Okami is one of those gaming entries where many had a pique interest for it before its initial release. The art style shown off was striking. The main character wasn’t humanoid and not only that it was an animal, but didn’t carry the typical cutesy mascot traits found in other major games during the same era. Taking many by surprise and with high praise, Okami innovated on existing ideas heavily borrowed from The Legend of Zelda series and very much claiming its own identity that would be cherished for years to come. That time was literally a dozen years ago. The developer responsible was a studio formed by Capcom named Clover Studio, which only served as functioning for just a few years. A port was seen on the Nintendo Wii with IR pointer control mimicking a paintbrush that worked wonderfully. A well-deserved update to the game titled Okami HD was an enhanced remake released on PlayStation 3 and included high-resolution visuals, updated by development studio HexaDrive.
Interestingly enough, key members of Clover Studio formed into what’s now known as PlatinumGames, the team behind many unique games such as The Wonderful 101 which released on Wii U. HexaDrive helped with the development of The Wonderful 101 and also worked on the HD textures for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD for Wii U as well. The string that threads it all together hasn’t been cut yet. As with The Wind Waker, Okami bears a timeless visual style. Both are cel-shaded and still hold up today despite not being in a high resolution. However, their HD updates stand out exceptionally well. Does the Nintendo Switch version do anything to stand out compared to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions? Okami HD in 4k resolution is a beautiful piece of work, but Okami in any high-definition already does the game justice. Okami HD for Nintendo Switch is not only a great port for utilizing every known feature of the hybrid machine, but it’s the definitive version because of it. What could be received as bells & whistles for some are actually game-changers.
Okami is based from Japanese folklore which states every 100 years a darkness shrouds the region of Nippon caused by the demonic demands of an 8-headed beast named Orochi who sends out an inescapable arrow towards the house of an unfortunate chosen maiden who is to be sacrificed for the safety of the land. The introduction explains the events which have taken place 100 years prior which involve both a warrior named Nagi and a special white wolf named Shiranui who is an actual sun goddess. 100 years later, players will experience the stuff of legends. The legendary white wolf returns, Okami Amaterasu, to replenish Nippon back to full health by bringing back its light slowly but surely. For anyone unfamiliar with Okami, the method of how the 8-headed beast Orochi was slayed is a slightly funny, yet clever way of handling the situation. Players may find out that Okami is both a humorous and emotionally serious game that keeps the overall tone a constantly engaging one the further they dive into it. A good first half-hour will be a tad heavy to take off, but it certainly sets up everything to come afterwards.
Okami HD has many of the elements from The Legend of Zelda series incorporated in its gameplay, storytelling and structure: a legend that repeats the fate of a demonic force returning, a descendant of a hero destined to banish evil, open lands, puzzles, dungeons, bosses – the list goes on. What Okami HD brilliantly does often is excel at doing things its own way and a lot of that is contributed to its overall detail and polish; particularly its pacing. Story beats keep your attention with interesting and varied characters where several of them feel equally important to the overall narrative. Diversions to gameplay mix things up and use Amaterasu’s wolf abilities and Celestial Brush in clever ways. And moving around in general just feels responsive and fluid. However, if you were to ask me what’s one of the best Zelda games, I’ll tell you Okami HD is one of them hands down. This remaster is one of the best thanks to what Nintendo Switch is able to do for it making Okami HD a most natural fit.
Okami HD’s cel-shaded visuals truly sell the style Capcom was going for. Every character, object and environment have a distinct look as if they were drawn with ink or painted with a stroke of a brush. At times Okami HD looks like an anime with a very unique direction. Particle effects such as leaves sweep across the screen as they fall. Mountains in the background look like they were drawn on canvas. Swirls of wind brush in and out. Prominent black strokes of ink outline the edges of cliffs and the crease of hills. Their look changes when viewed at different angles. The same applies to characters, but what makes them also stand out in in scene is their slightly jittery animation which gives somewhat of an illusion that you’re watching an animated feature. It’s subtle, but more noticeable on Amaterasu herself. Also, similar to what you find in The Legend of Zelda series, every character has a unique design and are full of personality based on that and their own jibberish grunts. Even idle animations, such as for the elderly with canes, are charmingly characterized. There’s also an overlay filter on-screen giving texture to the game. Defaulted to Normal, players can also change it to Light or Heavy depending on their preference. Although originally releasing in 2006 and not overpopulating an area with random NPC’s, Okami does a great job and breathing life into its world and making it feel alive from all the small details.
Ridding evil in an area or rejuvenating the earth provides satisfaction as you bring more color and life to the land of Nippon. Running across the lands there’s always vegetation or fauna who could use “Ammy’s” touch. Using her Celestial Brush, she is able to restore trees, water, flowers, etc. In doing so, certain animals might appear. Whether it’s seeds, herbs, meat or fish, if Ammy has the right feedbag then she can feed the animals. What takes place then is a serene moment of Ammy watching calmly as the animal enjoys a good meal. Nuances in Okami add to a much larger picture. Do we have to watch Amaterasu watch another animal eat food as the camera circles around them in a heavenly setting? Of course not. These scenes, as with most scenes, can be skipped if the player chooses. I just find that these occurrences further lend credence to Amaterasu being a loving and caring spirit who deserves to be praised. In fact, praise is what Ammy receives.
