Game Ramblings #63 – Okami HD

More Info from Capcom

  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: PS3, Windows, Xbox One
  • Original Platforms: PS2, Wii


  • One of the best examples of the Pre-BOTW 3D Zelda ARPG
  • Fantastic visuals that scaled up to modern systems nicely, as long as the screen filter is turned down
  • Combat generally simple, but a lot of fun thanks to the Celestial Brush mechanic, turning each encounter into a small puzzle

This is going to be a relatively short one, simply because there’s been enough said about Okami since its 2006 release.  As far as 3D Zelda-style games go, this is one of the best.  It starts with the typical Zelda pattern of going to a dungeon, finding an upgrade, and using that upgrade to finish the dungeon.  It adds much deeper combat that is more typical of JRPGs, with each encounter being its own little experience.  It uses a Celestial Brush system to literally draw in the world, repairing bridges, breathing life to trees, shooting fire at enemies, and more.  It then wraps all of that into one a gorgeous aesthetic reminiscent of Japanese sumi-e painting.  Put all together, it’s one of the finest examples of a Zelda game prior to Breath of the Wild, even if it wasn’t actually a Zelda.

There’s no talking about Okami without going straight at the visuals.  That little cutscene above is just a taste of how the game looks, but by and large it’s always that gorgeous.  Enemies killed with slashes float into the sky and separate into pieces like sheets of paper.  Trees explode into flower petals when brought back to life.  Even the static areas of the environment take on a beautiful painted look, with large outlines and simple color shading, giving the entire game a look that is entirely its own.

Combat takes place in its own little areas, giving a very JRPG feel to an otherwise action-focused system.

However, being an ARPG combat is still the focus, and this has much more depth than your typical Zelda game.  Sure, Zelda has its moments in boss fights, but your typical encounter with any enemy in the world is a few quick slashes and the player moves on.  In Okami, every encounter is its own little puzzle.  Some enemies may be weak to elements, so the player can drag those in from environmental source to stun enemies.  Some may have to be beaten down a bit before their weak points are exposed.  Some enemies can’t be hit unless time is slowed down, giving an opportunity to rush in for the kill. In general, each encounter has its own little piece to figure out in order to get through the fight in the most optimal matter.  Sure, you can usually also just beat on enemies until they die, but rewards scale based on time to complete an encounter, so effective use of the tools at hand is always the smart way to go.

All of this goes through the Celestial Brush system, which uses painted symbols to activate abilities.  Drawing a straight line on the screen will activate a powerful sword slash that can cleave enemies and environmental pieces in two.  Drawing a line from water, fire, ice, or lightning can cause those elements to help or hurt, depending on their use.  A swirling motion will activate wind, blowing away fire that may be shielding an enemy.  At its core, this replaces the typical items that Zelda games use, and allows for interactions that end up feeling more meaningful in their end result due to the need to draw on the fly.

The screen filter’s default option me feeling crosseyed.

I suppose the question then becomes, is this a good port?  More or less, but it has a few rough edges.  The default visual filter in place definitely had its problems, with some of the visual separation of things really looking awkward.  Turning that down to low solved most of the problems.  Otherwise things were solid.  Performance was consistent throughout the game, which was a particularly nice improvement over some of the more complex bosses on the PS2.  While the controls for painting were sometimes a bit awkward, the shape recognition is forgiving enough to allow for a lot of flex room in getting your symbols close enough.  If there’s anything with controls that did translate awkwardly, it’s that Start/Select from the PS2 were moved to the PS4’s touchpad, which also doubled as a secondary way to move the camera.  It didn’t cause issues in general, but every time I went to pause I ended up accidentally moving the camera completely in a place that I didn’t want to.

There’s a lot of bosses to defeat, all with their own tricks and fantastic designs.

Going back to this one 10+ years later was a nice treat.  Its visual style was always its selling feature, but only translated so well in 480i.  Luckily, the move up to 4k only helped the visuals, and the great combat system built around the Celestial Brush has aged extremely well.  If you’ve played this before, I could see an argument for not coming back again, but anyone that missed this the first go around would be well recommended in taking a whirl.

