Every dog has its day
Ever wondered why the Nintendo faithful defend their consoles so vehemently? Well first party titles like Zelda play a huge part in that cult-like devotion, and for a long time the experience offered in one of Link’s three-dimensional adventures was just impossible to recapture on another platform - then there was Okami.
As PlayStation 2 users entered its expansive environments, lovingly created, aesthetically beautiful fields and rolling hills, there was almost a collective moment of recognition - “Oh, now I get it!”. Capcom had managed to weave a thrilling but accessible story, build an artistic world to house it in, that evoked not only the somewhat against-the-grain for the day artsy-stylings of 2003’s Gamecube Zelda title The Wind Waker, but also amazingly distilled the essence of what made the Nintendo series infinitely captivating. They found that hidden x factor.
Its use of a drawing mechanic to wield a giant calligraphy brush - as well as the suitably Nintendo-esque overtones of an adventure fit for all the family - made it an ideal fit on the Wii when it was ported over. So much so, that to make the move back to good ol’ Sony almost seems a touch odd after it had found its spiritual home, but given the latter’s push into motion control with the Move peripheral, this spruced up HD outing could well offer the best of both worlds and be the definitive Okami release.
It feels wrong to continue with the Zelda comparisons, as in many ways it does a disservice to Capcom’s opus, but when viewed against Wind Waker’s cel-shaded visuals and Twilight Princess’s wolf motif it’s hard not to think there’s more than a bit of cross pollination going on here, something that was even harder to ignore back in 2006. You could pore over the whys and wherefores of who came up with what and when - imitation, cloning or simply the dissemination of ideas in a still fledgling medium - but when the final products are top quality, who cares?
Okami deviates from the ethereal other-world mould though, by throwing off the basic elements of gaming fantasy, namely the use of an alternate reality that so often looks and feels strangely like a medieval setting with a bit of fairy dust thrown in. Instead, it uses history and mythology as the strands to weave and ensnare the gamer in a fantastical narrative.
The lack of voice acting may mean that the audible dialogue appears a Tolkien-like Elfin gibberish, but the backdrop is clear, you’re in Japan many centuries ago, and the land is plagued by a demon, Orochi, that’d been long banished but has now been released from its bondage. Legend tells of a wolf that, together with a warrior, defeated this eight headed goliath of shadowy form and imprisoned it, but perished from its wounds. Now that the land is once again threatened by this fiend, the village’s protector - our lupine friend - is reawakened from his eternal slumber with the help of a deity.
It’s a game that wears its appreciation of the rich and varied tapestry the creator’s country has to offer on its sleeve. In your travels you’ll meet all manner of interesting folk, all with a distinctly Japanese air, from the woodcutter to the sake grower, the aspiring warrior to the postman. Traditional dress mixes with slightly artistic interpretations of history and places you in a world that ties itself just enough to the past and fantasy at the same time, still offering the usual equipment collecting, stat boosting trek RPG fans want, but with a tweak to the aura that grabs it all.
Your guide is a bug (well of sorts) called Navi - *cough* sorry - Issun, who buzzes around your head and prompts you in the right direction. The interplay is enough to give Issun a typically sassy character and help avoid the large landscape feeling devoid of company, but not so overplayed as to border on the annoying and hint-heavy.
The use of the traditional calligraphy brush as both a weapon and tool to unlock further avenues of adventure is genuinely inspired. At any moment you can pause the action and daub lines, circles and dots across the screen to either bring something to life or cut down your foes. The move repertoire grows as you progress, but the core move - learnt early in your travels - of basic slashing technique serves you well. In the stead of any weapon that could be wielded by canine paws the swathes of ink splashed come to life once the action resumes in a manner that befits a true armoury.
If there was any criticism of this mechanic it is that it obviously pauses the action, however this brings with it a certain tactical element. You can tackle the battles how you see fit, if perhaps you favour a quick perusal of the enemies that surround you before careful bomb placement then that’s your prerogative, and the pad - with it’s arguably more accurate but slower brush-strokes - will probably be your chosen controller. If, on the other hand, you like to get stuck in with some broad slashes and be swept along by motion controlled freneticism then the Move peripheral allows you to wave your arms to your heart’s content. It is surprising how the game actually works so well with both; if you thought the pad was relegated to second best post-Wii then you can think again.
If anything the Dualshock 3 has some notable advantages. The rumble motor is deeper than the high-pitched tinny whine of the Move, and the second analogue stick comes in very handy as the fights take place in enclosed arenas - circular battlegrounds magically erected when you cross an enemy’s path - and analogue control of the camera is never to be sniffed at. With Move you’ll end up relying on the D-Pad to shift view which is less than ideal. Thankfully the vantage point for you to absorb this absolute feast for your eyes is usually astutely placed; you may occasionally get unsighted slightly in the hectic height of pitched battle, but not pinned down because of it.
It’s just as well, as it’s a proper odyssey you’ll be heading on, banishing evil, reawakening constellations and of course enjoying that Action-RPG staple of smashing pots to gain loot. It’s just as well the pacing is sound, not just in narrative terms but also in the manner that new tools and paths are encountered. In the early hours each area brings with it tantalising curiosity-piquing titbits, intriguing visual cues that are begging to be investigated, hint at something new to be discovered but you know the information will only come to you in good time. The mix of linearity - expecting patient progression - and drawing the player into investigative experimentation is always on the accessible side of the RPG genre, but even when leading the player by the nose Okami fails to find its spell broken; it’s just too damn pretty.
Once you start drinking in the atmosphere, collecting different equipment and making mental notes of locations to explore again later, then the game has its hooks into you for good, and this’ll occur long before you hit the ten hour mark. The art style still seems like a breath of fresh air thanks to the little touches like the organically moving nature of the drawn lines. Even the sappy sounding animal feeding distraction - necessary to accumulate points with which to upgrade your stats - avoids the kitsch tag and becomes addictive. This is all helped by a score that plays on traditional instrumentation with a few novel touches, darting between expansive adventure and karmic serenity, setting the mood in tempo and style.
- Stunning visuals
- Inventive combat
- A huge adventure
- Charming atmosphere
- It has to end
Okami HD PS3 Review
If Okami were to be defined solely by its visual and audio majesty then it would still be a decent game. If it had that pairing and added the inspired brush-stroke mechanic it’d be a great game. However it has all three, and blends them in conjunction with some of the finest Action-RPG gameplay you’ll find on any console. It works just as well with analogue or motion control and the HD treatment is one of the best you’ll see for a game of this age, managing the quivering faux-painted line-work adeptly. It stands alongside any in the Zelda series as a benchmark for the genre, and does so with an infectious atmosphere; built on dazzling aesthetics, a well scripted yarn and and the perfect mix of standard adventure routines and inventiveness to welcome the new, please the old hands and ultimately captivate the imaginations of all.
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