Nippon is in a time of despair with the hopes of looking to the gods for help and some kind of way out of Orochi’s destruction. There’s a sense of Amaterasu doing good for the world. As you do sidequests, help out NPC’s and even just smaller things such as feeding animals, Praise is rewarded. Praise is essentially the world rewarding Amaterasu for her good deeds and is basically currency or XP which can be spent on upgrading Solar Energy (Health), Ink Pots (Celestial Brush strokes), her food pouch or the size of her purse. A full pouch will revive Ammy should she fall in battle by losing all of her health. Praise makes sense in context. Inhabitants praise a deity for helping their situation, forms a bond and believes in them so naturally it’s force of good strengthening your fight against the dark forces.
Destroying objects in the world like buckets, statues and pots will drop food fill Ammy’s pouch or Yen (money). There are also many treasure chests to be found. Some chests are easy to get to while others require a certain ability to open it or reveal it. Most chests contain treasures which can then be sold for a nice profit, but they may also contain a consumable item such as charms that buff defense or offense. They can be both sold to or bought from merchants as well. Conveniently, if Ammy’s food pouch is full, additional food collected will earn your Yen and the amount varies on the quality/rarity of that food. It’s nice to know that while your pouch is full, going over your limit of food pickups also has another purpose. The best way to obtain currency is completing battles. While you’ll always be rewarded Yen, the better your performance the higher your payout is.
Amaterasu can perform a jump by pressing B and she also have the ability to do a wall jump by pressing B again. The longer the jump input is held down, the higher her jump is. Ammy can also perform a forward bash by pressing Y which can also be performed in the air as well. This is useful for knocking things down or getting that extra bit of recovery reaching a platform. Activating or examining objects and talking to NPC’s is done by pressing A, but in empty space she’ll just bark and bring up certain interface elements for a few seconds before they fade away. Holding down ZL will toggle an on-screen map which can be freely used as you move around. L changes between 2 camera distance, one close to Ammy and one panned out much farther. Holding L will enter a first-person perspective. Ohhh, but she has skill for digging. By pressing X, Ammy is able to dig a hole in practically any piece of land. Certain visual cues in the world will aid Ammy a spot of interest. Like the studio, she may uncover a clover which needs restoring. Treasure chests are also found.
Whether in battle or just exploring, players can bring up the canvas by holding down R. Here, time will freeze allowing the players to use the Celestial Brush to draw a pattern. Players have a bit of flexibility here as they can rotate the camera with the right analog during this time in order to get the scene in the perfect view. The simplest brush stroke learned is a straight line used to slashing. Players may use this for cutting grass or destroying objects outside of battle, but it extremely useful and at times necessary to deal with an enemy, such as breaking their shield or deflecting an oncoming projectile back at them. Battles also take place in their own small arena walled immediately walled off the moment you hop into one, but a crack provides an opening in case you wish to escape. Brush techniques may be used both inside and outside of battles the same way. Some differences between battling and exploring are in Amaterasu’s moveset in general. In battle, Ammy attacks with one of her Divine Instruments with Y as opposed to dashing forward. She may also use another Divine Instrument to serve as a secondary function with X as opposed to digging. Ammy also no longer barks with A, that is, if you’ve learned a new ability not worth spoiling. She may also use ZR to dodge once she’s learned that at any of the few dojos found throughout Nippon. Prepare to have a nice amount of Yen because training will cost you.
Amaterasu can learn new abilities and improve her skills at dojos. While she can gain new maneuverability tactics and special tricks for battle, she can also upgrade how efficient she attacks with her Divine Instruments; offensive & defensive equipment. These Divine Instruments come in a variety of three: Reflector, Rosary, and Glaive. A snowcoat wolf wielding a sword is pretty sweet I tell you. These three types can equipped as both as a Main Weapon and a Sub Weapon. Reflectors are tablet-like artifacts that do standard attacks with reliable damage when used as a Main Weapon. However, when used as a Sub Weapon, they are used as a shield instead. Likewise, Rosary have greater reach and are trickier to use, but also satisfying. They are used like a whip doing rapid attacks for higher combos at lower damage per hit when used as a Main Weapon, but its beads can be shot like bullets when used as a Sub Weapon. Being able to mix & match for different play styles switches up battles, especially when you gain a new Divine Instrument with a unique ability. It’s also possible to equip two of the same weapon type such as Rosary for both Main and Sub.
