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Okami HD is a beautiful and necessary update. My own journey with this gem is fragmented and has a checkered history going all the way back to the PS2 and Wii versions.
If I were a painting that hung beside the fire would I have your full attention? Or is it TV you desire? If I were up beside your bed would you gaze at me all night? Or is it your beloved that fills your eyes' delight? If I were hanging in your hall would you greet me every day? Or would I just be "that painting" that is always in the way? I want to have some time with you, but you really make me think: Would I get your full attention if I changed my name to Link?
I do like Okami (ed: not as much as I love Okamiden (DS). I want to set that straight before we get any further. It's a great game which looks beautiful and has some really interesting puzzles and environments. But what strikes me most about Okami is that even though it looks beautiful and plays well, it never draws me back to play it. Unlike other recent games, I don't find myself doing chores or drinking in a bar and thinking "why am I doing this instead of playing Okami?"
Comparisons to the Legend of Zelda series are fully justified with Okami.
Comparisons to the Legend of Zelda series are fully justified with Okami. It isn't just a similar genre or style. Okami is - to use the best phrase I can think of - Legend of Zelda fan fiction. As a writer I've written my share of fan fiction over the years and believe me that I know it when I see it. Okami's central premise revolves around returning to a quest-giving tree, trying to gain access to a temple with a legendary sword and even features a roaming postman who is running around the world on foot to try to deliver letters. Even the way battles occur within a bubble seems to be a direct lift from Twilight Princess.
It even shares many of The Legend of Zelda's faults: Often wordy dialogue exposition (some of which can't be clicked-through, even a second time), occasionally unclear puzzle solutions and lots of backtracking around a large overworld.
When I first encountered Okami on the Wii, it came out shortly after The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Having just finished that epic, the similarities in Okami were so many that I simply didn't have the stamina to go through it all again so soon. Thus, the game was banished to my backlog of "pending" games.
What does draw me to Okami's is the incredible visuals, which are worthy of note and attention. Okami's main unique feature is a design inspired by traditional Japanese Sumi-E paintings. The visuals of Okami are a painting in motion and captures perfectly the mythical and historical influence of feudal Japan, awash with blossoming trees and characters in traditional dress.
The HD update on the PS3 is beautiful and is much needed, in my opinion. While the game was attractive and colourful on the Wii, it is the PS3's HD lines and contrast which finally makes Okami HD look like the game it always wanted to be.
The soundtrack also stands out for me. A mix of exciting orchestration and traditional Japanese folk music, it perfectly sets the emotional tone for the world around it and is also the kind of soundtrack I would listen to independently of the game. It really is a great score. It is of no surprise to me that the soundtrack album currently commands a hefty £50+ price tag, although I'm very unclear how this game has 5 CDs-worth of incidental music.
A mix of exciting orchestration and traditional Japanese folk music, it perfectly sets the emotional tone.
In finally sitting down and trying to give Okami my full attention with Okami HD, it strikes me that there is something missing. There is something usually present in the heart of a Zelda game which Okami just doesn't quite deliver and I think that is why I am not naturally drawn back to play it time and again. Many of the characters don't seem well defined and somehow the completion of puzzles doesn't give the same buzz of satisfaction I'm used to.
The "painting" mechanic, in which the world is paused to allow you to draw magical brush-strokes of ink to damage enemies and create objects, does not particularly suffer on the PS3. I had never played the PS2 version, but using the Wii remote as a paint brush seemed very natural and I imagined that the Dualshock experience would be poor. It actually doesn't cause any problems. The only problems remain the game's own fussiness over which camera angle will allow you to complete painting puzzles.
Ultimately, my comparative coldness to Okami is a very personal reaction to what is an incredible and unique game. In shooting for the heights of the Legend of Zelda series, Okami HD comes so much closer than all other attempts.
With its distinctive visual style and great music accompaniment it manages to carve out its own niche. Even though it doesn't additively pull me back, like a good book hampered by stodgy writing I'll still be making myself sit down and give it my full attention, because it's well worth it.
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