the game never crosses the line into frustrating or irritating. It keeps the pace brisk while not just handing everything to you on a silver platter.
Honestly, the only other major complaint I have is with one of the characters: Issun. Issun is your companion throughout the game, and he’s honestly one of my least favorite characters in just about any game. He’s brash, arrogant, loud-mouthed, crude, and downright creepy toward women. He makes a pass at every female character you meet, makes comments like “I wonder how she’ll thank us!” when talking about finishing a quest for a princess, and is overall pretty insufferable. I’m not sure why they thought this personality was a good fit for the character that does the most talking in the game, but I couldn’t stand him.
If it sounds like I’ve been gushing, it’s because I definitely have. This game is pure joy to me, from its art to its gameplay and everything in between. It’s one thing to make a unique-looking game, but to follow it up with addicting gameplay like this is a true rarity. And, with being able to take it on the go on the Switch, I think the best time to play Okami is now.
I think the biggest thing for a Christian to consider with Okami is the way it treats gods and demons. The game leans heavily into Japanese mythology, which means there is a definite sense of spirituality throughout the entire game. In addition, it’s very flippant with its mentions of gods, demons, and demonic powers. However, its portrayal of said demons is closer to that of animal-like creatures than any sort of fallen angel. That sort of content doesn’t bother me, but if you are sensitive to spiritual content in games, then I would caution you away from Okami.
However, if that is not an issue for you, and you still haven’t tried Okami, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. It truly does have something for everyone, and it’s so easy to get lost in this beautiful ink-splash world. It comes with one of my highest recommendations.
The Bottom Line
Okami HD offers one of the most unique experiences available in gaming, with gorgeous stylized visuals backed up by addicting and snappy gameplay. It is an absolute joy to play.
Leave a Reply