god

Biased Notes Vol. 6: Okami

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: Observations below are based on the first several hours of the HD version of the game.

1. It’s refreshing to play a game where you bring harmony to the natural world through spiritual and artistic means. Okami suggests that faith is a two-way street in terms of how humans relate to deities: sometimes we need a miracle to restore our trust in a higher power, and sometimes a god, for motivation, needs to hear that we believe. That last bit might not be news to anyone, but it’s significant that the game puts you in the shoes of a benevolent god. In Okami, you’re always in “god mode,” just not the mischievous, egotistical, destructive sort we usually see in games. The greatest illustration of omnipotence comes with the game’s most distinct mechanic: when you paint as the white-wolf goddess Amaterasu, the color of the world is sapped out until you finish your brushstrokes, implying that you can operate from another dimension as your physical form rests on earth. Okami is also a feel-good game on a superficial level, thanks to the cute animals and the flowers that pop up as you run and jump (is there any doubt that Okami helped inspire 2009’s Flower?). Now that I’ve gotten this out of the way …

2. I wish the irritating adoration for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time wouldn’t have happened so that maybe, just maybe, Issun in Okami wouldn’t have happened. Issun, your nagging companion in the game, descends from Ocarina of Time’s Navi, a character that is a tutorial rather than an actual character. To make matters worse, Issun speaks in audible gibberish that would fit snugly into a show or direct-to-DVD movie aimed at three-year-olds. Issun goes beyond hand-holding (which would be condescending enough): when I learned that some villagers had turned to stone, Issue told me that we needed to get to higher ground. At that point, a big arrow appeared to guide me to higher ground, and even though I followed the arrow’s direction, Issun would not stop telling me that we needed to get to higher ground. I would not be a god of patience, I can tell you that.

3. Why is combat in this game? Hours in, I’ve only taken one hit from an enemy. The whole thing goes down like this, almost every time: I run up to a foe, I mash a button like I’m playing a third-rate beat ’em up, the bad guy falls down, I paint a line across the loser. It wasn’t interesting the first time, and it wasn’t interesting the 100th time. The other variation (just as dull): a projectile comes at me, so I paint a line across it to send it right back to its thrower. Does a god even need to fight? (Don’t cite Kratos.)

4. More than once, I have fantasized about being able to play the prologue of Okami. It’s a gripping story (reminded me of Beowulf), and imagine the weirdness of experiencing it from the perspective of the mysterious wolf savior. That you can only watch and listen to the prologue makes me recall my frustration with having to tolerate Issun’s orders. Okami wants you to assume the role of a god, but not without guidance. This tension stems from the fact that it would be hard to feel godly if you didn’t know what was going on. So Okami overcompensates.

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Mountain Isn’t a Mountain, and You’re Not God

by Jed Pressgrove

“God” was the first text I saw when I started Mountain. That’s a powerful word, but others have reported seeing phrases like “What does love look like?” In any case, the game gives you words and phrases with a blank pad. After I saw “God,” I didn’t start drawing with my mouse, so a message eventually appeared at the bottom of the screen: “Hint: Draw Something.” I’m sure we all could think of less smart-assed ways to introduce a novelty game.

After you submit your drawings, the game generates a mountain and proclaims “You are God,” as if gamers and critics need such a boost. You can rotate the mountain, zoom in and out, and play notes on the bottom rows of your keyboard. Things change in the game with time. Day becomes night, night becomes day, sometimes you’ll see rain, sometimes you’ll see snow, and sometimes you’ll see random objects hitting the mountain. You’ll hear a chime when the game is ready to share messages, such as “I’m all about this deep black night,” yet another phrase I could imagine coming from a smart-ass.

At Kill Screen, David Cox logically discusses Mountain in the context of god games (e.g., Populus). Cox argues that Mountain has “an approach more in line with deism—the belief that, while there is a god, he’s probably not too interested in us.” A review at Retro Future Man goes further: “Like a real deity your influence seems to have little to no impact on the world as it is.”

Interestingly, these old reflections about God seem to result in new marketing language. “If you’re going to pick up a mountain simulator this year, make it Mountain,” says Retro Future Man. “We ask, but Mountain says little back,” says Cox. But can these potential catchphrases compete with Mountain developer David OReilly’s other trophies, which include the nauseating “MOTY (Mountain of the Year)”?

“What am I doing?” is a question Mountain shared as my fingers frantically tapped the keyboard in search of that elusive good note. The game can clearly make connections with players, but these connections might be partially based on one’s desire for a “different type of game” rather than fully based on entertaining or edifying qualities of Mountain. At best, the communication between player and game in Mountain is highly open to interpretation. At worst, the communication is muffled. All of this can lead to the following scenario:

Some say Mountain is a good or great game essentially because it’s different. This group typically doesn’t mind different interpretations because that’s part of the game’s appeal. However, this group might label those who think Mountain is the equivalent of OReilly pissing as shortsighted or dumb. Of course, those who think Mountain is piss might label those who enjoy Mountain as shortsighted or dumb. Since no one can say what Mountain is ultimately “about,” any discussion and debate will remain somewhat silly.

Of course, others might say Mountain is just a mountain that you can appreciate. In that case, I’d rather think about the mountains in Idaho. Those mountains never said things that sounded smart-assed to me.