The HD remake business is definitely in full swing and some companies are definitely getting it right, like Sony with the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus collection. After the massive misstep that was the Silent Hill Collection, I've been apprehensive about paying them any mind unless it was something I had a massive interest in. Capcom's been misfiring lately as well, so when they announced the HD re-release of Okami I had nothing but doubts, especially since Clover Studios wouldn't be working on this (because they shut down so long ago, and the staff had moved on to Platinum Games). Thankfully, Capcom recruited a team that had experience with unique graphical styles, picking up HexaDrive to do the port, and the result is nothing short of stunning. Playing this game again, I'm still as awestruck as when I saw this game in action back in 2006. Back then I loved Okami, and I still love it now, even with some of the design flaws that wouldn't fly in a game released in 2012.
Okami tells the tale of the sun goddess Amaterasu who once sealed the evil serpent Orochi with the help of the legendary warrior Nagi. Orochi has been freed and it's up to Amaterasu to regain the lost powers of the "Celestial Brush" and defeat Orochi once and for all. Players will explore the ancient countryside of Japan, and will encounter a myriad of helpful and harassing characters in this quest that will take a minimum of 30 hours to complete. A lot of that time is spent doing quests that come from a variety of people that see Amaterasu not as the majestic sun goddess, but as a white wolf that's just meddling in people's day-to-day affairs.
This is actually the only sticking point I have with the whole game, and it didn't strike me when I played Okami during the original release, but it stuck with me now, a product of today's gaming culture to waypoint and label every possible objective and goal. A great deal of the quests require you to be as thorough as possible in talking to everyone and interacting with everything in a given area to try and figure out how a quest should work. In this case it feels like a detriment because some characters require that you talk to them multiple times before they give up the necessary information needed for a quest. One mission in particular comes from a kid named Kokari who is looking for his lost dog. He needs to be talked to four times before the quest really gets rolling, and he's not the only person to do it. Running around the world is certainly a thing of beauty, but when the game makes it a chore, traversing from place to place, it gets old quickly. After a few hours, the game opens up and allows players to at least warp from place to place, so it cuts down on the time spent getting to where you need to go which is greatly appreciated.
You'll be getting into plenty of fights throughout your journey, and the team at Clover was on their A-game when designing this system. While you're exploring, there will be enemies that appear on the field--and it's perfectly acceptable to pass them up. In fact, outside of a few key fights, you never really need to fight at all. Sure, it's necessary if you need money, but there are plenty of items that can be found by exploring to offset the cost of needed items. When it comes to actual combat, Amaterasu is more than capable in a fight. Using a combination of divine weapons and her Celestial Brush techniques, she can cut down the demons that are running amok with little effort. The combo system doesn't ask too much of the player, and while it's easy to use, it's not going to be terribly effective on its own, which prevents the game from turning into a mash-fest of the circle button.
Running through the Japanese countryside is really a sight to behold. From start to finish, Okami HD is absolutely amazing to look at. The first time I revived a sacred tree I got chills from watching the greenery born from mine and Amaterasu's actions. Six years later it still has the same effect, and in HD it's giving me sensory overload. The watercolor style visuals are easily the most unique of these last two generations, and, to date, I haven't seen anything come close to the visual splendor that is Okami. It's something I don't think I do justice just by speaking about it: it really has to be seen in motion to get how special this game is from a visual standpoint.
The animations for the characters and Amaterasu are fluid and beautiful, and there's some throwback to one of the older Clover games that will leave fans wishing once again for that third part of a trilogy that will never come. There's also a lot of slapstick comedy, and having characters that emote the way they do really speaks volumes about the work the animators put into this game. The music of Okami also does a great job of selling this game. Moments of joy will cause the soundtrack to swell, and it's easy to get caught in the moment. The distinctly Japanese style of music fits this game perfectly, and the sound effects team came up with some great uses of common sound effects that helped give Amaterasu a life of her own. Even without voice acting this game does a great job of playing at the heart when it needs to, and having comedy that never feels out of place.
The addition of PlayStation Move controls feels pretty natural and fluid; not much different from the Wii controls. Thankfully this isn't totally required to play the game, as the PS2 controls are carried over as well. Though there is definitely a sense of satisfaction when actually drawing items with motion-driven controls.
Okami HD is definitely one of those HD remakes that feel like the developers got it right, even if they did just port the game and call it a day. There isn't much in the way of extras, and the only way to get this game is through PSN, so while there isn't much in the way of tangibles, the moderate price more than makes up for it. I said it before, I loved Okami in 2006, and six years later I'm still pretty pleased with it. It's a grand adventure that easily rivals the Zelda franchise, and while the gameplay isn't the most user-friendly, it's still a great deal of fun to just get out there and explore. You never know what you'll find.