Whatever you choose are your loadout, the Celestial Brush is an essential tool for just about everything. With the variety of enemy types and each having their own patterns, using the Celestial Brush effectively is key to winning a battle. Much like puzzles in the environment, there are enemies that require a bit of thought in order to know how to make them vulnerable to your attacks. Any successful pattern drawn will use one Ink Pot, which then takes a few seconds to refill. Knowing when to use a technique is part of the balancing act to gaining the upper paw. Most enemies are trapped in a demon scroll floating around. As with many RPG’s being able to see your enemies on-screen and avoid them, Okami is similar.
What you don’t want to avoid are save locations as there is no auto-save function. Many save points can be found within towns or before something big is about to happen. Save points in dungeons are generous enough as there is one for each the beginning, middle and when you’re furthest in, usually before a boss. The only other save point are Golden Gates which automatically saves all of your progress up until that point that if you die, you’ll automatically restart from that point. However, it’s only good for that session only and vanishes if you quit the game.
Boss fights at the end of dungeons make clever use brush techniques you’ve learnt thus far. Overall general enemies and bosses may have several steps. They’re usually fun to figure out. Some can be challenging, but once you’ve mastered your technique and solved their patterns then they’re essentially history. Over the course of your playthrough, you’ll learn many new brush techniques to help you on your travels. You may even backtrack to a location because of an area you couldn’t get to or a chest you remember seeing and your new brush technique will be the key. Some abilities share the same pattern and others are basically how you might think they should be like. For instance, drawing a circle in the sky will make the sun to come out in traditional Japanese depiction of a red sun and its rays. This allows the day/night cycle reset. Drawing a circle in water will create a lily pad to behave as a platform for Amaterasu (sun goddess can’t swim apparently). Being able to create wind in a specific direction is much more fluid and faster than The Wind Waker. There are many abilities to learn and simply drawing them with the left analog is fun enough.
Where the Nintendo Switch version proves itself to be a better play is how Okami HD makes use of every one of its features. It’s not with the exact precision of a Wii Remote, but players can choose to use either the left or right Joy-Con’s motion controls to perform brushing gestures. It’s recommended to use this feature on your TV for better results as your hand gestures are much larger than the Nintendo Switch screen in tabletop mode. Interestingly enough, and not mentioned in the game itself, but enabling motion controls for either the left or right Joy-Con in the options allows it to work with the Pro Controller. In my experience, it’s not that bad. It’s not ideal, but I’ve released my left hand from my Pro Controller a few times to make brush gestures with my right, similar to how one hand is released when playing Super Mario Odyssey to throw Cappy. It’s not the best option, but… it’s there and functions.
By far the best way to play is with the Nintendo Switch touchscreen. In any of the control schemes chosen, the R input is required to be held down in order to bring up the canvas. With touchscreen play, that extra step is completely removed allowing for a much more seamless experience. Touching the screen at any time will automatically bring up the canvas and start tracking your strokes. This makes running around with Ammy and slashing anything in your way a much faster process.
With different control schemes at the player’s disposal, it’s not even my favorite feature. As a sucker for HD rumble used properly, Okami HD just nails it. You feel Amaterasu’s every step, jump, burst of grass popping out from her every time she lands, the splash into water and swimming. Being able to feel the difference of her running across a dirt field versus a wooden bridge or reed mats is done exceptionally. There is the option to disable rumble completely or even revert to just boring standard rumble if that’s your thing. Also in the options is the choice to play in 4:3 ratio as when the game was first released. Additional mini-games shown during loading screen for the HD remaster are here and can be toggled off as well.
Okami is one of those adventures that keeps you on one thing after another as the threat becomes ever closer. Just when you think you’re close to the end, the game turns it around in the latter half and throws more at you. It’s tricked me at least a couple of times, but nope… the game just kept going. If you’re one to take your time exploring and collecting everything, Okami HD is easily a 40+ hour journey. Some of the best parts is the story and characters. Issun is a Wandering Artist who is essentially Ammy’s companion the entire game. While Amaterasu grunts, howls and reacts to what’s going on in the scene obviously understanding the situation, Issun is the one who does most of the talking for her. Issun is certainly a bitesize adventurer with a big ego. He’s a fan of the ladies, calls people out, cracks mean jokes, but still has heart and cares for others throughout all of it. Don’t even get me started on the character Susano; easily one of the most hilarious and lovable characters. There’s no real hand-holding in Okami, but Issun does tend to talk about what you should be doing in certain moments, sometimes hinting a puzzle you already had planned to take care of in the scene.
Okami HD runs at a stable 30 fps both in docked and handheld, 1080p and 720p respectively. Motion controls work. Touchscreen is perfection. HD rumble is very good and paid attention to. A long adventure awaits with collectibles to reward the player. This classic was remastered for a reason. Especially with its soundtrack. Okami has a beautiful score hitting the emotional beats from panic to cheerful, from funny to upbeat, to gloom and strong town music such as Kusa Village. A score by 4 industry veterans from popular franchises have captured authentic Japan and its instruments. My only complaint about the entire game in general is not being able to change the camera sensitivity. It’s a tad slow for my liking as is the way the dialogue is written out.