Tag Archives: PS4

Game Review: Okami HD

Readers from the earliest days of this blog might recall a rare rant post on how the Wii’s motion controls sucked & clearly weren’t intended for calligraphy writing.  The game in question was the Wii version of Okami.  Thanks to the HD re-release on current consoles, including an upcoming release on the Switch, I purchased an entirely new copy in the hopes that using a regular controller would make the game easier.  And shock of shocks, it actually did, thus continuing to prove motion controls are little more than a gimmick to entice new gamers.  Not only did I breeze through levels that had previously given me trouble, but I was able to complete the game.

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In Okami, you take the role of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, incarnated as a wolf.  Your job is to vanquish the darkness that has taken control of the land of Nippon with the help of your Celestial Brush, allowing you to literally draw on the canvas of the world.  Initially your task focus’ on slaying the eight-headed dragon Orochi, who was mysteriously released from his prison & demanding human sacrifices.  But later you uncover that Orochi was the just a pawn to something much darker.

Okami’s game style is very much inspired by The Legend of Zelda games, where you travel through various locations & dungeons earning new ways to advance.  But whereas Link picks up new weapons & items, Amaterasu unlocks new brush techniques.  The Celestial Brush is your primary tool in the game, allowing you to pause the world to draw various designs, resulting in different effects.  For example, you can slash foes by making a short, straight line across them, or you can creating a massive fireball by drawing an infinity sign.  As you travel, you’ll bring light & life to the dying world, earning Praise by creating miracles & leveling up your Godhood.


Narrative: Despite being heavily rooted in Shintoism, foreknowledge isn’t required to understand & enjoy Okami.  The game does a good job at building its world, so even if you don’t know a thing about Japan it won’t matter.  It essentially functions as any other fantasy realm.

okamiI’ve heard many claim that the game feels twice as long as it needs to be, & while I do understand where they’re coming from, I felt that the actual ending of the game is much more satisfying.  You defeat Orochi about half way through the game, only to learn there’s something bigger on the horizon.  Some people might find that frustrating, as up until that point there’s been no indication that there was something more, but the further you progress, the more you realize there are answers to questions you didn’t realize were there.  The closest thing I can compare it to is in the first Mass Effect game when you spend most of the game chasing after Saren, only to realize that he wasn’t the most dangerous threat.  Only Okami finishes its story in a single game.  In the end, all the characters have a proper conclusion.  And the ending nicely concludes the overarching themes of vanquishing darkness & restoring humanity’s faith in the gods, which was ultimately what lead to the problems in the first place.

All the characters are nicely quirky & memorable, & I felt the plot, for all its bouncing around, paced itself very nicely.  It felt like things unfolded at a nice pace.  And while Amaterasu is a classic silent protagonist (being a dog & all), I have to give Clover Studios credit for managing to give her a personality despite literally not being able to speak.

Overall, while a bit it may seem needlessly long to some, I felt the story was very engaging, characters were interesting, & the conclusion was satisfying.

Score: 5


90a30a48860806e141f3c2c1dba0716b1510147048_full-1Mechanics: The biggest unique selling point of Okami is the Celestial Brush.  Back when I played the game on the Wii, I found the controls a bit frustrating given that the brushstrokes need to be fairly accurate to accomplish what you want.  And while I did still experience some issues with the game registering my strokes, I am happy to report that it worked a million times better using the traditional PS4 controller than the Wii-mote.  On paper you’d think the Wii would be better, but using a regular joystick worked sufficiently well.  The process is actually simpler than it sounds, as bringing up the canvas pauses anything going on in the world to give you time to find the right angle.  It’s a lot of fun to see basic shapes create massive changes in the world or damage enemies.

Combat as a whole is pretty fun & fast-paced, & best of all sometimes avoidable.  Some encounters you can’t escape, typically when they’re introducing a new type, but in most of the overworld encounters are indicated by “demon carpets” floating around the level that you can just avoid if you’re not in the mood.  You can also attack with weapons, as your ink isn’t unlimited, & while there are only three styles of weapons, you’ll find yourself using all of them depending on the encounter.  That leads to another aspect I enjoyed, which was the boss fights.  I liked that they all played out differently, with specific strategies revolving around the brush strokes you have at the time.  Just learned how to create wind?  Here’s a flaming skeleton cow that you can only hit once you’ve put the fire out.  Just learned how to harness lightning?  Here’s a boss who will obligingly hold a metal sword in their mouth while storm clouds dot the sky.

