Last generation, Okami exuded fantastic artistic sentiment and distinct originality. It featured an innovative gameplay mechanic, an achingly beautiful world filled with awe and wonder, and a presentation that was nigh-on unparalleled. Only the likes of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus could compete with the ingenious “painting quest” that so many adored. And now it has returned with a brilliant high-definition update and it’s just as charming and spellbinding as ever.
The new 1080p overhaul makes the game’s unbelievable design shine; these visuals demand recognition and appreciation. This is a stunning palette and really, much of it relies on the precise allotment of color, shading and hue, and the simplicity of broadly drawn brushstrokes. It has a watercolor style and sensibility and because part of the gameplay involves altering the graphics, it’s as if the visual aspect of the adventure becomes interactive. The Celestial Brush allows you to become a virtual artist and this, combined with the existing beauty of the highly accomplished designers, results in a singularly exquisite feast for the eyes.
Subtly bolstered by a haunting, supremely well presented score, Okami resonates. This isn’t about jarring your speakers or pushing you back in your seat; rather, this is about a meticulously created set of musical pieces that envelop and enhance. The soundtrack washes over you, never dominating but always assisting. The effects are much like the visual presentation, in that they are understated yet effective. It’s the combination of the painstakingly created technical features that makes this game so damn impressive on a number of levels, and those with even minimal artistic sensibilities will respect such an achievement.
An ancient evil has awakened and threatens to ravage a gorgeous landscape, which is reminiscent of rural Japan. The hero is perhaps unexpected: The sun goddess Amaterasu, who takes on the form of a white wolf and attacks the spreading corruption with a flick of her well-trained wrist…or paw. You are tasked with restoring peace and harmony, which is a noble pursuit that requires a noble approach. Essentially, you will utilize the aforementioned Celestial Brush to magically regenerate and redesign, to restore the enchanting allure of a threatened world. And it’s not just about drawing or painting; it isn’t quite that simple.
In addition, you will have puzzles to solve that require creativity and ingenuity. In some cases, you’ll have to make a path for Amaterasu, which might require repairing a dilapidated bridge or drawing a connecting line that opens up more of the environment. With 13 Brush techniques to acquire, the core concept never seems to get tiresome, despite the relative ease of progress. As you advance, you can explore and search for treasure, which gives this linear adventure a surprisingly open-ended feel at times. Toss in the consistently compelling atmosphere, and you’ve got a mesmerizing quest within an ever-changing landscape.
When the game first arrived on the scene, some said the combat was too simple and not well defined. They said it was too easy and some even said it detracted from the adventure’s inherent beauty, just because it felt a little blasé and repetitive. After all, you can’t do too much with the Brush, although it can become a sword or a machine gun that fires effective ink bullets. Now, to be fair, such complaints are legitimate…but only if you’re not continually enraptured by everything going on around you, and only if you actually find the battles unfulfilling. I wouldn’t say they’re invigorating, but they’re far from unsatisfying.
From a personal standpoint, I would like to point out one element of this game that hasn’t received enough recognition. There’s a certain…whimsy. It’d be a mistake to read this – or any – review and emerge with the idea that Okami is slow, ponderous, and overly serious. In fact, despite the wondrous artistic direction and the obvious fact that the developers took their jobs quite seriously, this adventure is infused with critical lightheartedness and charm. There’s plenty of humor, which is often amplified by your odd yet always entertaining sidekick, Issun. He constantly reminds us that we should be smiling when playing.
But getting back to the gameplay, if one could claim that the Brush can sometimes feel a bit too simple, that possible flaw is tempered by excellent variety. Instead of covering this in the graphics analysis above, I saved it for the gameplay portion because it plays such a huge role in the overall experience. There are so many different places to go, so many highly imaginative things to see, so many radiant, ravishing scenes that involve you in the adventure. And why is this so important? Because unlike so many newer games, this is a quest that can take around 20 hours if you wish to see and do everything.
Yes, there was a time when designers couldn’t rely on the lure of multiplayer to increase the longevity of game; they actually had to keep creating new and amazing content to keep us playing. So while nothing about this game is particularly challenging, the size and general allure keeps us coming back for more. This all being said, one should confess to a few clear failings: For instance, the camera wasn’t perfect then and isn’t perfect now, and I’m still not the biggest fan of the actual story. It just never struck me as being as accomplished as the game itself, although I know many will disagree. Oh, and the visual display isn’t without flaws, either, as pop-in is a lingering drawback from the PS2 days.
That aside, Okami HD is an example of innovative interactive mastery. It’s a little too easy and the Brush mechanic can feel a tad limited and even repetitive, but the entire production emits nothing but warm, soothing vibes. It’s sublime, even ravishing. It’s accessible so absolutely anyone can indulge and appreciate. The HD update adds another layer of gloss, the control remains mostly solid and reliable, the world is tantalizing and incredibly well drawn, the adventure is nicely paced, and there’s a ton of content. I’m not sure what else one could want. If you’re looking for a break from the current blockbusters, pull a 180 and take a walk on the more elegant, more cultured side. You can thank me later.
The Good: Stunning, resplendent graphics. Beautiful world design. Fantastic, fitting soundtrack. Responsive, accessible control. The Celestial Brush is a great mechanical innovation. Large amount of content. Charming from top to bottom.
The Bad: Combat can feel overly simplified. Camera remains a little iffy. Lingering pop-in issues.
The Ugly: “Right. That’s like trying to find ‘ugly’ in The Louvre.”