Okami HD (PlayStation 4) review
"Current mood: Fantasizing about punching anyone involved with the creation of Issun in the face. Until my knuckles bleed."
A long time ago, I played and reviewed Okami for the PlayStation 2. That experience must have stuck with me because here I am now, doing the same for the PS4's Okami HD. Shockingly, my overall opinion on the game hasn't changed over the 13-plus years that have passed since that initial review. It's a really good take on the traditional Legend of Zelda formula that adds a few neat wrinkles to the mix, while also possessing a handful of noticeable annoyances.
You control Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess re-imagined as a wolf that's the reincarnation of a similar animal which helped a famed hero vanquish the multi-headed dragon Orochi. This reincarnation didn't happen by accident -- due to human folly, Orochi has returned from a thousand-year slumber and, once again, is being a scourge upon the land.
Since Amaterasu is a wolf, it isn't going to do much talking. Therefore, the game immediately bestows a sidekick in the form of a tiny being named Issun, who tags along and provides exposition, banter and yet another reason for me to embrace hatred due to how he ranks as one of the most insufferably annoying sidekicks in the history of entertainment. We'll get back to him later -- this is the synopsis part of the review, not the angrily ranting part.
Amaterasu enters the world bereft of any godly powers, so you'll also have to reclaim those abilities. Said powers are implemented into the game in a fun and original fashion. By hitting R1, the action will freeze and you'll take control of a brush and be able to paint upon the screen. Each ability has its own stroke, so you'll be trying to replicate that. A horizontal line through an enemy delivers a powerful attack. Place a circle over a dead tree and it will blossom back to life. Add a diagonal line through the top of that circle, though, and you've created a bomb. Or, if that circle is placed on water, it will create a lily pad you can use to cross safely.
These abilities have a variety of uses throughout your adventure. They can be applied in combat and to solve puzzles in dungeons, with some of them also being helpful in Amaterasu's attempt to earn praise. As a deity, your wolf needs to restore the population's faith in the gods, so by blooming trees, feeding animals, helping people and accomplishing other feats, you'll receive praise that can be used to purchase things like additional life and more ink for your brush.
For a number of hours, you'll be collecting brush strokes and making your way closer to that encounter with Orochi. However, beating that boss isn't the end of Amaterasu's adventure. You'll still have a number of strokes to receive and a whole bunch of dark energy was just seen flying to other lands, meaning you'll be on the move to wipe out evil wherever it might reside, as well as delving into all sorts of side-missions and scavenger hunts to pass the time. Okami is not lacking in stuff to do. You can engage in races against a couple characters, hunt down a cunning thief, roll spherical objects up a hill to a sleepy bear, place offerings next to long-forgotten idols and any number of other activities designed to provide praise and bestow useful items and even upgraded versions of a few brush strokes.
I enjoyed this a lot the first time through and I enjoyed it again this time. Dungeons are enjoyable places where combat often plays second fiddle to simply finding a way through via brush strokes and puzzle-solving. The designers knew how to establish a truly epic feel to a lot of the bigger battles, with encounters with foes such as Orochi or Ninetails feeling significant enough to be a game's climax. You'll watch buffoons become heroes and observe legends of Japanese folklore play out with Amaterasu being the deciding factor if there's a happy ending or not.
I also must say that this is the sort of PS2 game that is a natural fit for HD remastering on a more advanced system. The original game possessed a beautiful and cartoonish look to it, so the act of making things HD made its colors even prettier and more vibrant. On the other hand, there were no changes made to this game other than modernizing the technology to what today's televisions can handle. Otherwise, it's the exact same game, for better or for worse. Until I went to the settings menu and made wholesale adjustments to the camera, I was starting to regret my nostalgia trip simply because the default settings felt awkward and unnatural compared to many current releases.
If there was one improvement this version of Okami really could have used, it would have been the option to mute Issun. Imagine going on a long and epic quest and your biggest ally is an immature and obnoxious child who demands to be the center of attention constantly while immediately jumping to often-inaccurate conclusions and then constantly reaffirming his belief in them regardless of what your eyes are telling you. And then take his annoying nature and not just burden the game's story with it, but also integrate it into everything you do. A lot of puzzles get ruined because he'll blurt out what you're supposed to do the instant you make a wrong move. And if you need to do a series of brush strokes to accomplish something plot-related and make a mistake, you can count on him chiding you for your failure. Every. Single. Time. I am NOT lying when I say my favorite part of this game isn't one of those fun dungeons or an awesome and epic battle, but a scene shortly before the end when another character finally lays a verbal beating on that little twit, exposing his flaws and unworthiness to the world. Sadly, this leads to a redemptive moment, but for that one scene, I was truly happy!
One thing about replaying games is how lesser flaws that may not have registered initially get brought to the forefront under increased scrutiny. Sadly, Issun isn't the only character in this game who takes pride in verbosity. Okami gets dialogue-heavy at times, causing minutes to creep by while you're scrolling through dialogue and impatiently waiting for everyone to shut up so you can start doing fun stuff again. Also, this game probably is a bit long for its own good. The Orochi arc was tons of fun and the Ninetails arc matched, and perhaps exceeded, it due to that villain taking a more proactive approach to things than the eight-headed dragon. However, you'll then have another full plot arc to get through. Things kind of bogged down here with major adversaries that weren't exactly interesting foes, as well as a time-travel bit that just feels like padding. Finish that and you'll just have the final dungeon, if "dungeon" is a remotely accurate term for it, as all you'll have is a boss rush culminating in a really long battle against arguably the least interesting foe you've met the entire game.
Issues aside, I'm glad that I took another romp through Amaterasu's adventures. One of the negatives to constantly seeking out new games to review is that I hardly ever take the time to revisit older ones, regardless of how I felt about them. I do have those days when I feel a yearning to replay something I remember enjoying in the past. Finding out one of those games got re-released on new hardware kind of feels like I discovered a loophole allowing me to hit up something I dug in the past while still feeling like I'm accomplishing something new. That was all the reason I needed to play Okami HD. If that train of thought doesn't inspire you, then just understand that regardless of what system it's on and whether it's in HD or not, Okami is a fun and innovative take on the tried-and-true Zelda formula that offers a variety of tools and puzzles through a variety of lands and dungeons. It's not a perfect game by any means, but it's an enjoyable adventure containing a lot to do over a few dozen hours of questing and battling.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 08, 2021)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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