However, I did have two main gripes about the combat.  One is that, for a lot of the bosses later in the game, fighting them is a waiting game.  You end up just dodging their attacks until they do the one thing that leaves them vulnerable.  I know this is how a lot of bosses work in these Zelda-style games, & usually this only applies for the first stage of the boss fight, but it’s still a little frustrating.  Secondly, the combat only really works when you’re facing a few enemies at a time.  Generally this isn’t a problem because most fights are one-on-one or up to three.  But the demon gates… oh the bane of my Okami existence.  The Demon Gate Trials are an option side mission where you must defeat several ways of ramped-up enemies in a succession of fights.  It gets very chaotic very quickly, especially in the later levels when most enemies have only specific weaknesses.  Or, y’know, they pit you against multiple ramped-up versions of a boss.  Granted, these fights are entirely optional, but you have to complete them to earn stray beads to get an item for New Game+ that’s essentially turning on God Mode.  I guess I would say it’s less a problem with the combat itself, & more just hating the trials.  They get ridiculously hard, & you can’t leave the arena to get more supplies or you’ll have to start from the beginning again.

Other than that, I enjoyed most of what the game had to offer.  I liked how you level up your Godhood by earning Praise by helping out people & creating miracles.  The side missions are varied enough, though I disliked the races & digging champ minigames, though with some strategy (& eliminating the Wii-mote) they were tolerable, optional, & not numerous enough to be more than a momentary annoyance.

Overall, while later enemies can be a bit cheap & tedious, & Demon Gates are suitably demonic, I found Okami’s gameplay to be a refreshing take on an old formula.

Score: 4


Okami_HD_ScreenshotAesthetics: I really, really love the style of this game.  The art direction in phenomenal.  The art style is a unique mix of woodcut, watercolor & cell-shading.  It looks like a moving ink painting, which fits the themes of the game perfectly.  Personally, I’d rather use a game like Okami to showcase what HD should be rather than something more realistic.  It’s an absolute treat to watch the world turn vibrant with each bit of progress you make, truly making you feel like your restoring beauty into the world.

The music is also very nice, fitting the Japanese themes.  I liked that all of the main characters you interact with have their own themes, which all fit their personalities perfectly.  And while I can’t speak to any voiceacting, as everyone speaks in meaningless noises, the animations do a good job of showcasing what the character is tying to emote.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  It’s entirely possible to see everything there is to see in Okami in a single run, but it’s definitely the sort of game that can be enjoyed multiple times.  Once you beat the game the first time, you unlock New Game+ which brings over all your experience & most of your items.  There’s also the challenge of finding all the stray beads to earn the String of Beads, which when equipped grants invulnerability, unlimited ink & 10x damage, meaning I’m going to have a lot of fun stomping enemies the next time around.

Score: 4


Breakdown

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Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Although there are a few annoyances later in the game that prevent it from being perfect, Okami is a tragically underrated game that shines as an example of being uniquely beautiful & compelling.  Hopefully with all the HD re-releases, adventure game fans will give this one a shot, though preferrably without motion controls.

– GamerDame

Title: Okami HD
Console: PS2, PS3, PS4, Wii, Switch, PC, XBox One
Rating: T
Developer: Clover Studios
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: April 20, 2006
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Filed under 4, Action, Adventure, PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, Reviews, Switch, Wii, XBox One

Game Review: Until Dawn

In my first impressions on this game, I pointed out how I got major “The Cabin in the Woods” vibes.  Sadly, I can’t say one way or another if this vibe was accurate.  If you know what goes on in the movie, it would spoil the game; if you know what goes on the game, it would spoil the movie.  And “The Cabin in the Woods” & Until Dawn‘s stories are good enough that they need to be experienced without any spoilers.

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In Until Dawn, you play as a group of potential murder victims who return to a lodge located in the isolated mountains of Alberta, Canada.  One year prior to their outing, in the game’s prologue, two of their friends disappeared after a prank gone wrong, & were never found despite police investigation.  On the anniversary of their suspected deaths, the sisters’ brother invites everyone back out to the family’s lodge both in memory of the date & to help everyone heal from the tragedy.  Things quickly begin to go awry as the group of teens find themselves pursued by mysterious stalkers whose goal seems to be killing them off… but not before having a little fun with them.

