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mikeyed avatar 12:53 AM on 07.03.2009  (server time)
Art Over Game Play

So I finally got back into playing Okami on the Wii. It's really a surprising game. I find the combat to be repetitive and the dialogue to be a bit questionable. A lot of the items and weapons are useless. Even the graphical quality could've been improved just a bit for the Wii. With all of this riding against it, it's still an amazing game.

It's like that supposed new "category" of game created by a Sony exec, the Zen game. It's not about being innovative in game play, blowing your mind with its storyline, or even really challenging the player in any specific way. You are only expected to marvel at its beauty.

The shifting landscape, bright colors, and the bringing to life of classical Japanese scroll art all propel me along, more so than anything else. It's like Wind Waker, when little Link is just sailing around this astonishing ocean, I enjoyed exploration for the mere experience of traversing this amazing world. I still am not a fan of Zelda games, but that's another story altogether. I liked Wind Waker, because it dared to be colorful with no regrets.

If you want to look like a painting, like Okami, every aspect of the game must reflect that aesthetic. Not unlike Jet Grind Radio, which embraced the punk, funk, and speedy game play, it takes the graffiti lifestyle and puts it to motion. The music, the level intros, and the anti-authority theme. It blares beats.

Instead of being overly forgiving like Okami, Jet Grind Radio may have been one of the hardest games to perfect. Some of the jumps and stringing together of many grinds were frustrating so much so I took month long breaks from the game after many fits of rage. I overcame its steep learning curve and grew to love the soundtrack more than anything else.

Side note: When Jet Set Radio Future came to the X-box, I was very excited to try it out. Then I did, and found it to be a watered down, less fun and exciting version of the original.

Another strange game that I like its artistic direction more than the actual interaction with it is Battalion Wars. A friend of mine even expressed a positive regard for the cartoon-ish quality of this war game. Never mind its sometimes clunky unit control, which frustrates me about 30% of the time when a unit dies needlessly because I couldn't rescind an order. The bouncy, high-pitched voice soldiers and overly constructed super tanks put a strange spin on the war genre as a whole.

Framing war as a Saturday morning cartoon is a strange artistic turn. The different nations are all caricatures of modern super powers. They're all horrible clichés and the entire world is bumbling about swinging its weapons about aimlessly looking for the next major conflict, while the real enemy sits their lurking in the shadows. It's all very expressive, open, and blunt. It's political commentary, not inept design that some might think. This outlandish world was made to reflect our own.

Whether the world is brought to life by wacky generals or the stroke of a brush. The creators of these wonderful games are exposing their audience to absurd worlds, astonishing beauty, and even social and political commentary. Why, look at Okami once more. It's about reviving nature. You run through a wasteland filled with poisoned waters, desolated trees, and even some pieces of land that are so scorched that they harm the main character to even step foot upon.

You want to know what I think this game might be an allegory for? Post-war Japan. The bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. They irradiated the land. Fouled the beauty that is mainland Japan. Poisoned the waters. It's a wish of a painter to return the world they live in to one frequently archived with magnificent landscapes that fills scroll art from centuries past. I think it's a statement worthy of a game so beautiful. Whoever said a video game can not be a piece of art must be a soulless mass of flesh living in a dark unimaginative world.

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