Okamiden Preview: Drawing on the DS in the Sequel to Okami

As an evocative adventure game starring a wolf-god that allowed players to interact with scenes as if painting them in a traditional Japanese ink style, Okami met rave reviews, but only limited commercial success. Its initial PS2 release in 2006 fell flat in its home territory of Japan, but found some audience in the West. A subsequent Wii port of that game released in 2008 met a similar fate. Developer Clover Studios subsequently closed (not as a direct result) but Capcom, convinced of the strength of the creative idea behind the game, initiated a sequel, but this time for Nintendo's DS handheld.

Despite the move to handheld, Okamiden is a full-fledged sequel. It takes place in the same world as its predecessor and picks up only shortly after the conclusion of Okami, which saw its hero, the wolfen form of the sun god Amaterasu, defeating the dark lord Yami. That victory turns out to be short-lived, as the darkness has returned. Many locations from the first game will be revisited, but will be balanced out with new locales. The cast, though, has changed. Okamiden resets with a younger generation -- the siblings of the cast in the original -- and begins with a new hero: the young sun god Chibiterasu who takes the form of a wolf pup.

With Clover no more, the game is built by a whole new team, but it's one led by an experienced DS producer, Motohide Eshiro, who held a similar role on the successful Ace Attorney Investigations. He knows they will face close scrutiny in taking over such a beloved game, but from the way he described it to me the team welcomes the challenge:

The staff involved with this game has a real clear understanding of what was fun about the original Okami. They have a good understanding of what was important about the visual style and what aspects they need when making this new version so it will transfer well. The work Clover did was amazing; they were really talented people, and I think our staff now is motivated to make a game that lives up to the reputation of the previous Okami.

Eshiro showed equal confidence in the DS as the right platform for a sequel. Several times he reiterated their fundamental desire to use the touch screen capabilities of the DS to recreate the experience of hand-drawing calligraphy. "We want [the DS Stylus] to feel like a proper calligraphy brush," Eshiro explains. "If you take the brush and just go quickly across the screen, you don't have a complete ink line because you didn't get all the ink down, but if you go slowly it forms a nice, thick, bold line. We wanted people to feel like they're directly taking pen to paper and drawing when they play the game."

True to his description, I immediately felt like I was almost playing with a journal in my hands when I got into the demo. The effect was so complete that about halfway through I realized that I'd been keeping the stylus at the ready in my right hand like a pencil as my other fingers steadied the DS. Only four drawn skills were available in the demo but that was ample time to get across how powerful a connection actually drawing out the symbols creates.

Okamiden is not due out until 2011, but by then you might be able to better form your own personal opinion on how the drawing feels. Eshiro feels strongly that nothing beats playing it and he hopes to be able to compress the demo sufficiently that they can offer it as a download. Until then, the almost two minutes of in-game footage provide a good look at what I got to play.

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