Game Ramblings #53 – Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

More Info from Falcom

  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Vita, Steam (Windows)


  • Great continuation of the Ys series, and one of the best RPGs of the year
  • Fantastically fun action combat
  • Serviceable story, but island systems that come out of it are great motivators for forward progress

The Ys series has routinely been a lot of fun, even if the actual releases have been extremely sporadic.  In the past decade we’ve only seen Ys 7 and Memories of Celceta, and internationally speaking the release of Origin.  However, the gameplay has continued to improve in quality, getting us to the point we’re at now.  While this is still definitely a game that feels like it was made for the Vita, it moves up to the console quite well, keeping fast paced combat, a great soundtrack to back it, and some really good systems involving the growth and maintenance of a town.  As usual, we’re left with Adol Christin being left in a bad situation, but this one works out as well as any game in the series before it.

Despite targeting the Vita, the visual style holds up well when scaled up to the big screen.

Going into an Ys game, the combat is obviously going to be the core focus.  The last few releases in particular have really strengthened their action RPG core, and VIII is no different.  The basic combat system is a main melee button, four mappable skills on a regenerating resource, a dodge, and a jump.  However, this simplicity hides a lot of depth.  One of the biggest pieces of the core combat is the timing of dodges.  When executed close to the point of taking damage, the game slows down the enemy combat, giving the player a period of time where they can lay into the enemy they’re facing with little risk of damage.  On the other hand, if they time this with their skill activation button, they gain a damage blocking shield and increased critical damage for a short period.  In addition, there’s a small weapon weakness system in place, giving the player an incentive to swap between characters to maximize damage, which can be done at any time with the press of a button.

Overall the system works really well to keep up the pace.  When taking on trash enemies, I often found myself dancing around spamming abilities to hit packs at a time.  When I moved up to larger enemies, it became a bit more of a tense chess match, where I’d lay off watching for reads on the enemy attack, then dodge and lay into the enemy while I had my small advantage window.  This was particularly evident during boss fights, where damage tended to be pretty fair, but could very quickly stack up into trouble if I started getting sloppy with my dodges.  There is a small wrinkle here where flashback sequences involving the title character Dana leave her to fight on her own.  However, as the flashbacks progress, she gains the ability to change forms, giving her the effective weapon triangle in the past without having to worry about the lack of party members.

Some bosses are impressive, others are just a good way to let dinosaur fans get a laugh.

On the story front, things aren’t as great, but they’re serviceable.  In general the story is pretty by the book.  Adol and the ship he’s on run aground, get stranded on an island, and adventuring hijinks ensue.  The cast all have their own motivations to getting off the island, but generally speaking they aren’t explored too much.  The story around the title character Dana, and why Adol was having dreams about her goes a bit further, but mostly only to provide a bit of reason to move forward.  However, because the story is so focused on survival and getting off the island, it forces the use of one of my favorite parts of the game, Castaway Island.

While you’re busy exploring the island of Seiren, you’re looking for a couple things; people and resources.  Finding the members of the ship you were on allows the village to grow.  Each person has their own little role to play.  Some people join your party as combat members while others open up shops for gear and potions.  Because the island is deserted there’s also no money system, so everything is received through a bartering system.  This heavy use of resources found in the environment enforces a really strong need to explore every little corner of the world, finding points in the environment where resources can be gathered, or that specific monster you need to kill to get one last piece of hide to upgrade your armor.  This system works fantastically well in practice, and provides a much more interactive system of gearing than your typical pattern of new town; new gear that so many RPGs fall into.

Side activities like fishing provide a nice distraction, as well as further resources to put back into the village.

In any normal year Ys 8 would have been the type of game that would push to the top of my list of favorite games, and as it stands it’s easily one of the better RPGs I’ve played this year.  The combat is fantastic, the story does well enough and pushes some great side systems, and the soundtrack really drives the game when it’s needed.  While this definitely won’t appeal to the Final Fantasy audience, anyone who’s a fan of the Tales game is going to find a lot to like here.

