Confession time: I never got to experience the critically acclaimed wonder that is Okami. I didn't know what it was about or what the gameplay even looked like. With Okami HD, I was entering a whole new world. What I did know was that renowned video game director and designer Hideki Kamiya worked on this title. (Kamiya is responsible for a couple of my favorite games of all time, Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.) I'm currently 14 hours deep into this adventure, and all I've been asking myself is what took me so long.
Paint, Fight and Grow Flowers
Allow me to paint a picture for you (pun intended): You play the part of Ōkami Amaterasu, the sun goddess in the form of a white wolf. I first met the goddess as she woke up to a world that was once again in peril, only to see her take a nap during the exposition. At that moment, I knew I would love this game.
For those as out-of-the-loop as I was, Okami HD takes you on a hack-and-slash adventure across the islands of Nippon (Japan). You're tasked with slaying the eight-headed demon Orochi and rejuvenating life in the land. What's unique to Okami is the Celestial Brush mechanic, which allows you to pull up a canvas and employ specific brushstrokes that activate attacks like the Power Slash or abilities such as Sunrise and Crescent that change the time of day.
Although the combat isn't that hard, the diversity of attacks kept me on my toes, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it.
You can also combine different weapons as a creative way to spice up the combat. Each weapon has more than one function: a main and sub weapon. For example, Divine Retribution is a shield that acts as a brawler-type weapon when it's in the main slot. But when it's in the sub slot, it can be used to deflect attacks. It was a great change of pace when I chose Devout Beads (a whip) as my main weapon and Divine Retribution as my sub. When I wasn't literally whipping everyone into submission, I used my sub to juggle attackers in the air, then follow up by dive-bombing them into the dirt. It's pretty awesome.
Although the combat isn't that hard, the diversity of attacks kept me on my toes, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it. But in order to give myself a bit of a challenge, I didn't buy upgrades, keeping the game as hard as possible, because "edgy."
A Wholesome Adventure
While combat is an essential part of this game, I found myself exploring Okami's open maps quite often, especially because there's plenty to do, like sniff out treasure and grow flowers in plagued areas to get experience. There are plenty of side-quests and hidden secrets to discover, which bump up the immersion factor.
In many ways, this game reminds me of the Legend of Zelda series, with its great story and adventure. But Okami also reminds me of Zelda in the bad ways, like Issun (Amaterasu's companion) screaming in my ear almost as much as Navi did about obvious objectives.
I found myself exploring Okami's open maps quite often, especially because there's plenty of side-quests to do and hidden secrets to discover, which bump up the immersion factor.
However, Issun can share some really profound stuff, like when he said, "There's not much separating a boy from a man. They grow up before you know it and accomplish great things." He said that to Kokari, a child who eventually racked up the courage to attempt to save his dog from a monster. The point of the quest was to prove to the boy that he could do more than he thought he could.
The best part about quests like these is that Amaterasu never takes credit for any of it. The sun goddess shines rays of hope onto the people of Nippon and gives them purpose in life. This is even the case with particularly hopeless people like Susano, a would-be hero to whom Amaterasu gives little nudges throughout the story.
It's Perfect for the Switch, but…
It's as if the brush mechanic was made specifically for the Nintendo Switch. Touch-screen painting in handheld mode is an incredibly innovative way to enhance the fluidity of gameplay in Okami, letting you paint without pulling up your canvas first. However, while the repurposed mechanic itself is a great idea, there are some hiccups that suggest the game wasn't fully designed for the Switch.
The touch screen is very exacting. When I wanted to strike with a Power Slash, which is performed by drawing a straight horizontal line, it had to be perfect. One little smudge at the end of my brush or a deviation in the line nullified my attack. And when I attempted to correct a sloppy brush by drawing another one next to it, it was also nullified, because the canvas won't accept two inputs. This got frustrating, because my finger occasionally slipped and created a small brushstroke next to my intentional attack. There is, however, a Celestial Brush called Ink Bullet that allows multiple brush inputs for an attack, which helped manage this issue.
While it's a great concept, using the touch screen for combat requires more effort than simply spamming attacks. And as for the motion-control painting in TV mode … just stay far away.
Another note: How, in all of Okami's remasters on five different platforms, has Capcom never fixed this nauseating motion blur? Even Steam user Kaldaien came up with a fix on the PC version. Whatever the reason for keeping the jarring effect in the game, there should at least be a "disable" option. The only way I was able to bear it was by playing in handheld mode. It's supposed to be "HD," Capcom, so fix it! Oh, and if you don't mind, give me some adjustable settings to cure that slow camera pan too, thanks. It's kind of hard to fight when I'm waiting for my camera to turn 180 degrees toward the enemy.
Let the Sun Goddess Shine This Beauty Upon You
Motion blur complaints aside, Okami's watercolor art style is absolutely breathtaking. It makes everything seem so lively, which is quite impressive for a 12-year-old game. The sound design flows nicely, too, in a creative, charming way that's reminiscent of watching a Studio Ghibli film. I experienced this when I rejuvenated Shinshu Field; the vibrant, blue water exploded across the land like an army of racing dolphins, and the leaves created a cyclone of color in the sky, all while being scored by a majestic, classical Japanese tune.
Okami is also clever about manipulating sound to give bland jokes some real flair. Some memorable moments involved Susano boasting about his secret training ground, as he let slip, "It's the perfect place to hide — Er … I mean, to train!" This had me rolling, because the music suddenly stopped at the dash, and Amaterasu inched her head forward with the best "are you for real?" face possible.
The art style and sound design flow nicely in a creative, charming way that's reminiscent of watching a Studio Ghibli film.
Beauty? Check. Comedy? Check. Suspense? Oh, hell yeah. Upon entering a long hallway scattered with dimly lit candles, I heard the soft, ominous strumming of a stringed instrument. The strumming intensified the farther I ran, and when I came through the archway, I was greeted with a wide-open staircase just as more instruments tuned into the threatening overture. When I attempted to open the door at the top, Issun asked, "Are we ready?" And oh boy, I was not. Don't let this gorgeous art fool you; that room harbored pure nightmare fuel: the Spider Queen herself and her horrifying lack of facial appendages.
Kamiya knows how to develop awesome build-up and craft a magical sensation in every scene. I think that's why this game is so beloved, because it was crafted with purpose.
Okami has me wrapped around its finger. Every time I turn the game on, the melodic tune coaxes out an intense feeling of nostalgia despite never having played it before. The art style is magnificent, the world is immersive, the story is just so damn pleasant, and the combat and brush mechanics make everything that much more interesting.
While it's unlikely, I desperately hope for sequel directly from Kamiya-san, because after I finally finish Okami HD, I know I'm just going to curl up into a ball of depression for several weeks. I want a brand-new epic adventure with all-new, ramped-up visuals. (And no motion blur please. Thanks, Capcom.)