One of the things I really admire about the PlayStation 3 system is its commitment to nostalgia. When I heard that an HD remake of Okami was due, I decided that it was high time to finally invest in a PS3. As luck would have it, around the time I acquired a system, a collection of the five games in the God of War series was released. Well, I decided, why not use this opportunity to revisit some old friends. Playing some of these HD remasters is a great way to revisit old games, and get a sense of how far games have come in a few short years, not to mention how you, the gamer, might have changed since first picking up a controller.
In replaying Okami and God of War, I found it interesting that Okami has benefited greatly from its facelift, and aged quite well, but God of War feels dated, and seems tamer than I remember it being.
Okami and God of War were two of the reasons I wanted a Playstation 2 in the first place. When I received a PS2 as a birthday surprise several years ago, I was thrilled, and eager to play. At the time, finals week was right around the corner, and I had two lengthy papers and an exam to study for; these did not keep me from playing the games. God of War, in particular, served as a great frustration outlet when the paper topics simply wouldn’t come together properly, while Okami was an inspiration, since the exam dealt with Asian art history. It was easy to get lost in both games, and they made for welcome distractions after studying.
Working a retail job over the winter holiday and studying for the upcoming spring semester left me plenty of frustration, and God of War was a fantastic outlet for it. Over the top battles, blood and gore, heaps of Greek mythology, and a hard fantasy art style made it the perfect game to idle away the winter nights. Okami, steeped heavily in Japanese mythology and folklore, offered a very different experience. Wide-open forests, cities, and mountains gave way to mystery, adventure, and the beauty of nature. With each area cleansed and purified of an evil force, flowers, greenery, and trees returned, breathing remarkable life and color onto the screen. The game was immersive, funny, with a deep story meditating on the nature of good and evil, an epic adventure that I was reluctant to put down.
Two very different experiences, and yet they helped shape me as a gamer. Returning to my roots with the HD remakes of both games has given me some serious perspective on their place in the gaming hierarchy.
The years have been kind to Okami. It still sits heads and shoulders above other adventure games, with its vast world and story, not to mention its lovable leads of goofy yet noble Amaterasu and the bouncing, immature Issun. They are delightful characters, and while Issun’s perverse humor is still cringe inducing, Amaterasu’s playful nature feels fresh, especially in this console generation. Our heroes today are angry and cynical; Okami can still laugh at itself and wants gamers to laugh with it.
What really sets Okami apart from so many other games is its unique gameplay mechanic of the Celestial Brush. Replaying this game in HD shows off what an imaginative and creativity-rich world the game embraces. Painting on the screen with a simple combination of button presses and twists of the thumbstick creates patterns that mimic the slice of a blade, the blustering of the wind, and the flow of water, while daubing spots of digital ink on a grassy field creates trees. If any game could make the argument that a game was a work of art, it is Okami. Art is the heart of the game, and it still shows.
The same burst of nostalgia that returned me to Okami also got me playing God of War again, in its HD remake version. The environments of God of War have benefited from the facelift, and the striking city of Athens and cleverly designed corridors of Pandora’s Temple return onto the screen like old friends. The architectural designs are a fusion of classical and fantastical, with winding staircases, long hallways, and stunning area changes, especially in Pandora’s Temple, where one corridor made of blood and stone gives way to a lavish marble and gold lined palace. The environments are gorgeous, and they pop off the screen.
Unfortunately, the game’s cutscenes and cinematics do not yield the same results in their HD form. What’s more, colors are muted, the bloody explosions of enemies are almost laughable in their exaggerations, and the brooding killer that is Kratos, one-time Poster Boy of the Playstation 2, comes across as a caricature, like a character from a bygone era of gaming. Despite its place in the pantheon of great games, God of War shows its age.
God of War was my go-to game for frustration relief in college; when I couldn’t stand reading dead theologians anymore, I’d immerse myself in a world of gods, monsters, and classical mythology. It seems silly now, but for a time God of War was what I thought defined a great video game. I thought that if a game could utilize visceral, engaging combat and still tell a strong story involving themes of vengeance, fate, and control, then all video games that used such methods of gameplay and story were equally good.
God of War II adjusted a few things here and there, and kept the wildly complex environments; God of War III has gutsy combat. I can’t speak to the story, because the game almost physically nauseates me with its brutality. Whereas I once found the extreme violence of the God of War games amusing and even therapeutic, now I view the franchise as a relic of nearly a decade ago. It’s from another time, and isn’t particularly enjoyed by the gamer I am now.
I still carry the same frustrations that I used to – stress over work and side projects, the little dramas of life, and the despairing feeling that there’s just not enough time in one day – but my method of dealing with the day-to-day doesn’t immediately mean I reach for the most violent, brutal game I own. When I play games now, I’m looking to play along with a strong narrative, or I’m looking for a meditative experience. I enjoy action games, but I want a great story to offset the blood and violence. I read enough ugly things due to my obsession with history; immersing myself in game worlds that echo that ugliness is not my primary interest as a gamer.
Growing as a gamer means looking to the future of gaming. It’s a frustrating experience at times because sometimes the new games don’t measure up as I feel they should. Looking back at old games gives me some much needed perspective on the current generation, and it’s also an opportunity to look back and recapture some of the excitement of gaming. God of War might remain in its case, a fond memory of the gamer I used to be, but replaying Okami is like seeing an old friend again after years apart. In that case, bring on the nostalgia.
About the Author:
Alexandra Geraets is an fan of story-driven video games. She's an even more avid fan of exploring how and why they resonate with all of us. Her essays have been found on Village Voice Media.