Game Ramblings #48 – Nights of Azure

More Info from Koei Tecmo

  • Genre: ARPG
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Windows, Japan Only – PS3, Vita


  • Solid combat with multiple fighting styles
  • Good exploration mechanics that encourage taking risks without huge penalties
  • Small demon collection aspect that ends up giving a lot of party flexibility, adding good depth to combat

Nights of Azure is one of those games that I can best describe as being entirely competent.  It’s a game with solid combat, an entertaining enough story, and some nice systems to flesh things out.  It ends quick enough that it doesn’t wear out its welcome, and in doing so doesn’t do anything egregious to piss me off.  The visuals were decent, and it was clear what was going on.  The soundtrack hit the emotional notes of the story’s current progress, and the battle music kicked into high gear when necessary.  Given it was developed by Gust, this should come as no great surprise.  The DNA of their other more famous series (Atelier series, Ar Tonelico/Nosurge series) is definitely in place here, and the game benefits a lot from it.

There’s a lot on screen during combat, but you learn to look at important info quickly.

Being an ARPG, the most important thing in general is going to be the combat, and Azure definitely brings some solid combat to this.  In a lot of ways it can be described as a sort of Tales-lite system.  You’ve got a small party, some core melee combos, and some SP-based skills.  However, the party members revolve around a Pokemon style collection system instead of being core NPCs.  The other main thing that adds a lot of depth is that there are 4 different combat styles, giving some flexibility in picking the style that works best for the user.

However, the best thing that came out of all of this is the leveling system.  While it’s definitely a consequence of the game’s short length (< 20 hours for the core story), I ended up finishing the game around level 8, and my demons at their max level of 10.  Because of this, getting a level felt extremely important.  Each stat bump that came with it, as well as skills gained from leveling all had an obvious impact on my character, which is a nice change from the usual 50+ level slog of more high budget ARPGs and JRPGs.  The resource used for leveling was also a nice touch.  Killing enemies results in Blue Blood being gained, which can be used for leveling, summoning new demons for your party, as well as purchasing items from demon vendors throughout the game.  This gave a lot more consequence to the use of the resource, particularly because you could not use the blood you gained until you returned back to home base.

While that last note may sound scary, the game has other systems in place to encourage exploration, rather than making the resource gathering feel like a huge risk.  The main bonus here is that you can teleport instantly back to base at any point, and most quests also typically teleport you back to base for story reasons after finishing the goal.  The second thing they do is checkpoint your progress at the beginning of a room.  If you die, you lose all the resources you gained specifically within the current area, but you don’t lose everything from your current exploration session, and can choose to immediately go home, or pick up where you checkpointed.  In general, this allowed me to be slightly gung ho about going down side paths, because I knew at most I was only going to lose a few minutes progress, with the potential for a huge payoff defeating something optional.

I suppose my final note is that this definitely felt like a portable title, rather than a typical console title, and it being released on the Vita in Japan points to that.  Exploration was done with a time limit of 15 minutes, after which you’d teleport back to base.  However, I never really got close to that time limit, and the tasks I was chasing were typically done within a 10 minute or less window.  This would have been a perfect amount of time for a typical portable experience, and the sequel being aimed at the Switch leads me to believe they’re sticking with the system.  However, even on console the game loop there worked pretty effectively, letting me jump in in short bursts.

The outfit choices were sometimes questionable, and generally got a laugh out of me for their absurdity.

In a lot of ways, this was definitely a very typical Gust title.   The plot was very female-focused, the interaction between the two main characters was personal and positive, and the end of the game left it open for the since-announced sequel.  The outfit choices in some of the cutscenes (as seen above) were also generally pretty hilarious in how little was being worn.  However, it was more often than not hilarious in its lack of care, rather than being risque or offensive in any way.  End of the day, this was a game that was a lot of fun to play, even if it’s not chasing the AAA titles for game of the year.