You Play A Benevolent God In Okami

Abrahamic religion is no fun. A single omnipotent deity overseeing the universe just sucks all the drama out of everything. Western developers have a tendency to import a lot of Abrahamic assumptions even when making games clearly based on pagan concepts. For example, Black and White. Each civilization has exactly one god, that god is a disembodied entity with arbitrary control over natural forces. This ain’t no Zeus or Poseidon, it’s an off-brand Yahweh with a video game karma system bolted on.

Okami, however, makes you feel like you’re actually playing a benevolent deity in a polytheistic paradigm. Okami is a reboot of Japanese mythology that recycles characters while ignoring their exact relationships and character arc in the traditional stories, so you are Amaterasu, sun goddess of Nippon, except also you are a wolf. Susano is not your irresponsible younger brother, but rather the irresponsible descendant of a great warrior who fought alongside your previous incarnation, Shiranui, and who struggles to live up to that legacy. Issun is not an unrelated character, but instead is your sidekick, and when you find his magic mallet, it shrinks you down to his size instead of growing him to yours. The basic personality and theme of each character is intact, even though everything else is original – which means that you, playing as Amaterasu, are the benevolent goddess of the sun and protector of the Japanese people.

Okami is a Zelda-style adventure RPG sort of game, where you gain items and level up certain stats, but the emphasis is more strongly on your skill in combat than on your raw numbers. So, naturally, one way in which you are a benevolent deity is by running around beating up demons, and upon completing a certain dungeon or defeating a certain boss, you will bring an end to a curse zone, restoring life and beauty to a place that had become poisoned and desolate. That much is obvious, anyone who sets out to make an adventure RPG where you play as a benevolent deity can get that far.

Where Okami shines is in lots of smaller things you can do for XP. A lot of the side quests in the game involve performing small miracles, using your magic brush powers to help random peasants accomplish things they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to. For example, one early side quest involves an old woman who’s lost the pole she uses to hang drying laundry from. It fell into the river and was swept away. You can use your brush powers to magic up a new pole from thin air. Ordinary mortals can’t perceive your true form, that of a wolf painted with divine markings with a flaming mirror floating over your back and a tail dripping with magic ink. They just see a white dog. So, they have no idea you’re responsible and they don’t thank you directly, but instead offer up praise to the heavens ambiguously. There’s lots of little side quests like this, so everywhere you go, you’re performing miracles. Many of them are a simple and straightforward use of your magic powers, as easy as “use the cut power to help this samurai cut a tree” or “use the bomb power to help this firework maker make a bigger bomb,” but the fact that they’re quick and easy is an important part of it: You happen across someone having a problem that they’ve been bashing their head against for hours or days, wag your magic tail a little, and bam: Solved. For them, it’s a miracle. For you, it was Tuesday.

Plus, one of the collectible side quests is to find animals and feed them, which requires you to keep a stock of a couple of different kinds of food (seeds, herbs, fish, and meat) so that you have the right kind whenever you stumble across a wandering animal, or else make trips back to the merchant to buy exactly enough food and then head back to the animals you found (they hang out in the same place like a proper collectible, rather than spawning randomly or something else super annoying). Every time you feed them, you get a neat little cutscene of the animal eating while Amaterasu watches over them, with calm music in the background.

Okami portrays a benevolent deity not just as beating up bad guys, but as directly helping people (and animals) everywhere she goes, and it makes me feel more like a hero than the vast majority of games I play.

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