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Okami Production Background and Review [1/8]
It seems that recently all we hear about is the drab, mass marketable games coming out of big studio houses in both the East and the West. A younger and more marketably impressionable audience has spelled certain doom for fans of old school games who want their beloved 2D fighters, RPGs, and shooting games. The micro game company which thrived during the 80's and at least half the 90's seem to be slowly disappearing. What does this leave us with? Sequels, and lots of them. This isn't always a bad thing, given the game warrants a sequel in the first place, and the sequel brings something new. This doesn't always happen though, and to be honest, Capcom is probably of the worst offenders of sequel whoring. I understand that Rockman and Street Fighter all have big followings, but do we really need 27 versions of each? Anyway, that's a rant for a whole other day, or some forum flame war in the bowels of the internet. What I want to babble about now is the latest efforts of their child company Clover Studio, Okami. It defies everything that is Capcom of recent. I'm a moderate fan of their current franchises, although they do not hold the special place in my heart that they did when I was a young lad. In their defense, this is probably the most original game we've seen since Wander and the Colossus.
Taking place in a very old, Japanese setting, Okami is the story of a God (an okami) named Amaterasu, embodied in a wolf (also pronounced okami -- the o is long, by the way) who fights for nature. Using a brush, curses are lifted from the land, and greenery thrives. While the story is entirely fictional and enjoyable by anyone, it is clearly geared for the Japanese, or anyone who has made himself familiar with Japanese mythology and folklore. Most characters and weapons in the game are named after those found in Shinto myths. If one wishes to learn a bit more, the Wikipedia entry for the story of Amatarasu, would be a good place to start.
As we all know, games like this do not grow on trees. Cell-shading, that "cartoony" looking method found in other games such as Jet Set Radio, Killer7, and Zelda: The Wind Waker, seem to have not really taken off. Games in which the main character is, or at least appears to be, an every day animal don't exactly go on the aisle caps at Walmart. And a game which you paint the world around you? Forget about it (although I'm sure something similar will be out on the DS before too long). In Okami's case, all these things weren't planned from the get go. All in all, it was a three year road from inception to release (according to some sources, others as say two), for Clover Studio's first game as their own company. As you will see, the road was not a completely straight one.
Okami's overall theme of nature was the first thing that would be decided. Atsushi Inaba (upper left), producer, had just finished development of Viewtiful Joe. He then went to Hideki Kamiya (right), who would become Okami's director, to see if he had any ideas for his next project. If so, he might want to make that Clover Studio's first assignment. Obviously, Inaba wasn't quite ready for Kamiya's answer, which was "I want to draw nature". During Kamiya's work on Viewtiful Joe, another group within Capcom was working on the Biohazard remake in the studio next door. Seeing their very realistic and dark-themed game, he got the idea for something very light, and that if they could express such realism, then Clover Studio should be able to make a good expression of nature.
Kamiya, originally from Nagano, explained that after graduating school, he moved to Tokyo, and some time later on to Osaka - Japan's two largest cities. Renewing his love of nature, he realized that if for some reason he had to return to the countryside, it would be a hard transition due to the conveniences of the city. On the other hand, he recognized there's a level of relaxation one cannot attain in the city, which made his impressions of nature even stronger.
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