Okami is still fantastic. Even in a year like 2017, which had dozens of amazing games and several terrific open-world adventures, the updated Okami HD feels like it could have been a new release. Okami is an ageless classic that, even after 11 years since the last time played it, is somehow even better than I remember.
Loving Okami isn't a new hot take; when the original released back in 2006, it was a critical darling; it's currently 93% on Metacritic, and our own review at the time gave it a 9 out of 10. But publisher Capcom was disappointed by the game's low sales. After developer Clover had another commercial failure in God Hand--along with the departure of key personnel later that same year--the studio was shut down in 2007. And yet despite the game's post-release troubles, Okami still stands out as a significant achievement.
Much of Okami's timelessness is due to the bold, brush-stroke-inspired art style. Okami was gorgeous even on PS2, and Okami HD is a faithful tribute to the game's everlasting beauty. When you're stationary, the screen is a painting. Slight, subtle movements of the air are portrayed with thin flowing lines, and your wolf-form pulses with whirls of energy. In movement, the game runs at a noticeably lower frame-rate, at least on Xbox One and PS4, but Okami's hyper-stylized version of feudal Japan is like seeing a painting come to life.
The game overall is an obvious homage to the Legend of Zelda series, but your ability to use the world as a literal canvas for your god-like brush strokes makes Okami feel inspired and unique rather than just a derivative Zelda clone. The drawings you create on-screen are simple enough that they don't stall the momentum of battle, and the mechanics are generous enough that even for someone as artistically untalented as myself, creating circles and lines makes me feel like I missed my calling as a painter.
But how does the updated Okami HD change the experience? Having not touched the game since it's PS2 release 11 years ago, Okami stays true to my memories, but I'm constantly surprised by how modern it feels. There are no story or gameplay changes for this update. There are some aspect ratio options, and the game has a sharper look than its PS2 predecessor, but otherwise this is a port of the original game. Besides the frame-rate issue, there are a few small issues that could've used a fix. Text speed is inconsistent--sometimes you can quickly speed through dialogue; other times, words crawl slowly along the screen, completely oblivious to your button-mashing attempts to speed them up. And the game oscillates between gently pointing you in the right direction with a map marker, or putting a huge, unmissable arrow in front of you that points the way to your next goal. But these are minor issues that don't detract from what is a sprawling modern masterpiece.
One thing remains blissfully unchanged about the game--there is no voice acting. Oddly, the game was dinged in our original review for its lack of voiceover, and to be fair, it released alongside other cinematic games with great performances such as Final Fantasy XII, Half-Life 2: Episode 1, and Bully. But the lack of voice acting in Okami insulates the game in some ways from its occasionally inconsistent characterizations and the general danger of overacting--which, as we've seen in more recent games like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, can pull down an otherwise solid story.
In remakes and remasters, sometimes games can feel like historical relics compared to current releases--they were great for their time, but they have some element that just doesn't hold up today. Or worse, your memory of a game had glossed over the flaws that stand out in stark relief once you pick up a controller today. But the years have only been more kind to Okami. It's a humorous piece of interactive folklore; a fast and loose take on Japanese mythology that I loved back in 2006 and that feels just as fresh and exciting today.