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Gaming Review

'Okami HD' review (PSN): Third time's a charm for a living work of art

By
Released on Tuesday, Oct 30 2012

'Okami HD' announcement screenshot

© Capcom


Release Date: October 30 (North America), October 31 (Europe)
Platforms available on: PlayStation Network (formally Wii, PS2)
Price: £15.99 / $19.99
Developer: Hexa Drive
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Action adventure

While a cynic can easily attribute the wealth of recent HD remakes to corporate greed, it is difficult to make the same argument with Okami HD. Critically considered the crowning achievement of defunct studio Clover (which has since re-formed as Platinum Games), the gorgeous adventure game failed to match sales expectations when it first appeared on the PlayStation 2 in 2006. A Wii release in 2008 fared similarly, earning Okami the dubious honor of the Guinness World Record for "least commercially successful winner of a game of the year award".

And yet, here we are again, with Okami HD gracing PlayStation 3 as a PSN download. Clearly, someone at Capcom must really like Okami, and with the chance to finally replay it again after all these years, it is easy to see why.

'Okami HD' screenshot
Okami HD is loosely based on Japanese Shinto mythology, putting players in the paws of sun goddess-turned-wolf Amaterasu. 100 years after Amaterasu helped seal away the eight-headed demon Orochi, the demon's seal is weakening and the sun goddess must return to earth to stop him.

While the story's setup is as standard as they come, the execution is pitch-perfect tale with one of the most endearing supporting casts to ever grace a game. From Amaterasu's diminutive but plucky companion Issun to the lovably inept warrior Susano and the inexplicably French-speaking demon hunter Waka, every character is absolutely bursting with personality.

And while the eccentric personalities are often played off of one another for comical effect, taking full advantage of the fact that as a wolf Amaterasu can't speak, they can also change to a believably somber tone when necessary without breaking from character. It is a delicate balance, and one where Okami HD still exceeds its genre peers, even now six years after it first released.

It is impossible to discuss Okami HD without making special mention of its visuals. The game has aged considerably better than any other HD remake due to its unique watercolour world. Bold character outlines that flow like freshly drawn calligraphy mimic a Japanese sumi-e scroll come to life. While some older games can suffer from muddy textures when brought into HD, Okami HD's stylised graphics look as good as ever with the upgrade.


Capcom has also brought back the rice paper filter, a graphical effect missing from the Wii version that gave a paper-like texture to the entire game world. The effect can even be adjusted, letting players choose between different textures. Okami was already one of the best looking games in the PS2's library, and now with a fresh HD coat of paint it can stand toe-to-toe with the best graphics in the PS3's game lineup.

The watercolour art style isn't just for show either, as Amaterasu's divine ability is to manipulate the world with the celestial paintbrush. Holding a shoulder trigger flattens the world into a literal rice paper scroll, letting you paint on the landscape using the left analogue stick. Throughout the game Amaterasu will learn brushstrokes granting new abilities, ranging from painting to restore a broken bridge to drawing bombs, vines to swing on, or streams of water to put out fires.

Okami HD follows the formula of games like those in The Legend of Zelda series, as the game flows between expansive fields, intimate towns and puzzle-filled dungeons. Capcom's game has arguable even surpassed Nintendo in some regards, as these three elements blend seamlessly together. Dungeons seldom make themselves known immediately, and so the shifts are much more subtle.

'Okami HD' announcement screenshot
The result is that players approach all areas with the same sense of wonder and curiosity, looking to the environment for the next area to explore rather than just the next puzzle solution. All the while Amaterasu's growing arsenal of brushstrokes can open new areas and invite you to look at old ones in a new light.

There is, of course, more traditional combat as well. Encountering an enemy sets off a flurry of taiko drumbeats as Amaterasu attacks with three distinct weapon types. Each weapon can be equipped either as a primary or sub-weapon, providing unique abilities in either role. For example, as a primary weapon mirrors perform fast strikes and beads build high combos against individual foes.

However, in a secondary role mirrors become a defensive shield and beads act as a ranged projectile attack. There is a lot of depth to be found in mixing weapon combinations, and even many of the brushstrokes can find a secondary purpose in combat.

With the Wii version of Okami, Capcom let players use the Wii remote to guide the celestial brush. That feature carries over in Okami HD for those who have a PlayStation Move controller. And while the Wii remote controls were hampered by using shakes of the controller to attack, the PlayStation Move's full button layout allows you to still use traditional button presses for attacks.


There are two notable quirks with using the Move though. To dodge in combat, which is performed with a trigger on the standard controller, has been remapped to shaking the Move controller. You can still control the direction of your dodge with the left analogue stick, so no accuracy is lost, but waggle-averse gamers should take note.

The more concerning issue is trying to control the camera while using the Move controller. The camera is remapped to the D-pad since there is no longer a right analogue stick, and it makes for a poor substitute since it prevents you from moving and adjusting the camera at the same time. Due to the camera issues with the Move, most players will probably decide to stick with a regular PS3 controller, even if using Move for the celestial paintbrush turns out to be a lot more fun.

'Okami HD' announcement screenshot
There has been a lot of praise for Okami HD in this review, but the game does have its faults. Okami HD is a long game, easily spanning 40 or more hours for a first playthrough. However, there are multiple distinct story arcs, each with its own beginning, middle and end.

Each story arc is excellent in its own right, however, there is an odd feeling of downtime immediately after completing one and before picking up the scent of the next. If Okami HD were a television series, it would span several seasons, including the experience of waiting impatiently for the next season to arrive during the show's several month break.

The downtime is more jarring than actually being bad, but in a game that otherwise has such finely tuned pacing, the lulls in the story stand out as all the more noticeable.

The other standout detriment is the game's boss battles, which are few and far between and when they do happen they repeat the same bosses multiple times. The repeated boss encounters aren't actually bad battles, and make good use of the celestial brush abilities, but it is far less satisfying to defeat a boss using the exact same skills and attack patterns a second time.

In the grand scheme of the game though, these issues are minor. Okami HD is a triumph in game design, visual style and characterisation, and one made all the more beautiful with the higher resolution. This is, without question, the definitive version of Okami.

It is actually a little sad to play Okami HD again after so many years. Well, playing Okami HD is a joyous experience, but it is sad to see that after six years it is still one of the best examples of its genre. Okami HD is fantastic, and hopefully this re-release will inspire a new generation of game designers to play, enjoy and then scoff, "Ha, I bet I could do better".

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