Some games are iconic, classics that are worth revisiting and bringing to a new audience. Okami is a prime example. Back in 2006 this was one of the PlayStation 2’s best games – a uniquely creative action, platform, and puzzle RPG with an incredible visual cel-shaded style. Now ten years later and enhanced in full HD (including 4K on the PS4 Pro), the game shines brighter than ever.
You play as a sun goddess named Amaterasu, who, in the form of a white wolf with celestial markings, takes on a variety of Japanese mythological demons in a quest to bring life back to the world.
The story is drawn from Japanese Shinto mythology and is a full-length adventure with over 40 hours of engaging gameplay and several different story arcs. It also packs some innovative gameplay mechanics such as equipping your wolf avatar with a Celestial Brush – a gesture-based system used to perform "paint miracles" such as adding missing details to the scenery or cutting through obstacles.
With a gameplay that riffs on classic Zelda like adventuring and treasure hunting, your quest is to restore the world by destroying monsters who have stolen the colour from it. The impact of Okami can be seen in many games including the gorgeous Flower and Tearaway which both borrow from the creativity found here.
Being a powerful white wolf deity certainly has its perks, as you work through the various areas of the world, killing monsters, solving problems, and helping the people you meet; they will in return start to worship which allows you to become more powerful and add new miracle abilities to your repertoire. There are often positive options other than just attacking everything you meet. For example, you can choose to feed other animals that you meet such as birds and rabbits, and being a friend reaps rewards in the karma they bless you with (which you can use to power up your stats).
The eye-popping hand-drawn ink and watercolour style looks amazing in HD, and really captures the zen feel of ancient Japan, while the control scheme is both easy to pick up and yet allows for some complex gameplay options.
All the action plays out on an interactive canvas, and onto which you can paint using your Celestial Brush. A quick press of R1 freezes time and allows you to draw things which will progress your quests be it to repair wrecked machinery, slow down time, bring forth gusts of wind, make water burst forth, or deliver an explosive surprise by creating bombs. Having a Celestial Brush soon becomes second nature as you can do things like change night into day by drawing a sun or moon, bring various aspects of the landscape to life, or create yourself a boat-like lily pad to sail over water or chop life giving fruit from high branches. In combat the brush can be used to slash through enemy shields allowing you to deliver a killing blow or deflect an enemy’s projectiles back at it. There are plenty of brush techniques that you learn along the way (by meeting celestial brush gods) and each is incorporated effectively into the gameplay.
Because the Celestial Brush is so powerful, the ink for drawing is limited by the amount available in special ink wells, which stops you solely using Brush techniques to defeat enemies; when you don’t use the brush, however, ink is restored over time.
The combat is a satisfying mix of button mashing and brush wielding – different enemies require you pick the right tactic to take them down. Each battle is assessed in terms of time taken and damage dealt, and bigger monetary rewards are granted for better performance. Battling well and earning money (Yen) allows you to buy items from merchants that can enhance both your offensive capabilities including healing goods, better weapons, tools, and key items for completing quests.
Okami pays more than passing homage to traditional Japanese folklore, and has some winning humour which hasn’t lost its amusement in translation. Much of the humour comes from the host of side characters you meet along the way but is also often kicked off by Issun – your tiny insect sized travelling companion who will often speak for you (as even though you’re a God you can't actually speak apart from barking to get attention).
The plot of the game delivers a nice succession of surprise twists which keeps you engaged as you travel through countryside, scale a crazy tall tower, visit an underwater sunken ship, and even get to venture into the inside of a huge beast.
Each new dungeon that you visit won’t break you as the level of challenge is well balanced but they're almost always satisfying to explore and loot. The boss battles are cool too and require different strategies and brush work to overcome.
There are plenty of side-quests and challenges to take on along the way too, and with only minor quibbles such as a slightly unwieldy camera during fights and a missed opportunity to utilise the DualShock 4's touchpad for the brush strokes, this is an easy recommendation to make to anyone who appreciates quality game design.
Okami is a joy to play and delivers not just a great adventure but along the way actually boosts your sense of well-being as you bring life to the plants, people, and flowers of the world. This is a thoroughbred classic game that deserves to be experienced by as wide an audience as possible; if you missed it before then this new HD version is the best way to experience such an engaging game – don’t miss it this time.