Friday, December 23, 2011

Best Video Game 2011

Best Video Game of 2011: Okamiden (Nintendo DS)

I know there have been some much bigger titles, and much more graphically impressive games in both presentation and gameplay -- but Okamiden served up a surprisingly deep story, continuing the tale of Amaterasu, or more accurately re-treading the same tale, but with a new perspective. Introducing Ammy's son, Chibiterasu was a stroke of genius, as it allowed this game to serve as both a sequel and an off-shoot tale at the same time.

The gameplay was simple, but satisfying - and it delivered on both the functionality and visual style of the PS2/Wii counterpart; Just on a smaller scale. It can sometimes get repetitive, once you know the solution to a puzzle - but I think this serves the game well for younger players, as it does require critical thinking - but not an insane difficulty level. The drawing mechanics, though, are very fun to use on the DS - taking the drawing mechanics of the game play and using it in inventive and effective ways.

Another feature that made the gameplay so fun for me was the pre-order bonus that the game came with: a DS Stylus Brush, to give you more of a feel like you're painting. (I know that wouldn't apply to people now. It really should have come packaged with the game.) It's a larger and fatter stylus - but that proved to be an asset, as it became simple to always hold the pen in my right hand while playing, instead of fumbling with removing the regular stylus in and out of it's slot on the system.

Yet what made this game really stick was the story, and the emotional investment you put into the partners who join with you during the journey. It started off simple enough - but ended with such a surprisingly deep and meaningful ending - that I can't help but pick it for best game of the year. At least the best game for me ^_^ (I know this isn't an objective pick - but it's not suppose to be. It's what I liked the best from this year.)

I hope another Okami game is in the works at Capcom. It's a series that didn't launch well at all, over shadowed by the Legend of Zelda's Twilight Princess (with Link as a Wolf), and the debut of the PS3 - but I think the re-release on the Wii, and now Okamiden on the DS probably faired better. And it strikes me that it would be such a monumental waste for Capcom not to utilize this property again - given new systems like the Nintendo 3DS and the upcoming WiiU - both of which seem perfect for stylus controlled gameplay.

Another reason I feel it would be a waste not to see another entry in the series is that Japanese video game developers seem to have an inferiority complex these days - no longer being on top in the face of competition from western developers. That's the impression I've been getting, at least. I've heard in interviews from Kenji Inafune (Megaman) and other developers about difficulties trying to balance their own innovation along with trying to make their games mainstream. There's also the reverse, of games relying far too much on Japanese Video Game styles, and letting an international appeal be lost in the shuffle. Inafune even lamented that he thought the Japanese video game industry was dying - and shortly after he very publicly departed Capcom, with the desire and goal to make games without corporate interference.

Even though Okamiden is a Capcom game - I think it's one of the best examples of a game having a creative vision. The game is a complete celebration of Japanese mythology - and it's something I deeply appreciated about this series. Simply put, Japanese video games are far from dead - and while Western Shooters are more popular here in America, I can't express enough how important it is to see creative content still coming from Japan. They revived and perfected video game industry -- and they are definitely not being forgotten by Western gamers.

I give a lot of credit to Capcom for supporting Okami with a Wii and DS iterations, but there is a reason Inafune left the company. Capcom announced a large reduction in creating Wii and 3DS games earlier this year. Capcom has also been showing a striking lack of respect for Mega Man as a franchise, specifically not including him in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. While intentional or not, it seems like a slight against Inafune over leaving the company.

This kind of corporate lock-down makes me worried that chances for another Okami game are reduced. I only hope that won't be the case.

In any event, whatever happens to the Okami franchise - this title, Okamiden, satisfied me with extending the already deeply rich storyline, giving a satisfactory ending, but while also leaving things wide open for a future sequel.

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