First Impressions: Okami HD (PS4, PC)by Sam Duvall,
I might just be the perfect mark for Hideki Kamiya and CAPCOM's cult classic action-adventure title Okami. If you dug into my brain, grabbed a random assortment of my favorite things, and put them in a video game, there's a very good chance you would accidentally create Okami independent of the actual production. Originally developed by the now defunct Clover Studio, in this overflowing pastiche of ancient Japanese culture you play as a literal god – the sun goddess Amaterasu, reborn in the visage of a white wolf – dashing through the fields of the country of Nippon banishing evil and restoring the people's faith in your name. From Masami Ueda's traditional Japanese soundtrack to the sumi-e inspired art style to the charming, witty story-telling to the unorthodox mechanics of battling with heavenly ink, Okami bleeds auteur yet never comes across as being too blundering or heavy-handed for its own lofty design choices. Since the days of playing the demo at Gamestop and getting floored at the game's breadth of content, I have eagerly relived Okami's wonders over and over again throughout the years.
However, for the first time, I questioned my own proclivity when I learned that Japanese developer HexaDrive's 2012 HD re-master of the game – Okami HD, originally only available digitally via PSN in the US - was getting newly optimized ports onto the majority of modern gaming camps (PS4, Xbox One, and PC), along with a new physical release for us North Americans. I've played through the adventures of Ammy and her wandering artist companion Issun across three different platforms, four if you count the lesser-received sequel Okamiden for the Nintendo DS. I had to ponder if my love for Okami was strong enough to warrant purchasing it yet again – is there anything new to glean from this niche epic? In the end, I caved like the super fan I am, so after playing through the first 4-5 hours of the PS4 edition I can at least give a reasonable determination on if this new release is worth *your* time.
In short, 2017's Okami HD from both a technical and gameplay standpoint has not seen much in the way of improvement or innovation from its initial 2012 inception. There have been high hopes from the fanbase over the years as to what subsequent re-releases of the game have been missing that we'd like to see, fleetingly seeking a "definitive" edition of Okami. One of these was an uncapped 60 FPS framerate, which Okami HD sadly does not have. HexaDrive has openly acknowledged that 60 FPS was tested for this release, but they discovered that it breaks the game's logic and animations on a scale that was infeasible to work around at their budget. For the record, it still runs at a solid 30 FPS after all these years and virtually never dips except on rare occasion. For being a game made in 2006, it holds up remarkably well and you never feel like you're playing a dated relic (except for there being virtually no auto-saving).
Something that HexaDrive WAS able to include was the loading screen minigames that have been absent since the original PS2 release. These are quaint button pressing distractions that allow the player the chance to gain extra Demon Fangs: collectibles that can be exchanged in-game for unique items and equipment. Yet ironically, their inclusion in an age of minimal loading times undermines their original purpose. They can be toggled in a special Options sub-menu titled ‘Original Settings’, where they're turned off by default. When enabled, the load times on the PS4 are so fast that the loading screen wait period must be arbitrarily lengthened for you to have any chance of playing the minigame. The game even displays the Skip prompt in the middle of the loading screen while you're still tapping away, as if mocking you for wasting its time. It's nice to have these little games back, but they're mere fluff that actually belay their own usefulness when implemented on modern hardware; plus you can get plenty of Demon Fangs through normal gameplay if you know the tricks.
Okami’s favorite innovative tech has always been the Celestial Brush – in combat, Ammy can draw shapes with a divine ink brush to enact damage to her foes via sword slashes, bombs, gusts of wind, etc. Classic controls for the brush were based on the left analog stick, whereas the Wii version proved to be an easy mark for linking its gimmick to motion control (before you ask, yes, I had the Epic Mickey paintbrush nunchuk and used it in tandem with Okami for the Wii because I am a massive dork). Okami HD for PS4 meekly follows that innovation trend by enabling the ability to control brush movement with the Dualshock 4's touchpad, and personally I found the responsiveness to be too loose and poor in providing player-control feedback. Not to mention the positioning requires you to scrunch your thumbs together uncomfortably as if you were holding an N64 controller. Thankfully this configuration is not mandatory and probably will go unused by most as the game doesn't even tell you about it.
In the vein of control schemes, I also had the opportunity to explore keyboard and mouse controls on the PC version of the game, and I'm impressed! Aiming the brush with a mouse has super quick response time and is also lenient in confirming acceptable stroke patterns. In general, the PC port is configured competently with reasonable customization available, allowing rebinding for most controls and multiple mouse sensitivity sliders (one for the camera, another for brush sensitivity specifically). Graphical options are limited to a single menu selection of fidelity presets, but Okami was never a graphically intensive game so you'll be safe keeping it set to high, unless you're running it on a potato.
At the end of the day, Okami HD is still Okami. It's virtually the exact same HD release that came out in 2012 save a couple of fanservice items and further hi-def visual polish. Notably, the game comes with 4k resolution unlocked - I wasn't able to test this on my personal rig, but it's a nice sweetener for those of you with 4k setups (though the 4k framerate is locked at 30fps too). If you played Okami HD in 2012, you'll be playing the exact same game with this 2017 release; the PSN trophy stats even carry over. So is there any point to getting it? I would still argue yes, for a few audiences, and not even for its paltry additions versus previous releases. The Wii version aside, this is the first time Okami has been made available on so many different consoles, and that's cause for celebration. I would only hold reservation on the PC port, as the lack of 60 FPS gameplay might be considered a no-sale for that particular market, however the port is a competent one on all other standards. I believe this release is a must for the console crowd, especially if you upgraded from PS3 to PS4 and can't access your original digital copy of Okami HD anymore. More importantly, if you've never played Okami before, why are you still reading this? Go buy it. It's only $20 – an amazing steal for a game that admittedly starts at a markedly slow pace but will ultimately enrich you with indelible aesthetic and memorable dog-god adventures for 40+ hours at the bare minimum.
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