One of the most beautiful games in existence makes an HD return to the PlayStation. Thanks to the wonderful folks at Capcom, I got a chance to review this game. Does it stand up to memory? Is it still as good as before? Let me paint you a (verbal) picture of what I found.
To give a little background on things, Ōkami (which is actually a Japanese pun, since the word can be written as either 大神 meaning “great god”, or 狼 meaning “wolf”—this will become very very clear in a moment) was originally a PS2 game by a studio called Clover. It was one of the last great games to be published on the PS2 before the PS3 hit us. Reviewers absolutely LOVED the game, but it was one of those games that suffered for being a new IP at the end of a great console’s lifespan, and sadly, sales didn’t reflect the game’s true greatness. One of the chief criticisms of the game was that it would probably have been better on the new, Nintendo Wii console, or the older Nintendo DS. So a few years later, that’s precisely what Capcom did (Clover having closed up a few years prior), re-releasing the game for the Wii, and also releasing a sequel for the DS titled Ōkamiden. This brings you pretty much up to speed on the history of things, and also drops us right at the front door of this review! Wonderful! Let’s ring the doorbell, shall we? If you’ve played Ōkami before, feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.
Ōkami is a game set in Folklore Japan, and is about a great wolf goddess, Amaterasu, who also happens to be goddess of the sun. An eight-headed demon called Orochi darkens the face of the world, and it is up to Amaterasu and her friends to save the world using her godly powers. These powers manifest themselves in the form of the Celestial Brush, a paintbrush that you can use to directly influence the environment. The magical brush can do a lot of things, from making the sun rise, to fixing broken things, to controlling the elements (wind, fire, water, wood, you name it). Amaterasu’s vocal proxy is an inch-high companion called Issun, who does all the speaking for the wolfy goddess. Throughout the game, Amaterasu fights off various Japanese Folkloric demons, and these are found wandering freely in the environment. In a nice enough touch, you can choose to engage or not; there’s no penalty for avoiding battle. In fact, there’s no experience points for fighting demons–you gain “praise” (essentially experience points) for doing good.
If I had to choose another game that describes the style of gameplay, I’d choose The Legend of Zelda: it features the same sorts of environments, the same “come back to an old region to find new stuff with new tools” kind of gameplay mechanic, and a very similar overall feel in terms of the way the game plays. Make no mistake, though: this isn’t Zelda.
I’ll explain. In Ōkami, your acts as a god actually show: you feed hungry animals, make miracles happen, and so on. And the denizens of the game world are truly grateful to you for your actions even if they’re not aware that they’re the work of your magical brush. In fact, even the trees will give you praise for bringing them back to life. There’s definitely something to be said for bringing good to the world. In fact, the best parts of the game are when you’ve cleared a region of evil. There’s a certain thrill that runs down my back every time the flowers rush through the area with the splashes of water and leaves, and the place comes back to life. Frisson, I believe the word is.
So, to the new version. Ōkami HD is obviously the remake of the game with HD textures, graphics, and sound. The screenshot above is a direct comparison between the PS2 and PS3 versions. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is better, but I also will say that if you choose the PS2 version, you need to have your eyes checked. Ōkami HD is also a combination of the PS2 and Wii versions in that it also includes support for the PS Move controller. I tested both control methods out to see which was better. I’m probably an old-schooler, but my definite preference was for the Dualshock3 over the Move. For instance, it was harder to draw the power slashes (which requires a straight line), but easier to draw the circles with the Move. Using the Move made it somewhat frustrating for me personally; being the control freak that I am, I like to point the camera where I like. The Move controller makes that a little difficult. Thankfully, you’re not bound by either control mechanism, so feel free to pick and choose at your own leisure. Newer gamers might prefer the Move controller, given how much drawing you need to do.
So what is different between the various versions? Well, better looking graphics aside, not much, really. There’s a hidden minigame in the PS2 version that never made it over to either the Wii version or the PS3 HD version, but it’s such a minor thing that it’s actually hardly worth mentioning. The new HD version supports trophies, which is a nice touch. And of course, the fact that the game has such a unique art style ensures that it doesn’t look as dated as some HD remakes we’ve seen lately (Sly Cooper being one massive culprit here).
Ōkami is one of those rare games that seems to have little to no flaws. I’m not going to lie here: Ōkami is one of my favourite games of all time, and it’s one of those games that I wish had gotten more press and exposure—it’s seriously that good. It’s better than Legend of Zelda (all of them), more epic than Gears of War, more beautiful than Journey, more meaningful than Bioshock, more charming than Katamari Damacy, and just simply more fun than just about anything I’ve ever played. Honestly, you have to play it to understand. The biggest flaw of the new HD version? Its file size. Being a download-only game is great, but it clocks in at a mid-sized 6GB—fine for overseas audiences, but a mite troublesome for most South African gamers.
My verdict: I could rave about Ōkami all day. The only time I’ve felt the kind of sadness I did at finishing Ōkami was when finishing some of my most beloved books. I fell completely in love with Ōkami, and I’m dead certain you will too. The most amazing underdog of games needs your love and support. Trust me, this is one game that will not disappoint on ANY front—except maybe that, like any good book, the story comes to a close eventually. And so too, with that, does this review.
Final Score: Probably the only 10 sumi-e prawns out of 10 that I will ever award a game.
Developer: Clover Studios
HD Port: HexaDrive and Capcom
Platform: PS3 via PSN