Before being sadly shutdown, Clover Studio put their stamp on some all time classic games during the PS2 era. In addition to porting Viewtiful Joe from the Gamecube and developing its sequel, Clover was behind God Hand and Ōkami. God Hand is a polarizing game, people either love it or can’t stand it, I happened to have loved it. Ōkami, on the other hand, is much less controversial. The reason is simple: it’s an amazing game that captivates and entertains you in multiple ways.
Now, I missed out on Ōkami during the PS2 era. I heard good things and always meant to get to it, but it just didn’t happen. Same with the Wii version, but in a way, I’m glad I hadn’t gotten a chance to play it until Ōkami HD. What Capcom did with Ōkami HD is present the game in 16:9, 1080p, and add Trophies and PlayStation Move support. Standard PS3 controllers are also supported, but given the constant ‘motion’ or drawing actions in the game, it’s obvious why Move support was added. Regardless of how you play Ōkami, and no matter what platform, you’ll be glad you did. The visuals are beautiful, and the gameplay is really enjoyable.
The story centers around the land of Nippon, and more specifically, a small village named Kamiki. Legend has it that one hundred years ago, Nagi, a brave warrior and a strange white wolf defeated a demonic presence that for years had plagued Kamiki. In the process of the battle, the wolf died, but a shrine was erected in memoriam. Additionally, the sword Nagi used was left in the mountains, where it kept the demon, Orochi, sealed away. One day, this sword was removed, and suddenly, the beautiful and peaceful land was overrun with evil. Vegetation died, the skies closed, the animals fled, the people turned to stone — truly apocalyptic stuff. But not all hope was lost; with her powers weakening from the curses and evil around, a goddess awakens the statue of the white wolf, giving it life. Known as Ōkami Amaterasu, or furball as Issun calls her, the wolf must seek out and “awaken” thirteen other gods and learn their Celestial Brush techniques. It’s only with these, and the faith (or praise) of the Nippon people, that can lead Ōkami to finally defeat Orochi for good.
Ōkami’s gameplay is a semi-open world third person action adventure. There are a few RPG elements as far as a basic leveling system, currency and item bartering, and plenty of NPCs to talk to. Some NPCs might have a basic ‘quest’ or task for you to do, but most will just provide some good dialogue that is often pretty humorous. For the most part though, you will be guiding Ōkami as she battles a variety of imps and other evil foes as you instill divine intervention and rejuvenate the land. In doing so, the grip of evil is reduced, and life returns, one cursed zone at a time. There are puzzles, although your tiny bug friend, Issun, offers plenty of help and guidance. You’re not likely to get lost either, thanks to a map that you can pull up anytime while moving and a Journal that lets you know what you need to be doing. And while at times, when there are apparent multiple paths to take, Ōkami isn’t as open world as you might be used to. That isn’t a knock on it, it’s just how it was designed.
One of the main features is the Celestial Brush in which players draw certain marks or shapes on screen. There are well over a dozen of these total, giving Ōkami numerous abilities for offense, defense, and neutral actions like lighting up the sky, darkening it, creating or fixing objects, and the ability to slowdown time. All of these actions require you to literally draw certain shapes on screen. It’s a little more intuitive with the Move controller, but I ultimately found myself just using the Dualshock3, which is just more comfortable, especially for extended play sessions which Ōkami will demand of you. To draw, you simply hold L1, use the left stick, and press and hold Square to make the marks. The shapes include circles, lines, multiple lines, and so forth. Certain puzzle events require you to be very quick and pretty accurate with your motions, but in battle, you aren’t always forced to move as fast, which is a plus. I should add that in combat, Square is used for a basic power slash attack, and other actions can be learned at the dojo such as dodging, which becomes essential as you get into the eighth and ninth hour of play.
With Ōkami’s gameplay, there isn’t much to complain about. The story, characters, dialogue, environment, all of that is nicely done. Combat is fluid and more challenging and interactive as you get deeper into the story, but I have yet to feel like there is too much or too little combat, so Clover struck a nice balance there. Adventure gameplay is fun too, with plenty of places to visit, characters to “talk” to, and miscellaneous puzzles and quests to solve. Indeed, Ōkami’s gameplay is mighty impressive, easily matching and surpassing the quality of other AAA titles from today.
If I were to have some gripes, it would begin with the inability to speed up some of the dialogue sequences. It’s not that I want to skip these conversations or monologues, I’m just a fast reader. The “in-game” conversations and chatter you can speed up, simply by pressing X to show the entire “bubble” of text immediately. However, often times, you have to wait; word…by word…by word, and it can be pretty annoying. There was a part, just a few hours in, where Mr. Orange was doing a dance to help a certain special tree blossom. I needed to perform the Bloom motion quickly multiple times. Well, drawing a circle with no open edges on the DualShock3 can be a little harder than you might think, so I had to do this sequence like ten times. Each time, I had to wait for Mr. Orange to repeat the same five or six screens of dialogue, a good thirty seconds, simply because I couldn’t speed it up.
Second minor gripe is the conservative amount of savegame locations. You will know a savegame location when you see one, but I would have liked the ability in this HD version to save at any time. Maybe I’m just a little extra tired this week, but it felt like the gap between some save spots was pretty significant, like nearly an hour or more apart if I’m not mistaken. Also, it took me a little while to get used to the humor Clover went for here. On the one hand, the game and its setting, etc., seems rather serious, but Issun and other NPCs are constantly injecting humor. I wouldn’t say it breaks the immersion, but, it sort of split the focus of the game a little bit, but perhaps that was the cost to give it its unique identity. Finally, something that I did think hurt the immersion factor is how certain items re-appear after you “walk off screen” and comeback. I noticed this early on with some breakable objects that contained coins. All I had to do after breaking the objects was make a five second circle away and back and I could get more coins. I’ve never liked it when a game automatically regenerates items or enemies simply because you left the area for a few seconds or a few minutes (Folklore was a great game, but really bad for this).
Finally, what can you say about the presentation? It’s an art style all its own and it’s just a treat to look at. Animations are fluid, the whole Sumi-e ink style is just so whimsical yet so powerful. The masterful and deep soundtrack should not be missed either as it’s a crucial part of the experience. The gibberish speech for the NPCs talking is an unusual and quirky decision, but it somehow fits the game, and Clover as a whole.
To the summary…