This week, Yahtzee reviews Okami HD.
You know, it used to be difficult to decide what to cover in retro reviews, but not anymore; now I just review whatever's been rereleased lately. Be careful, Johnny Games Industry; you don't want to end up like Billy Film Industry, who now spends most of his time sitting on a gas mask hose so he can lounge about enjoying the smell of his own farts all day. Still, I shouldn't complain; at least we're playing an old game we know to be good and which, otherwise, would've been left in the abandoned storage unit of gaming history alongside composite cables and Jak & Daxter. It's an improvement on playing the latest AAA attempt to throw loot boxes at the skulls of gullible people in the hope that one of them will embed itself.
So here's Okami HD, a rerelease of a classic PS2 action adventure game by the now-defunct Clover Studio themed around Japanese Shinto, and as with many polytheistic religions, the smallest amount of research into Shinto will make you wonder why Christianity has stuck around so long when all the other religions were clearly having much more fun. For example, did you know that Amaterasu, the sun goddess, fell out with Tsukuyomi, the moon god, after Tsukuyomi got grossed out by the goddess of food literally pulling a feast out of her arse? That's not just interesting; that's pretty fucking relatable, more so than that "loaves and fishes" bullshit.
In Okami, we play as Amaterasu the sun goddess in the aspect of a white wolf. I've got to say, irreverent as I am, sun worship has always made a lot of sense to me as a religion; at least you're worshipping something you know is there and actually does stuff, and you can say things like, "Don't stare at God for too long, or He'll dim your eyesight, and then your parents will think you've been masturbating again." But I digress. Amaterasu returns to glorious Nippon because it's full of demons and, um... she'd rather it not be full of demons. I suppose it's not the most complex plotting in the world, but we're in the land of standard heroic myth here, the kind of thing that can be told around a campfire to slab-foreheaded tribespeople for generations and eventually retitled The Legend of Zelda.
So here comes the usual question for your retro rerelease, what we academics call "the Jenga Problem": does it hold up? Well, firstly, it's post-2000's, and therefore, to my crusty mind, about as retro as what I had for breakfast this morning, so Okami is still highly regarded. But what you'll note about the rave reviews is that they always go off and on about the "beautiful art and soundtrack" and don't seem to dwell much on how the game actually plays. "Languid" was a word that caught my eye from one review, which is about the nicest possible way of saying "slow". It's not paced like a slug on wet concrete; it's "languid". That wasn't premature ejaculation; that was "biological timesaving."
But get through the introduction, in which two characters establish the point of "save the world from the naughty demons" with about 9000 text boxes that all slowly crawl onto the screen like an Irishman on New Year's Eve trying to walk across a parking lot, all accompanied by Banjo-Kazooie-esque procedural gibber dialogue, and you will know whether or not you can put up with it for the whole game. And hey, here's the good news: you can actually speed up the text display in some of the ensuing dialogue, just not all of it, because we're doing the Yakuza thing of drawing arbitrary distinctions between kinds of dialogue that I guess somehow makes sense if you're Japanese.
The weird thing is, most of the time, the game dialogue exhaustively clarifies and re-clarifies every next step on the rigidly-fixed story progression, but every now and again, it does the opposite and leaves you directionlessly flailing around the overworld sniffing your own doggy butt. Zelda is, of course, the best comparison. It's not a perfect one; Zelda has never had a special attack that lets you widdle on the enemy, much as that would have improved Skyward Sword, but it'll do.
The not-quite-open open world that unfolds as we acquire the Sacred Spanking Paddles that open up areas blocked off by ancient stone buttocks, or in this case, Celestial Brush techniques, which brings us to the main gameplay gimmick of Okami: that you can pause at any time and draw little beards and mustaches on the enemies for a laugh, which is as annoying as ever with analog sticks, so just as well the most complex thing you ever need to do is draw a flat, horribly misshapen circle with a line on it to create a bomb. But even the simple drawings can be temperamental; if your elbow gets jogged by your starving, neglected child while you're trying to draw a line, then your attempted slash will fizzle out and you'll have to withhold another meal. In any other game, I'd consider the Celestial Brush to be a pace-killer, having to pause the action and slowly drag your paintbrush across the screen like you're hung over and trying to lick crumbs off a breakfast tray. But this is a "languid" game, remember? Not slow; "languid"! That's not a urine stain on my trousers; it's a "moisture concentration zone"!
And it's not like the Celestial Brush makes the combat any more annoying; combat is a thing that ambushes you as you explore the overworld and holds you down so it can show you its holiday snaps. Some, if not most, enemies require Celestial Brush flappery to defeat, but even without that, the camera has a tendency to get bored and idly wander off while you're trying to gauge how close is close enough to actually hit the bastards. And the action tends to be constantly lousy with special effects; for some reason, it is considered important that flowers be constantly streaming out of our protagonist's bum. Better pack that in when Tsukuyomi's around, Amaterasu; you know what he's like with rectal miracles.
And yet, the combat isn't particularly difficult, either, so maybe it all balances out. It was something like twenty hours in before I was finally starting to feel challenged by it; up to then, it had mostly been lots of running around in circles and people slapping their bums at me. Yeah, twenty hours, and that wasn't even close to finished! Okami is one of those games that feels like it's constantly bolting more stuff onto itself. "You defeated the giant, all-powerful embodiment of evil in a grand, climactic battle? Kickass! Time to start on the giant, all-powerful embodiment of evil next door!" This was the PS2 era, of course, back before games were split between either five-hour story campaigns a lot of people are just going to watch on YouTube, or 200 hours of grind because you really want to unlock Tracer's new leg warmers. And perhaps it's true that to dwell on the, open-quotes, "languidness" of the pace or how the combat isn't quite as slick and satisfying as something designed by psychopaths to trigger your addiction receptors is missing the point.
Does Okami hold up? I do think there are a lot of things wrong with it that it excuses by hiding behind the "arty game" label; yeah, the jumping feels sticky and you need to run for about half a mile before you can start sprinting (at which point, you should probably already be at whatever you needed to sprint to), but overall, it offers the catharsis of a simple, uplifting story with lively, engaging characters that doesn't get as up itself as some games with a celestial theme - El Shaddai springs instantly to mind - and it never stops feeling like something lovingly devised with a specific intent, which the gameplay foibles may even be part of. The Celestial Brush is temperamental 'cause we're dealing with the fickle whims of the gods, yeah? It might bestow you with their blessing, but then again, it might turn into a swan and bugger you all night.
- Not a cat person: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Funnily enough "Okami" is also what Yoda says if you ask him how he's feeling and he talks very fast
- I now challenge the comments to list every game where you can widdle on the enemy