This is the first time it's available on an Xbox console, and the gameplay doesn't disappoint. Ōkami is rooted in Japanese legends and folklore, so it gives players an insight into some of the more esoteric aspects of the culture. Despite some missteps with the controls, Ōkami HD is just as remarkable today as it was over a decade ago.
History and story
To understand Ōkami, in particular, its art style and meaning, you have to take a look at Japanese paintings. Unlike our concept of Western works, Japanese art is as much about calligraphy and focusing on brush strokes as it is about conveying meaning. It has to be atheistically pleasing, but they often also tell a story because they can be a sort of a document. Paintings by legendary artists like Sesshū Tōyō illustrate this perfectly. His art may be static, but it still captures the intensity of motion.
In Ōkami, players take on the role of a mythical sun goddess known as Amaterasu. Just like any diety, she possesses the ability to take any form and presents herself as a ferocious wolf. Her task is to restore color — through that life — to the world by destroying the creatures who have stolen it. You eventually have to take on Orochi, an eight-headed demon and tyrannical monster responsible for turning the world into a ruined wasteland. While this may seem like a daunting task, the use of humorous dialogue and quirky characters give it a lighthearted feel.
Gameplay and progression
Since Amaterasu is a deity, she has a troupe of worshippers. If she gains more worshippers, she becomes stronger. This is an interesting way of leveling up, aside from being a deeply philosophical take on the matter. Gaining more worshipers can be accomplished by restoring color and doing other good deeds throughout the lengthy thirty-hour campaign.
Ōkami is filled with various twists and turns. The story isn't as simple as the game initially lets on. Ōkami may at first appear to be a brawler, where you go from one arena to the next, but it includes a lot of items to collect, side quests, and upgrades. The environment variety also adds to the complexity of the game. Players get a chance to explore an underwater city, traverse the insides of a behemoth, control a ruler, climb up a seemingly endless tower, and even observe a strange form of space travel. You never know what you'll witness next. This unpredictability is one of the reasons why Ōkami succeeds, because as soon as you think you have an understanding of what's going on, there's an unprecedented task hurled at you.
Visuals and inspirations
The game is presented in the renowned Sumi-e ink style which is a two-thousand-year-old art form. Sumi-e's earliest practitioners were highly disciplined monks trained in the art of concentration, clarity, and simplicity. Each stroke has a purpose and mission. Aside from being a part of the game's visuals, the in-game ability to draw and alter the environment ties back to the philosophy behind Sumi-e.
Over the course of the campaign, Amaterasu learns thirteen core brush techniques which help the player complete various puzzles. In certain sequences, the brush can even become a sword or a cannon with the ability to fire ink projectiles. For example, early on in the game, you're required to swim across a river that doesn't exist. The solution to this is to take out your brush and paint a river connecting you to the other side. The solutions get more complex as the story unfolds, but creation is at the heart of every trial.
Sumi-e is all about creation, and Ōkami gives you the ability to do that in the more extreme manner imaginable by changing the very fabric of reality. The game is not only a great adventure, but it also pays homage to its inspirations with utter reverence.
Controls and performance
While the movement and fighting controls are great — despite the slightly finicky camera — the main problem lies with the drawing. We originally played Ōkami on the Nintendo Wii and never encountered so many problems. The motion controls made using the brush to draw a star or paint objects intuitive and simple. The Xbox One version requires you to hold down two buttons while manipulating a thumbstick at the same time. This results in many mistakes and somewhat defeats the purpose of Sumi-e. It's not unplayable by any stretch of the imagination but takes you out of the experience for too long. Your strokes aren't graceful because you always feel like you're wrestling with the controller. The Nintendo Wii version was by no means perfect either, but it was better than this.
Considering that Sumi-e is all about precision, its use with a controller isn't ideal. It takes a long time for you to get used to it and even then it never feels natural. Surely the developers could've implemented a more forgiving system which maybe guided the player's hand a little. Sometimes we wonder if the Xbox One controller would've benefitted from a touchpad or motion capabilities like Sony's DualShock 4 for PlayStation. Maybe even Kinect would've lent a helping hand here, but we all know what happened there.
Ōkami HD is a polished experience on Xbox One and even features Xbox One X support. The gameplay is smooth, and the frame rate is stable. While we don't know the exact resolution the game runs at on Microsoft's latest console, it looks absolutely breathtaking and is a definite step above base hardware. For many years now, game reviewers have been talking about how a particular title looks like "a painting in motion." We believe that Ōkami HD is the only game that can claim that due to its eye-popping visuals and use of Sumi-e.
Ōkami HD conclusion
Overall, Ōkami HD is a great game which is let down but its difficult brush controls. Luckily, that doesn't take away too much from the experience, and anyone can enjoy the title's gorgeous visuals and powerful story. The fact that Ōkami remains this good even after a decade is not only a testament to the artists but also legendary director Hideki Kamiya. The game is one of Kamiya's crowning achievements even though he's spearheaded experiences like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil. If you own an Xbox One, this is a must-buy. Owners finally get to play this masterpiece after all these years.
- Gorgeous and colorful visuals.
- Intriguing story with quirky characters.
- Innovative drawing gameplay.
- Slightly difficult brush controls.
- Camera problematic at times.
- Annoying character voices.
Ōkami HD will be available on December 12, 2017, on Xbox One, Windows PC, and PlayStation 4, priced at $19.99.
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Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.