POST TIME: 22 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Ōkami HD

Ōkami HD

If the American novelist Chuck Palahniuk skewered the almost-lie that money buys happiness with his quippy adage that the things we own end up owning us, the newly rereleased Okami (and pretty much every other video game in which you play God) spoils the idea that the life of a deity is in any way enviable. Sure, as the benevolent goddess Amaterasu, freshly incarnated as a white wolf, you have the power to change the world in extravagant ways, both galactic and molecular.

With a flourish of that mystical calligraphic brush clenched between your fangs you can, for example, paint entire suns into the world, daub leaves back on to the branches of barren trees, or splotch a missing star on to a lapsed constellation. More often, however, you are a god of small things, engaged in the mundane busywork of answering the prayers of the villagers who live within your domain. With a swipe of the bristles you must light their fires, fix their bridges, repair their tools, replace their lost objects and, when cleaving passing demons in two, save their lives. To crib Palahniuk’s format: the god we follow ends up following us.

Amaterasu’s intervention in the plodding business of rural Japanese life is not entirely selfless, however. Divinely intervention is often thankless work: humans either fail to appreciate your feats, or, more hurtfully, claim them as their own. But whenever someone does recognise the miraculous hidden in the everyday, you’re rewarded with a precious, fragile commodity: faith. In Okami, a remastered version of a 12-year-old, underappreciated classic by the now defunct Clover Studio, published by Capcom, faith is a valuable currency, one to be spent on growing or rediscovering your powers (after a hundred-year slumber, gods must apparently relearn some of the miracles in the repertoire), and the more powerful you become, the better able you are to fulfil your ultimate purpose: restoring the world to a state of prelapsarian beauty and harmony.

Considering that this is a video game, a form that more than any other relies on a confluence of keen technologies, Okami’s preoccupations are surprisingly pastoral. As you pad through shrines and bamboo fields, flowers bloom at Amaterasu’s paws. Leap into the air and you release a fluttering confetti of rusty maple leaves. You battle not robots or tanks, but shamisen-wielding baboons and furious carp. And while Amaterasu is goddess of the people, one eye is always on the sparrow; there’s always time to feed birds, boar, hares and horses (and inspire their faith as a reward). As the story unfurls before you, with its cast of sotted old swordsmen, snap-backed village elders, fidgety teens and all the rest, Amaterasu leaves a steady wake of colour and life behind her.

First released in 2006, this rerelease, titled with artless straightforwardness Okami HD, is the latest in a gathering trend of video game companies treating the jewels in their back catalogues to a so-called “remaster”. It’s a misnomer, underselling both the process and results of rebuilding old video games in today’s technology. In many cases, only the 3D skeletons that underpin the original are preserved; the skin and texture of the game is freshly repainted on to the mesh. In this way, the art of the video game remake is less like the restoration of an old masterwork, or the snapping of a blurred photograph into focus, and more like the renovation of an aged building. The old wallpaper is ripped off, replaced with patterns of an intricacy and sophistication that would have been impossible when the thing was first erected.

In Okami’s case (a game that has already undergone a couple of exploratory renovations in the past dozen years) the effect is transformative. What was already a striking art style, inspired by Japanese watercolour and wood carving art of Hokusai et al, is not so much heightened as brought into its truest form. Restoration, renovation, rebirth: Okami’s themes, which can be found in so many of the most compelling video games, are in some gentle way reflected in the meta task of the “remaster” project, where we are inexorably drawn to the task of righting the world’s wrongs, of bringing ultimate order to chaos.