A true staple in the PS2's stacked line-up of classics, Okami shone upon release due to its creative brush stroke mechanics and individualistic take on Japanese woodcut art. Despite being something of a commercial failure, the title has found new life on each subsequent console generation, with it now arriving on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC. The latest remaster may remain untouched at its core, but now for the first time, players can experience the timeless classic in luscious 4K.
Inspired by Japanese myth and folklore, Okami's tale begins 100 years in the past where an eight-headed beast, Orichi, is waging havoc upon the fictionalized land of Nippon. Before total devastation is caused, however, the demon is banished by a Shiranui, a white mystical wolf and Nagi, a brave young warrior with the power of the celestial brush. Tranquillity is restored upon the land for the next century before a sceptics curiosity causes the beast to reawaken and spread a curse once more. Commanding Amaterasu, a less powerful form of Shiranui, it's then up to you to regain the powers of the Gods and restore the land back to its former beauty.
Okami's gameplay is mainly split between puzzle solving and combat elements with the celestial brush playing a central role in each. Holding the R1 button turns the world into a giant canvas which can be decorated with ink to rebuild broken objects, restore life to withered plants and enable you to traverse bodies of water by sketching lily pads. Gestures may have admittedly felt their smoothest within the Wii port of the title through motion controls, but with the DualShock 4, things feel still feel fluid for the most part. As you progress, you'll encounter new Gods who will bless you with their powers and this further adds to gameplay, presenting more environmental puzzles and ways that you can dispatch of your foes.
In combat, you can freeze time with the brush to lay down cherry bombs, trigger slash attacks and sow the seeds of trees to sprout out and stun enemies. Along with a standard bite attack, you also have main and sub-weapons, which can be learnt by defeating bosses or visiting dojos. These feature longer ranged attacks like being able to fire ink bullets and whip foes from a distance. Many enemies you encounter will require you to use a mix of these techniques and you'll often face off against multiple enemy types during a battle. One enemy, for example, requires you to chisel away at its outer shell before using your bloom ability to expose its weak spot. Another sends out shock waves by pounding an oversized drum, so longer ranging attacks are more effective in staying out of reach.
Okami's approach to progression remains refreshing, as you'll earn upgrades through restoring the land, rather than earning XP through battle. Within each new area you visit you can restore evil-ridden patches of the environment with your bloom ability, feed hungry animals with collectable food items and shut down enemy portals. Each of these deeds will reward you with praise which can be spent on improving your overall health, ink capacity and max item count. Not only does this manner of progression lend itself well to the overarching aim of the plot but it also helps to remove the tedium of having to level up through grinding.
Humour is also a key part of Okami's charm. Everyone you encounter across your journey from minor NPCs to core characters has their own quirky and distinctive personalities and this is brought to life further through some excellent animations. Among some of our favourites are dojo leader Onigiri-Sensei who greets you by spinning his head in a circular motion and Susano a decadent of the Gods who can often be found sleeping, loathing or drinking beer. It's testament to the writer's ability that they are able to inject so much personality into these characters without the use of voice acting.
We've seen the likes of Cuphead, Firewatch and Ori and the Blind Forrest peruse some bold art directions in recent years, but Okami still stands tall as one of the best-looking games we've ever played. Everything from the fiery glow of Amatersau's tail flame to the gentle shades of the surrounding cherry blossoms feels vibrant and alive, contributing to the sense of watercolour painting sprung to life. The title is just a visual marvel to behold and plays to the senses in a similar way to Journey in that its just a relaxing and enjoyable experience to play through.
The cel-shaded look doesn't work to mask all of Okami's imperfections, however, as some of its mechanics haven't aged all too gracefully. Saving is very much a manual process and must be completed by stopping at origin mirrors, which are usually found at the start of key areas. In an age where autosaving is such a widespread feature this can be an annoyance as you'll usually find yourself backtracking just to prevent progress being lost. The camera also feels awfully stiff, which can be a pain when using the vine ability, for example, where you need to traverse to higher platforms. These issues can be a slight annoyance, but fortunately, struggle to detract too much from the core experience.
Okami HD delivers a definitive version of a title already verging on perfection. Its lush woodcut-inspired visuals, animated cast of characters and individual brush mechanics paint it as a masterpiece worth returning to even 11 years after its initial release. A few minor issues persist, and it would have been nice to see some exclusive content to distance itself from other past ports, but it doesn't detract from what is one of the most stylish and memorable games of the last decade.