As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers.
Okami is amazing, so you should play it. If you feel like you’re playing it soon and don’t want to be spoiled, you shouldn’t read this probably.
Released in 2006, Okami was one of Clover Studios biggest (size-wise) and most adventure filled games that they would release. I borrowed it from a friend on a whim because I had heard about it in passing, but never played it for myself. I was seriously missing out, as was everyone else that never played it because it was semi-obscure. Since then, Okami has become one of my top three favorite games of all time. It had imaginative new gameplay, since your character was a wolf, and Zelda style progression and dungeons. In 2010 it became the least commercially successful game to win “Game of the Year,” and it’s a damn shame more people didn’t buy this game to find out for themselves.
The story is comprised of three acts (in my head, at least), with three end-bosses for each one. The constant within the game is that it revolves around a wolf who is actually the Goddess of the Sun in the Shinto faith, Amaterasu. She’s also helped by and is able to communicate to people because of her sidekick, the loud-mouthed and one-inch high Poncle, Issun. Amaterasu must travel around Nippon (Japan, but primarily called Nippon in game) and cure it of the darkness that threatens the environment and the people. She has a natural connection to all living things, so the well-being of the world plays a big role in her existence. As I briefly mentioned before, the game draws heavily on Shinto religion and folklore from ancient Japan, so there is the existence of Kami (gods), various bizarre creatures, and classic characters/stories modified for a newer audience. However, the world of Okami has begun to forget about the gods, so Amaterasu must build faith throughout the game and remind the people that the gods haven’t disappeared.
The Okami soundtrack is a massive 5 hours and 6 minutes long, and its release (only in Japan) was across 5 disks. I said how RPGs generally have larger soundtracks, but Okami takes the prize. I think the size is representative of the care that went into it rather than an attempt to make tons of music. The composers are Masami Ueda, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Hiroyuki Hamada, Rei Kondo, and Akari Groves. Okami explores ancient Japan, so we see a reappearance of classic instruments to give us a very authentic feel. Of course, PS2 games are much bigger than N64 games, so the quality of the sound and scope of the orchestral music is far more impressive. It’s all so great, so I can’t say for sure whether or not this post will be Paper Mario length or not. I do know one thing: you’re in for a real treat.
Issun’s Theme paints him as mischievous and a bit of a prankster. If there was any doubt of it before, his song is definitely meant to make you see Issun as the comic relief. He brags about his skills, finds himself occupied with beautiful women, and just in general doesn’t take things as seriously as he maybe should. Of course, Issun has a deeper character beyond that, as the Envoy of the Gods who mysteriously isn’t doing that job despite it being the purpose of his people. So regardless of duties, Issun puts on a lot of bravado, and that comes through in this song.
Like a lot of starting area songs, Kamiki Village is comforting, but I think it also exudes a feeling of total peace. It’s as if it’s describing the people within the village itself, who for the most part take things slowly and deliberately. It’s also meant to convey the beauty of the area, which is actually pretty important for this game because of the large focus on nature. It’s a rural farming town, but the song also makes you feel as if it has a heavy past. Since Kamiki is the village described in the ancient legend of Nagi, Shiranui (Amaterasu) and Orochi, it makes sense that we have a sort of weighted down atmosphere wracked with the burden of having such a past.
Susano is the descendant of the ancient warrior Nagi, and some might say that he doesn’t live up to the family name. Susano claims to be plenty skilled, but barely ever shows it off and doesn’t ever really practice. This song is meant to highlight when he’s showing aggression in a battle, but the seriousness of the song is kind of underplayed by the fact that Amaterasu is usually aiding him in the cutting of things. I used to think that I should be upset I was helping him, but after realizing that he has a significantly low self esteem trying to live up to the standards of his legendary ancestor, I really wanted to help the guy out. It felt good aiding Susano in getting his confidence back throughout Act 1.
Tama is the fireworks maker who lives in a very small hut on the cliff side of Shinshu Field. He has a, for the lack of a better term, explosive personality, and is very eccentric for good measure. The fact that this piece captures his attitude and his dedication in one track is awesome, but as an added bonus, this awesome song only takes place in his small hut. You know it’s a good group of composers when such a small character gets their own theme. Getting to be in Tama’s hut in Act 1 is one of my favorite parts of it, and I always look forward to it when I play.