A mishmash of various gaming genres, Until Dawn is probably best described as an interactive drama with heavy adventure game influences.  Aside from wandering around the environments finding clues about the twins’ death & your stalker, the main mechanics of the game revolve around choosing your controllable character’s reactions or decisions & quick-time events during the action-oriented scenes.  A major component to Until Dawn, so much so that it’s actually what the opening cutscene begins on, is the “Butterfly Effect.”  The idea that even the smallest choice can alter the course of history.  From a gameplay perspective, this means that every choice, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, can affect your survival later on.


untildawnleadimagejtNarrative: I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed Until Dawn’s story.  Usually most of the enjoyment derived from slasher flicks is in the catharsis of watching annoying characters die; typically the plot itself is pretty flimsy.  But while you can certainly play Until Dawn in this manner, making the characters as unlikable as possible to enjoy killing them later, the plot is actually fairly solid.  I can appreciate how much effort the developers put in to making this game feel like a quality slasher flick.  I don’t know if I’d say it’s a “smart” game, but it’s clear that the developers understood the medium, including the clichés, tropes & player expectations, while trying to add their own twist on it.  To me, that’s the difference between a trope & a cliché.  A trope is an archetype, or creative shortcut, like the brooding anti-hero or knight.  It’s only when this archetype is poorly implemented that it becomes a negative cliche.  For example, the… blonde of questionable life choices is the first to go, & the black kid got shafted in both of my playthroughs despite my best efforts.  Very classically tropes from horror movies, yet it’s entirely up to the player what ultimately happens to everyone.

That’s another aspect I enjoy, that you can control how deserving the characters’ potential deaths are.  You can make them as insufferable as you want, but the game also presents the teenagers as reasonably well-rounded individuals, so there’s also potential to like them.  Jessica may be one of those boy-crazy girls I’ve always avoided like the plague in real life, but she shows she has a mind of her own & isn’t a total pushover when she’s with Mike in the cabin.  Emily’s catty, backstabbing & bossy (among other less polite adjectives), but is far more tolerable when she’s by herself finding a way out of the mines.  Mike’s a typical playboy, but at least he tries to help people even if it ends up hurting him.  Maybe this is more due to them not acting like stereotypical teens when actual things of importance come up (like not dying), or feeling they repented for their sins by getting the crap beat out of them?  I started liking characters after they’d been terrorized for a bit.  Like, “Okay, now that you’ve been beaten to Hell & back I guess I’ll save you.”

I also really enjoyed the pacing, & how all the seemingly unrelated clues you come across actually piece together to make a single, coherent story.  It’s fun trying to figure out who the killer is, then after the killer’s revealed, questioning all the incidents that don’t mesh with that.  There’s always a new question to answer, & everything comes together very nicely in the end.  Another small but important detail is that the characters’ understanding of what’s going on is based on the clues you find while exploring.  I liked that they have different conversations based on what you’ve found.  It’s a nice little touch.

If I have complaints about the story, they involve the totems & Matt & Emily.  My problem with the totems from a story perspective is that they’re the only things the characters can find that they have no reaction to.  It was the only feature that really only seemed to exist for the benefit of the player.  I would’ve liked to have seen them show some reaction to the visions.  And my problem with Matt & Emily is that in the base game there’s a huge chunk where they’re just gone, & we never know what they’re doing.  Part of me wants to believe it’s because the developers want you to think they’re in on what’s going on, because their reactions to the news is pretty blasé.  But I saw that there’s an added scene only available in pre-order editions that fills in that gap, making me think it was more bad writing.

Overall, Until Dawn has an intriguing & well-paced thriller/mystery that will keep you guessing.

Score: 4


jpgMechanics: Given that the big selling point of Until Dawn is that your choices matter, naturally the most important mechanic to pin down is making choices.  These can range from seemingly minor, such as choosing whether or not to shoot a squirrel, to make-the-wrong-choice-&-die-instantly.  I’d say overall it’s a mechanic that works well because you never really know if the next choice is a biggie or not.  I also liked that some of the choices are times, including an anxiety-inducing ticking sound as your time counts down.  Although you can always pause the game to think longer, it really helps you feel the pressure the character is under.  I also appreciated that there weren’t too many instant death choices.

