Tuesday, September 12, 2006

the brush is mightier than the sword

It's a game like this that gives a jaded gamer hope. We've all played the bevy of endless first person shooters, the oh-so-similar platformers, the RPGs that ask you go open those eight mystic palaces one more time. Sure, the games look fantastic; there's a lot more to work with than there used to be back in the 8 bit days. And yet, I keep putting down my controller down 20 minutes into my game, distracted by nothing at all, rather, wondering: Why aren't I having fun?

Enter Okami, brainchild of Clover Studios. In a recent interview with Atsushi Inaba to discuss the game, he said, "Since we settled on the basic adventure genre, we needed something that felt new to push game design forward. A game that was built on fancy graphics just wouldn't be enough." If I could have collapsed on the floor with relief to hear these words come out of a game designer's mouth, I would have, but I was busy drooling on the screenshots. Not only did they accomplish their goal of creating a unique gameplay experience, but they chose to interpret the graphical beauty in a completely new way. The game has a brushstroked appearance that meshes effortlessly with the experience of using the Celestial Brush-a new tool that allows you to gain powers such as making the wind blow and changing day to night. You can also use brushstrokes in combat. You know those annoying people who keep saying games are not art? You might want to bring a copy of this sucker for the next round of that argument, because even the most deluded debator couldn't talk his way around this one.

Another vote to impress the judges: story. Not only is there a story, but it's an lush, detailed story rooted in Japanese folklore. The Japanese village of Kamuki has suffered anguish at the hand of Orochi, a beast with eight heads who expects a villager sacrifice for his yearly feast. When he chooses a fair maiden for his next victim, a warrior named Nagi decides that the show canot go on. Unfortunately, Orochi is too powerful even for Nagi's courageous determination, and he is on the verge of losing his life when a mysterious white wolf appears and aids him in battle. Together they defeat Orochi, but the wolf is too badly wounded by the battle and loses it's life, and the villagers erect a statue in it's memory. Fast forward one hundred years: here's where the player enters. Orochi has been released from his prison (apparently, bad guys never really die, they just go on long vacations), and the Japanese Goddess of Sun, Amaterasu (who you play) assumes the form of a white wolf and returns to Earth to defeat Orochi yet again and save the lives of the people. To do so, you must recollect the 13 spirits of the brush, who were scattered throughout the world upon evil's return.

My attention is fully captured. I, for one, have been disappointed with the Next Gen. As a kid, I played my old systems with fervor, determined to solve every last puzzle and eke out every hidden secret. Those games too were formulaic, but something about the formula made them golden in the minds of the people playing them. At this point in gaming's evolution, we have played every version of every genre of game (except interactive porn, which there really isn't enough of whatsoever.) To catch the modern gamer's attention, you need something that stands out. Apparently the cutting edge graphic aren't doing it: bargain bins are full of games that were just released 2 months before. What makes you want to keep a game, finish it over and over? Why do I care? I think Okami's creators got that. They wanted to make more than a generic adventure. In fact, the brainstorming phase was about single sentence concepts like:"Healing a broken world" and "A game about the beauty of nature." When you compare this approach to, "How much money can we make?", it's easy to see why games like this are revolutionizing the industry. They have the balls to do something truly different, and I believe enough gamers are bored with beautiful mindless products to want to see something like this.

Cheers, Okami! May there be more like you in our future....

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