This is the song that plays when Kamiki Village Elder, Mr. Orange, chugs a huge amount of sake and begins the ritual to bloom Konohana: the guardian Sakura (cherry blossom) tree of the village. He performs a dance, and is aided by Amaterasu in the process, to reinvigorate the tree and protect the pure nature of the village once again. The theme expresses the passion of Mr. Orange, and how much he wants to do right by the village as its leader. While he’s normally very silly, you can tell he has put his game-face on for this one moment.
Waka (or Ushiwaka in Japanese) is not really a friend or foe in the beginning. His appearance and attitude are lofty as if he is just an observer to Amaterasu and her quest, which Issun does not like at all. His music makes him appear as a heavenly being, so despite having some battles with him, you get the feeling that deep down he’s a good guy. In fact, it also hints to his mysterious nature and how there’s this connection unknown to the player between Waka and Amaterasu. It’s a connection that might date back thousands of years.
The Eight Dog Warrior’s Theme
This is a great song because it shows how integral and characterized even the animals in this game are. They’re simple dogs, but the way the song portrays them is how you are actually meant to see them. They’re actually honorable and steadfast hounds, like true samurai, only they’re dogs. It differentiates them from being just simple creatures, and finding them all is an important step in completing your quest.
Boss of the Sparrow Union
The Sparrow Clan boss is a hilarious character with a theme that still lets you know of his importance. He is a huge sparrow with an eye patch and doesn’t appear very mobile, and his dialogue consists entirely of, “Chirp.” This leads his underlings to interpret what the boss is saying for the player, and leads to many funny situations of them not being sure what the boss is feeling exactly. Despite the semi-intimidating appearance, he only allows people into Sasa Sanctuary if they’re pure of heart.
Giving Kushinada A Ride
Despite originally playing when you are taking Kushi to Orochi’s lair, this is actually the all-purpose theme for desperate times. It’s meant to make you realize you don’t have a lot of time left, and the fate of whatever it is rests on your dog shoulders. It’s not a song for being on the edge of victory, but instead on the edge of defeat. Even if you accomplish what you need to, it’s sort of like you know that there will still be much more work that has to be done.
The Seventh Seal
After fighting with Orochi for a while, Susano arrives on the scene. He comes not to cower in fear of Orochi’s power, but instead to confront Orochi and his destiny head on. After getting power from the moon, this song plays and Susano begins removing Orochi’s heads one by one (with Ammy’s help). At the end, he tells Amaterasu to not help him on this one, and at 1:15, jumps into the air and cleaves the final head of Orochi in twain. This theme pumps you up not just for the defeat of Orochi, but for Susano finally coming into his own as a true hero. Especially the end, where he does the final strike without your help, made me really proud as I watched Susano grow as a character all the way up until that point.
This is the theme to the 2nd major overworld in the game, signaling the start of Act 2. It’s a grand orchestral piece, probably to signify the fact that the game wasn’t over and was really just getting started. It also gets across that feeling of a huge adventure; showing that you never really stopped doing things in the world. It’s a great song to have with the water and sun rising/setting on the horizon of the ocean. It’s more noteworthy than the theme to Shinshu Field because you’ll spend much more time on Ryoshima Coast than there. It also kind of makes me feel the vastness of the world and how there’s more than what’s outside the front door of Kamiki Village.
The Dragon Palace is inaccessible to many people since it’s on the ocean floor, but once Amaterasu and Issun gain access to it, it definitely feels as if you’ve been privileged. It’s a safe haven, but also has that royal feeling which is appropriate since this is the Dragonian Queen’s domain. The music makes it feel as if the kind queen’s influence has spread throughout the area, and it’s a very comforting melody.