Quick-time events are also a big component of the gameplay.  And while QTEs are typically the bane of gamers’ existence, this is probably the best they’ve been implemented.  Basically they are the only control you have during the more action-heavy segments, meaning you don’t have to multitask.  You can just focus on being prepared for the next QTE.  It helps add a sense of drama.  Now, I have to admit I had some trouble with them, simply because I haven’t fully internalized where all the buttons are on the PS4 controller.  Every time an action scene started, I would mentally chant, “Square, Triangle, Circle,” to remind myself of their location.  But there is a pattern to most of the events that help you predict what’s coming next.  For example, any jump required the Triangle, & you never have two of the same commands in a row.  It’s also the same QTEs for an event, so you can learn them.  I also appreciated that you get a second chance if you mess up a QTE, again making instant deaths rare.  There was also a function where at times you’ll have to hold the controller completely still, ensuring that the glowing portion remained within the bounds, adding some nice tension to hiding scenes.  One QTE I didn’t appreciate, however, was the aiming sections.  My first playthrough I had to keep reloading in one part because I kept getting Chris killed.  This problem was mitigated by the update that added the option to invert controls, but I was still annoyed that wasn’t a default option.

That’s not to say the controls are perfect, however.  The fixed camera angles are nice for atmosphere, but suck for helping you navigate, as this caused me to have to pause a second between angles to readjust my direction.  It’s not required, as you can continue in the same direction you were already going in, but my brain doesn’t function that way.  Movement feels clunky in general, especially with the amount of times you get stuck on the scenery or a companion as you walk around.  And walking is all you can do.  You can walk or walk faster.  No running.  I also found it strange that nothing was mapped to the left trigger.  I think this should’ve been the button to grab items, because holding down right trigger to grab then using the right stick to rotate causes cramps if the game’s played for long periods.

There were also some features that I didn’t get, or felt weren’t properly utilized.  Why do the characters have personality stats if I tell them what to do?  They don’t act differently based on these stats.  Choices also had a weird way of changing these stats.  For instance, expressing remorse would sometimes cause a character’s honesty to go down.  Is it implying this person is lying by saying they feel sorry for their past actions?  I also found the relationship stats a bit odd, but more understandable.  There are a few moments when interactions change based on how much a person likes your current character, & I suppose they couldn’t only show the stats for the one person whose opinion mattered.  The psychiatrist segments as well, while interesting in how they relate to the overarching story, seemed pointless in that your choices didn’t affect anything significant.

Overall, Until Dawn has some solid gameplay that manages to make QTEs work properly, but a few minor yet continuous annoyances drag it down.

Score: 4


until-dawn-chris-2Aesthetics: Until Dawn’s presentation is fairly impressive.  The developers clearly took painstaking care to render the actors properly, to the game’s benefit.  The facial animations & textures are quite remarkable to look at (& the game knows this, as standing still will bring a close-up of the character’s face as they twitch anxiously).  And unlike some previous games, just as much attention has been given to the character models, for the most part allowing the game to avoid the Uncanny Valley.  However, characters do tend to emote a little too much at times, particularly when they’re yelling.  Their mouths at time seem too big, & I think a big part of that is their teeth.  They’re just too big & white, & when characters smile they show too much gums.  Other than that, the scenery is beautiful in a bleak, atmospheric kind of way, making excellent use of lighting.  I also mentioned this before, but the camera angles make me feel like I’m the stalker, really adding to these sense of paranoia.

Acoustically, I can say that the voice acting is really good, always matching the tone of the situation.  The game has some great sound design, with appropriate creaks, groans & howls.  I also have to say Until Dawn has some of the best snow crunching sounds I’ve ever heard in a game.  Yeah, it’s a little thing, but small details like that help add to the immersion.  The music was okay.  Honestly, there are only a few moments I can distinctly remember the music.  And while that might not bode well for the soundtrack, at least I can say nothing detracted from the experience.

Overall, solid presentation with some top-notch motion-capture & sound design, but perhaps a little too hammy.

Score: 4


Replay Value: High.  This sort of game is made to be played multiple times to experience all the possible outcomes.  And the outcomes are quite varied, warranting the time it takes to play through again.  Everyone can survive, or die, or any combination in between.

Score: 5


Breakdown

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Final Score: 4

Final Word: I started this review talking about The Cabin in the Woods, & I’ll bring it back.  Like that movie, Until Dawn is a love-letter to horror movies.  You can see all the influences on it, & get a sense of love for the genre.  Whether you play it serious or just want to laugh at the clichés, Until Dawn is a fun experience that I recommend everyone at least check out.

–  GamerDame

Title: Until Dawn
Console: PS4
Rating: M
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: August 25, 2015

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Filed under 4, Adventure, Horror, PS4, Reviews