HD re-releases can be a funny beast sometimes. Capcom is no stranger to the format, having gone back and given some classic titles from last generation a serious graphic beef-up, both for good and for ill (did we really need a Jojo HD?). The publisher's latest attempt is with PS2 critical darling Okami, a game known for it's beautiful visuals and almost other worldly ink wash, cel-shaded style. Does Okami 's visual style hold up in HD?
Side note: This HD version of Okami also adds in Move support. I don't own a Move, though I imagine it would function much like the Wii version of Okami did. However, as I really can't do much else other then speculate, this review does not take those controls into account
For those not familiar with the original, a quick primer: 100 years ago, the land of Nippon, and more specifically Kamiki Village, was under the sway of 8-headed shadow bad ass Orochi, who, as is the case with all large dragon type monsters, likes to supplement his diet of evil with the occasional beautiful, young woman. Enter Shiranui and Nagi, a mystical white wolf and “the greatest warrior who ever lived.” They defeat Orochi and banish him inside the Moon Cave. Poor Shiranui dies in the process, forever to be remembered for his valor as a stone statue.
Now in the present, Amaterasu, a suspiciously familiar looking white wolf, shows up just in time for Orochi's reawakening, thanks to Susano, a relative of the great Nagi... and also self proclaimed “greatest warrior who ever lived.” Joined by Issun, a Poncle (read tinkerbell sized person) pervert with a penchant for pursuing pretty women, Ammy sets off on a journey to rid Nippon of evil.
Having never played the original, I was surprised by the depth of gameplay and a little taken aback by the breadth of story. While Ammy may control like an action-adventure protagonist (running, platforming, and fighting her way to a better tomorrow, today), Okami is a full on JRPG, complete with semi-random battles and an endless supply of dialog boxes, whose sole purpose seems to remind you constantly of the mission at hand and your reasons for completing it.
Combat is handled in real time. Ammy attacks with Divine Instruments (read weapons) or by using the Celestial Brush, the difference maker mechanic and what seperates Okami from other games of this kind. Freezing the world around you into a black ink wash painting, you control the Celestial Brush with the left stick and square button, using different brush strokes to produce varying effects. While satisfying, combat is rarely challenging, coming off as nothing more then a button-mash with the occasional brush stroke to combat an opponent's weak spot.
Outside of combat, the brush is also used for puzzle solving and exploration. It's also the primary method of getting praise, the game's xp mechanic. By feeding wayward animals and reviving portions of the world that have been driven into darkness, Ammy earns praise from the residents.. and the animals... and also the landscape, depending on what it is that you actually did. This xp can be used to increase Ammy's base stats, like HP and the amount of ink bottles available for use (each brush technique requires ink, which automatically refills after a refresh period).
Talk about an upgrade. When we didn't have HD, Okami was a beautiful game. It's cel-shading set it apart graphically from the rest of the games released in 2006, and while other games have used the technique to achieve some awesome results (I am a big fan of the cel look in Borderlands), I don't think any have come close to capturing Okami's spirit.
In HD, the majority of the game is breathtaking. The tonal differences between the muted cursed zones and the bright, almost cheery normal landscape really adds gravitas to the rescuing of the land from darkness. The color explosion when one of the Guardian Saplings is reawakened is a joy to watch, as color spreads from the center point of the tree and washes over everything in a wave of flowers and grass. I think the best effect by far is the blooming of the cherry blossoms. As this only happens when you rejuvenate dead trees, the visual payoff is well worth the action, even if it is the 400th tree you've revived.
There are a few uneven spots in the port. They mainly show up during cut scenes or the pre-rendered ink wash painting that introduce story concepts and monsters. These look like they were just up-rezzed rather then reworked for the HD port, showing as grainy rather then fresh and alive like the rest of the game.
I mentioned this game was a JRPG right. Having only ever heard of it by name, and having seen my step-son play it's sequel Okamiden on his DS, the 40+ hour gameplay time for a full complete (upgrading stats to max/new game+) was really quite a shock. With the Orochi fight coming in at about the 10 hour mark, I thought it was weird that the story was wrapping up so quickly when there were things having been mentioned in game that I had not seen yet. Little did I know that this was only the first third of the game.
I only mention this because this event seemed to color my time with Okami. I really liked the game, but most conversations about it generally started with “I didn't think it was going to be this long.” While certainly not (completely) the fault of the game, for anyone that is reading this having not played Okami before, this a long, involved game.
Getting past the length (did I mention it was long?) there is an awful lot to like. Exploration is well worth all the time you'll spend doing it, as there is always another secret to be uncovered, or slashed, or cherry bombed. In a very Metroid-esque move, things are often hidden in plain sight, stuck behind a barrier that can't be breached because you haven't learned how yet.
There were only two real sour points I can nit-pick. First is platforming. Ammy jumps... weird. When combined with the slightly awkward camera, this... weird jump could be difficult to land, especially when Okami wants you to land on small, precise areas, while also having to use the slow time brushstroke, while also knocking cannon balls out of the air.
Second is the dialog, specifically Issun's. I get that he's a horny Poncle teen/young adult, and that he likes girls, and that he's a tit man (who isn't, honestly) but holy crap, does he spend a lot of time oggling every named woman who makes an appearance in the story. I completely understand that Rao was given a set of DOA boobs, but really dude, you don't have to go on about them ad nauseum, and you don't have to start referring to her, to her face, as Busty Babe.
While Okami may never have sold the numbers it deserved, it was as worthy than, as it is now, of all the praise that was heaped on it. Upgraded visuals, and a stellar $19.99 price point added on to that already complete package makes this the version of Okami to own.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!