Summer Gaming: Okamiden

So the semester ended in May and I started playing some games right after that. My gaming for the summer is mostly over unfortunately as I’m getting started on research for my master’s thesis, but I did get the chance to get two games under my belt in the mean time. Both games did a great job of making me happy even if I wish that I could play some more to make me even happier. Those two games were inFAMOUS 2 and Okamiden. Both games are sequels to games that I enjoyed immensely, so I had pretty high expectations for both. Though I enjoyed them, my expectations weren’t entirely met. Oddly enough the main reason for the disappointment I experienced is the same for both of them. That reason being the lack of a strong, stand-alone narrative.

I feel a bit of a rant coming.
Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy that Okami received a sequel considering the fact it was a commercial flop and a sequel seemed unlikely. I even have tremendous respect for the director and development team as Okamiden became a reality because of their tremendous love and respect for the original. I’m hesitant to lay the blame on the dev team because of the hard work they had to do to get a green light for the sequel, but unfortunately I can’t shake the feeling the problems I encountered with Okamiden may have been avoided if the original dev team, Clover Studio, was at the helm. However, that was impossible as Clover Studio was dissolved by Capcom shortly after the releases of Okami and a lesser known title called Godhand. The problem with Okamiden largely being the fact it was in many ways a carbon copy of its predecessor. Players go through the game in largely the same order as they would have in Okami, and the brush techniques are largely the same with, perhaps, some minor variations thrown in to freshen them up a bit. Some of the geographic areas from Okami were changed dramatically while others were removed entirely. I can understand these changes considering the limited memory space of the Nintendo DS cartridge even if I am somewhat bitter that Kusa Village didn’t make the cut (one of my personal favorite areas in Okami).
What I don’t understand is the narrative decisions the development team made. In Okamiden, players take the role of Amaterasu’s cub, Chibiterasu, on an adventure to once again purge the land of Nippon from evil. Chibi, being a young god, is not as proficient with the Celestial Brush as his mother and requires companions to help him with his quest. He meets four different companions throughout the game, and these companions largely detract players’ attention from Chibi stealing the show in the process. The narrative content of the game follows these companions, their development, and self-acceptance. The best way I can describe the development of the companions can be summed up in two words: cute and predictable. Cute in that they are all heart warming, and predictable for the same reason. Nevermind the questions that arise at the game’s onset when Chibi first shows his admittedly adorable little face. Where did Chibi come from? Why isn’t he with his mother? What is happening with Amaterasu and Waka on the Celestial Plain? These are questions that Okamiden never really asked much less answered. Instead the developer’s try to turn players’ attention onto the new companion characters which left me feeling even further removed from Amaterasu and the events of Okami than I already felt by playing as Chibi.
I can’t deny that these complaints are a result of my love for the original, and I have my own opinions on what a sequel to Okami should be like. Yet Okamiden kind of crossed the line in that it actually has the audacity, through a time-traveling plot device, to muck around in the plot of the original to make up for its own lack of originality. Thus players see key story events of Okami from a different perspective, some events change drastically such as Susano stumbling across an unconscious Mushi while en route to save Kushi from Orochi. Furthermore, the evil essence that apparently inhabited Yami, the final boss of Okami, returns as Akuro and takes root in one of the friends Chibi makes on his voyage despite Amaterasu defeating Yami.
So while Okamiden is cute and mostly enjoyable it wasn’t quite capable of living up to my expectations through its lack of original narrative content. What was there either focused on the predictable development of Chibi’s companions or literally recycled narrative events from the original. I really wasn’t expecting much from the game as a whole considering the complete change in development teams, and I did enjoy much of what I found. Yet the narrative just wasn’t able to cut it for me and left me with more questions than answers as well as some cute new characters that I don’t care to see again in anything more than cameo roles should another sequel arise.
I’ll talk about inFAMOUS 2 later.
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