Brushing up on Okami

Okami originally released on the PS2 in 2006 and later on the Wii in 2008. The HD remaster released for the PS3 in 2012, the PS4 and Xbox One in 2017, and the Nintendo Switch in 2018. I played the HD remaster on Switch. I also imported the physical cartridge from Japan, so if you see some random Japanese in screenshots, that’s why.

I played this game on the Wii before the Dark Days, but never finished it. I’m not sure if it was my brother or my sister that got it, but somehow it ended up in our house and that’s where it caught my eye. The visuals and excellent use of the Wiimote were what drew me in at first. It felt like such a perfect fit for the Wii, actually, that it never occurred to me that it was on the PS2 first. But it’s my blog! So a Wii game it is!

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I love how this game fully embraces ancient Japan, from its visual style to its mechanics. It is an absolute crime that it never sold that well, although I’m not surprised. It’s unapologetically Japanese, with place and character references that I did not understand back then. For example, the enemies have shinto and buddhist iconography, the signs for places read vertically from left to right (even in English), and the character Kaguya refers to an actual Japanese folk tale. Now that I’ve grown up and have learned more about the country, its history, and its culture, I feel like this is a completely different game than when I played it in 2008. It’s now an elegant game that revolves around the art of Sumi ink wash painting. It’s yet another perfectly crafted aesthetic experience that I didn’t fully appreciate until this year.

The reason I stopped playing Okami might sound a bit silly, but on my first playthrough when I defeated the first big boss, I thought I was all done! I didn’t realize that I’d only gotten through 1/3 of the game! It wasn’t until years later that I’d realized my mistake. On one hand the game does, in a way, set things up so that you feel it is the final boss. On the other hand, this may have been more due to my Western expectations of storytelling than the game’s plot setup.

Okami’s structure feels more episodic than a single overarching story, at least until the final act. This is a perfectly normal way to tell a story in Japan, but it’s not something us Westeners are used to. Our story diet in most media consists of direct and linear affairs: the character has a problem or goal, the character solves said problem or achieves said goal. In Eastern culture, however, stories take their time, they meander around, and may not necessarily have a “goal” or “solution.” It is only in recent years that I think mainstream American culture has become more accepting of “slice of life” narratives, as can be seen in the more laidback nature of cartoons like Gravity Falls and Adventure Time. Also living in a Post-Minecraft world, I think more players are open to a game’s narrative being what you make of it. All of this creates an atmosphere where I think Okami can shine much better.

It really hit home to me how a game can be interpreted completely differently depending on the culture of the player. It got me wondering what other factors may affect the way we interact with games and how we come to our subjective conclusions on a game’s quality. Okami was truly ahead of its time. What was in 2008 a beautiful but confusing game is in 2018 a cohesive masterpiece that perfectly conveys Japan’s culture in visuals, mechanics, and story. All it took was a bit more familiarity with the country, but I feel like I got so much more out of this game this time around.

Okami is a game that not only aged well, but aged better. If I don’t enjoy any more games from this Retro Catch Up project, I would still consider it a success because it got me to give Okami a second chance.

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