Picture a landscape that simmers and sweats with a crimson molten heat, covered by a coal black, sulfurous blanket of sky. From the midst of this blight, a tree springs to life, and instantly, a rejuvenating arc of green flowering bloom begins to spread and reclaim the land—its breath a fresh spring breeze filled with cherry blossoms. Now imagine all that drawn in ink and watercolors on rice paper. And that’s Okami.
Wolf of a Different Color
Clover Studio’s innovative video game lends its unique watercolor perspective to a good vs. evil tale with story and characters snatched from Japanese folklore. Play centers around the goddess Okami Amaterasu, reborn as a snow-white wolf, who is determined to rid medieval Japan of a vile, crippling curse. The source of this evil is an enormous eight-headed dragon who has escaped his bonds after 100 years and is making up for lost time. But before the wolf-goddess can eliminate this scourge, there’s a little matter of traveling about the countryside and building up enough power to do the job.
Helping her out is a wisecracking little bug-like guy named Issun. He journeys along with the wolf as a sort of interpreter (Amaterasu is the only character in the game who doesn’t speak). They’re helped along the way by a cleavage-baring wood sprite (who Issun comments about lasciviously) and a sake-swilling descendent of a great Japanese warrior.
Now, in addition to the cursed and smoldering hillsides, there are also quite a few roving packs of demons and bizarre misshapen monsters (birthed from a very twisted mind) that our heroes must vanquish. To cleanse the world of these foul miscreations, the wolf brandishes divine weapons (strapped to her back) that she discovers during her quests. Magical sake and holy artifacts, stashed in scattered treasure chests, are also put to good use. (For example, “steel fist sake” will give its drinker an attack boost, and a “peace bell” drives away evil.)
A Brush With Destiny
The most powerful and unique weapon in Amaterasu’s arsenal is the celestial paintbrush. This magical whisk enables its bearer to literally paint miracles into existence on the parchment of life. To teach her (and us) how to use this device, other animal gods descend from the constellations and gift the wolf with their special brush techniques. For instance, she can make the sun rise by painting a circle in the sky, or make the wind blow with a swirl.
That’s not to say that the game is just about battling nasties with a paintbrush. The subplots of the story also take Amaterasu through village areas where she meets interesting little characters and helps them through their personal crises. After all, being a goddess, it’s her job to help the defenseless and feed the hungry (animals, too). Their gratitude wells up into little floating orbs of praise that the wolf absorbs and uses to increase her power.
Fade to Black
But darkness has its power grab, too. When we make our way to the inevitable confrontation with the evil dragon we find that the creature needs human prayers to release his full strength. At one point he pins an uncooperative warrior to the ground and says, “Speak the words, ‘I wish darkness unto the world.’ Utter that prayer unto me and unleash my power.”
And in spite of the fact that good ultimately wins out, it’s Okami‘s demonically violent spiritual fantasy that ends up smudging its painted brilliance. Its constant infusion of nature worship and animal spiritualism make you realize that this distinctly Japanese game is much darker that its glowing colors might suggest.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.