Paint­ing the world in Okami.

With a splash of mag­i­cal ink, Okami ’s cursed coun­try­side springs glo­ri­ously back to life.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Andy Kelly

You feel like you’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and leav­ing a trail of pos­i­tiv­ity be­hind

When you en­ter a new re­gion of Okami’s myth­i­cal vi­sion of an­cient Ja­pan, the land­scape is shrouded in a chok­ing, oth­er­worldly fog and patches of strange pur­ple blight rav­age the fields and forests. Where there were once trees, plants and wildlife, you find only death, de­cay, and roam­ing demons. This is the hand­i­work of the dreaded eight­headed ser­pent Orochi, whose creep­ing curse has seeped into the earth and poi­soned it: a curse that you, the sun god Amat­erasu, have ar­rived to lift.

Play­ing Okami, you feel like the hero of some an­cient fa­ble passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. The leg­end of the white wolf who van­quished a de­mon and brought peace and pros­per­ity to a cursed world. Amat­erasu, in­hab­it­ing the body of the afore­men­tioned wolf, uses an arte­fact called the Ce­les­tial Brush to drive back the curse. With this she can con­trol the forces of na­ture us­ing tech­niques taught to her by fel­low deities, such as mak­ing the sun sud­denly rise or bring­ing dead trees back to life.

What makes these pow­ers ex­tra mag­i­cal is how you get to wield the Ce­les­tial Brush your­self, paint­ing sym­bols with ink to trig­ger their var­i­ous ef­fects. Sumi-e, or ink wash paint­ing, is a tra­di­tional form of Ja­panese art, which was of­ten used to tell the kinds of sto­ries you’re the star of in Okami. This is a won­der­fully clever way of re­in­forc­ing the idea of be­ing a part of, and cre­at­ing, a mythol­ogy. And it’s also just re­ally fun, paint­ing a cir­cle and watch­ing the sun fill the sky with ra­di­ant light, knock­ing a cack­ling de­mon on its arse with a gust of heav­enly wind, or blow­ing holes in things by con­jur­ing up mag­i­cal cherry bombs.

But the most sat­is­fy­ing use of the Ce­les­tial Brush has to be restor­ing cursed zones. Find a patch of sickly, pur­ple-tinged grass, paint some ink over it, and watch it ex­plode with vi­brant green fo­liage. Do enough of these and great swathes of land will be re­stored, re­veal­ing bam­boo forests, sparkling ponds and grate­ful wildlife. You can even feed the crea­tures you free from the curse and lit­tle love hearts will pop out of their heads when they see you. It’s whole­some, and I find it im­pos­si­ble to leave a re­gion be­hind with­out brush­ing away ev­ery trace of Orochi’s plague.

Swirl a cir­cle around a dead, black­ened tree and you’ll see cherry blos­som burst from it. Dig up a with­ered clover and you can make it sparkling and green again – a cute ref­er­ence to Clover, the stu­dio that de­vel­oped the orig­i­nal, non-HD Okami, and which sadly closed its doors in 2007. As Amat­erasu runs, she leaves a trail of bloom­ing, sprout­ing plants in her wake, as if the very ground she walks on is blessed by her pres­ence. And, fi­nally, if you re­store one of the tow­er­ing guardian trees, the en­tire re­gion re­cov­ers from the curse and is sud­denly filled with life and colour.

CHANGE FOR GOOD

The longer you play Okami, and the more re­gions you rid of the curse, the more sat­is­fy­ing it is to ex­plore the world. There’s some back­track­ing in the game, and sprint­ing through ar­eas you’ve re­ju­ve­nated is re­ward­ing. You feel like you’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and leav­ing a trail of pos­i­tiv­ity be­hind you as you progress through the game. The peo­ple you meet, al­though they think you’re just a dumb, fluffy wolf and are un­aware of your godly pow­ers, ac­tu­ally men­tion that the world has changed for the bet­ter and their lives have im­proved. Okami un­der­stands that when you impact a game world, the folk who live there should no­tice.

This restora­tion sys­tem is so in­her­ently grat­i­fy­ing, I’m won­der­ing why more games haven’t copied or riffed on it. A strange ex­am­ple of one that did was EA and Pan­demic’s 2009 open world WW2 game, The Sabo­teur. Set in Paris, the city starts off grey and life­less as the Nazis oc­cupy it, but as you drive them away, colour and life comes back to the streets. But Okami’s ver­sion is still the best, and the 30 hours I spent restor­ing na­ture to Ja­pan were a con­stant de­light. It’s the clos­est thing we have to Zelda on PC: a big, beau­ti­ful, vi­brant ad­ven­ture set in a fas­ci­nat­ing world, with a com­pelling story and rich char­ac­ters. And I’m glad the HD ver­sion was fi­nally re­leased on PC, let­ting us ex­pe­ri­ence all this joy in 4K.

RIGHT: Watch­ing colour re­turn to the world with ev­ery stroke of your ink brush is re­ally sat­is­fy­ing.

RIGHT: Guardian trees are the heart of each re­gion. Drive away the curse and the land­scape will ex­plode with wildlife.

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