I try not to get too involved with the stargazing and hero-worship that comes with outsiders getting too involved with the backstage parts of the video game industry. That way lies disaster; crowdfunding has taught us that the most squeaky-clean of gaming rock stars still poop the same as everyone else, after all. That doesn’t mean one should ignore gaming history completely, though.
Take a look at the sad tale of Clover, for instance, a Capcom-funded development studio responsible for titles like Viewtiful Joe, God Hand and today’s adventure, Okami. They’re dead now after they weren’t able to grab the market’s attention, but their spirit resides comfortably in action developers PlatinumGames. Even their games live on as cult classics. Case in point: Okami HD, the latest remaster of what might be Clover’s magnum opus.
Long ago, the evil Orochi brought darkness to the land. When all seemed lost, the hero Nagi fought the creature back…but he didn’t do it alone. The noble white wolf Shiranui was there to help Nagi and ended up dying from Orochi’s venom soon after. Years later, the world seems to be on the path to darkness once again and Nagi’s not around to help. It comes down to the sun goddess Amaterasu incarnated as a white wolf to save the day this time with the help of the “wandering artist” (who’s definitely not just a bug) Issun.
The closest comparison we can make to how this one plays are the later Zelda games; many of the same elements are in place, including collecting upgrades, exploring the world, fighting monsters and clearing dungeons. Here, those upgrades tend to take the form of new Celestial Brush powers, allowing you to draw on the screen to perform miracles like slashing objects, creating bombs and causing flowers to bloom. It’s a nice touch that works well with the game’s sumi-e art style. Combat also incorporates these powers to decent effect, though fights tend to be fairly simplistic and samey and lack a lot of the polish we’d later see from Platinum; it’s definitely not one of the highlights of the game.
That leaves exploration, both of the world and of the myriad dungeons you’ll need to plumb throughout Okami. It’s largely standard Zelda fare, though there’s one quirk worth mentioning: Okami has serious trouble dealing with the idea of players solving puzzles for themselves. It feels like the solutions to the majority of puzzles are basically handed to you on a silver platter; Issun in particular is very guilty of just giving away what you need to do to progress. While this prevents players from getting stuck and spending hours spinning their wheels, it also takes some of the heart and soul out of the sense of discovery that should be pervading Okami.
To be fair, there would need to be a pretty massive amount of that heart and soul since Okami is a big game. You’re looking at 40 hours or so if you don’t just rush through dungeons, on par with many main-line Zelda titles, and Okami tends to keep up a standard of quality throughout (assuming you aren’t terribly bothered by the puzzle-spoiling thing.) Don’t be fooled when it looks like the plot’s about to wrap up; Okami’s got a few tricks up its doggy sleeves.
As usual when we’re talking about an HD remaster of the game we need to pay particular attention to visuals and performance; in this case Okami looks great, much like it always has thanks to its unique art style, but these updated versions runs notably better than the original PS2 release and perhaps even better than the PS3 re-release. It’s nice and smooth throughout, making for a much more comfortable experience. This is unquestionably the definitive edition of this game, though it still runs at 30FPS and that may upset PC players. Sound effects and music are largely what you’d expect given the theme; note that dialogue uses a garbled voice style similar to Banjo-Kazooie or Yooka-Laylee, so get your earplugs ready if that’s a problem.
Clover, of course, would get the axe after releasing both Okami and God Hand in 2006 to poor sales, with their execution eventually resulting in companies like PlatinumGames and games like El Shaddai. Okami may have been a little before its time, perhaps, but it’s worth checking out today in this newly remastered form. If you aren’t completely turned off by the thought of Zelda, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to set aside a weekend or two and settle in for some god-like canine adventure.