Originally released in 2006 for the PS2, Capcom introduced the world to a story of gods and demons; wrapping it in the package of a traditional Japanese painting, Okami was unique. This tale retold across (console) generations, it has seen subsequent ports to the Wii, PS3, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and now to the Switch. This being my first time into the land of Nippon, I look to this 12 year old game questioning whether its once-unique style and substance can hold up to modern standards.
A Slow Start
Before you can really sink your teeth into the game, you're struck with cutscene upon cutscene detailing the struggle that first sealed away the great Orochi, and the events that lead to its release. The story is wonderfully told, unraveling like an extravagant tapestry. It sets the world wonderfully and gets you excited to properly get started, but before you can do that, you have an introductory section. It ticks all the right boxes for an introductory section; basic concepts are explained through play, you walk and jump through a simple linear path, you get a skill to begin progression. It's fine on paper, but when the scene has been set for a grand adventure, the pacing put me off to the point of questioning just how poorly the game had aged. Moving through Kamiki Village, these thoughts stayed with me. With how often I had heard Okami being compared to titles from the Zelda series, I had expected action, combat; swift and satisfying progression. Only when I got to Hana Valley and acquired my next brush skill did I realise the game wasn't at fault, but my preconceptions about it.
The Bloom skill changed how I saw the game, and all for the better. As I painted a circle around my first withered sapling and watched the world explode into colour, I took a moment to simply watch. I took a moment to think about what I wanted from this experience; I took a moment to realise what was blatantly staring me in the face—this isn't The Legend of Zelda.
Painting a Celestial Picture
Okami's greatest strength lies in its visual presentation. Styled in such a way as to appear dated whilst still remaining strikingly vibrant and unique, they stand up to any modern standard in a way worthy of being called timeless. The game is made in such a way as to put its beauty at the forefront of progression, also offering it in ample amounts as reward for optional tasks. If there's a stain on the world, you feel drawn to get rid of it. The actual benefit to doing this is fairly insignificant, giving you a few additional points to invest in growth, but the satisfaction of purging a scourge, of ridding the land of imperfection; it's addicting.
The game uses its themes not only in crafting a beautiful world, but in aligning every part of itself to create as immersive an experience as can reasonably be expected. In place of a pause menu, you unravel a paper fan; in place of tutorials, you read scrolls acquired on your journey. Every part of it feels correct within the bounds of the world. Even things like area names being displayed are stylised to look as though they're supposed to be there, despite floating high in the sky above each area. With the theme of painting coursing through the very essence of the game, you really do feel like a God wandering through your own brushwork come to life. It's empowering, it gives you a real sense of belonging in the world and with it, a sense of responsibility for its well-being.
Dungeons and Dog-Fighting
Perhaps the game's weakest points lie in its combat. Monster encounters are clearly marked on your quest, be it by ghostly floating tags, or cursed torii littering the land. Interacting with, or walking through in the second case, these will put you inside a barrier where you must purge the evil within for it to subside. Thematically it works well, and the lack of random encounters is something I welcome in a game with experience and leveling up not tied to progress. Where the issue lies is in the fighting itself. Your basic combat isn't complex at all, and in this area I can understand a likening to the Zelda series; you hit Y to lunge towards an enemy and attack. As strange as it might sound, I might have preferred the game were it to maintain this simplicity. Where The Legend of Zelda can add items and enemies that by extension can be defeated by these items, Okami is limited to the use of its brush techniques. Again, this is a sound concept on paper, and should allow for a similar style of combat and evolution of enemies; though I tried to enjoy it, there was one thing really holding it back.
Each new enemy encounter has its own traditional painting to serve as introduction.
The difference between using an item in Zelda and a brush technique in Okami lies in each game's controls. In the former game, you have the option to target an enemy. This keeps focus on them and allows you to freely use one hand for items, swordplay, whatever you want; Okami to the best of my knowledge lacks this. As minor as it may sound, confined to limited area presented for each battle, you too often find yourself fighting with the camera. This is made worse in handheld mode (my mode of preference for this game) by the fact you need to move one hand away from the controller to the touch screen for brush techniques. It ultimately makes for an unnecessarily awkward combat experience. As I continued playing, I was pleasantly surprised to find there were exceptions, these being the penultimate fights within dungeons.
Dungeons in Okami feel traditional. You enter, work your way through, fight a boss, and rid it of evil. They're incredibly fun and are themed well, with a good balance of platforming and puzzles to keep neither from growing tiresome. While most of it is incredibly enjoyable, my favourite part by far quite unexpectedly comes from the boss encounters. Where individual enemies can feel cramped and awkward, boss fights explode into creative combat hosted within their larger lairs. Utilising new skills acquired, these boss fights each feel unique and most importantly give you the space to enjoy them, despite the limitations of the camera. Boss designs are equally brilliant, pulling from Japanese mythology and creating something genuinely menacing each time.
A Worthwhile Wolf?
Okami was a fantastic game when it first came out, and sadly one I missed. While I can't speak for how it's has changed over time, I can say with certainty that Okami HD is more than worth the meager £16 ($20) Capcom is asking for it. In this divine package, you have a serene walk through picturesque lands, dungeons to explore, and mythical creations to slay. Okami is a game that despite being 12 years old, does not feel out of place in a modern marketplace, and one I can not recommend enough.