Demon Lord Ninetails
Like the trickster foxes of Japanese folklore, Ninetails is the granddaddy of them all and end boss of Act 2. He was promised to become the “Lord of Ryoshima Coast” by Yami, the ruler of the Land of Darkness. It used its magic and illusions to trick everyone in the capital of Sei’An city to thinking it was the Priestess Rao, who then betrayed Amaterasu by taking the Fox Rods that she found and assassinating the good and kind Queen Himiko. The stage was set on Oni Island for Amaterasu to do battle with the Ninetails and take vengeance for the murder of Himiko.
This battle theme makes the two of them seem on more even ground since they both can utilize brush techniques to manipulate the world around them. Where Orochi was just an evil entity who wanted wanton destruction and chaos, the Ninetails battle theme is more personal and about the struggle between it and Ammy. Also, you got to love that “Yooooooooooooooooo” in the beginning. It really gets you into the mood for the big fight.
Northern Country Kamui
The final area of the game, and the setting for Act 3, Kamui is the snowy and harsh land that houses some of Nippon’s oldest secrets. Other than the fact that it’s just a plain beautiful song, it also has a twinge of regret attached to it. Kamui is threatening to freeze over as the Day of Darkness (a solar eclipse) approaches. Of course, this is a big deal for Amaterasu as well because she won’t have any powers without the sun and won’t be able to stop the evil that seems to be housed primarily in Kamui. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s also cursed in that it’s the origin of all the demons on Earth. It has this heavy burden despite the good people that live there. One could imagine why it’s a little somber.
Twin Devils ~ Lechku & Nechku
The demons causing the blizzard in Kamui are two clockwork owls known as Lechku and Nechku. There isn’t much in the way of backstory other than the fact that the twins represent ancient Japanese myths about the owls that represent the inevitability of time and its effect on all things. Their battle theme is quite grim and feels less like the bosses are sentient rather than acting on some sort of demonic instinct. The song gets across their bizarre and machine-like bodies and deadliness. I actually heard an interesting theory that they, Lechku & Nechku, look like Victorian era British people because the foreigners trespassing on this land appeared evil. Not sure how true it is, but interesting nonetheless.
After boarding the Ark of Yamato and splitting up with Issun (because he wasn’t able to board the ark and help), Amaterasu fights through the previous bosses to finally do battle with Yami himself. It’s a crazy battle, with Amaterasu getting her powers taken away and having to get them back. Right when the battle seems to be going well, the Day of Darkness finally arrives and Amaterasu loses all of her power. Yami is primed to kill the sun goddess and bring eternal darkness before we find that all hope is not yet lost.
Reset (Thank You)
Issun is on the ground, talking to all of the people and spreading the word of Amaterasu (finally fulfilling his role as an Envoy of the Gods) with his drawings. The people of Nippon realize that the wolf who aided them was actually a god the whole time, and send her their praise. The song is representative of a resurgence of good and faith that good things will come. Amaterasu is finally being remembered and she is pushed forward by the will and faith of the people, even though the sun is not out. It’s also a way for Issun to thank Ammy for taking him on the journey, and helping him realize that his skills can be a force for the betterment of the world. Man, this song brings a tear to my eye every time. Good stuff. With her power restored to that of her ancient self, Amaterasu can finally begin fighting back.
The Sun Rises
…and fight back she does, harder than Yami could ever possibly contend with. Where Reset was about the hope of the world, The Sun Rises is the result of that faith. Even when Yami darkens the sun, Amaterasu can just put a new one in the sky and reveal Yami as the weak and pathetic creature he is (a small fish in a jar). Even though it’s a battle between Ammy and Yami, it’s really all about her. It’s the return of the great and wonderful power of the Sun Goddess, friend to all living things and defender of the world. The battle doesn’t feel like it’s even happening, but instead it’s as if it’s already over. It’s like a victory lap for everything that’s good and right and playing as Amaterasu will let you drive it all home. It gets my pick for favorite song in the soundtrack because of the final and all powerful rush you get in the quest to finish off the Ruler of the Land of Darkness.
The only thing that I am upset about in regards to Okami is how I won’t be able to play it for the first time ever again. It’s the one game that I walked into with 100% no expectations and walked out feeling like I had played one of the greatest games ever (still feels like it, to be honest). If you really want to play this game, you can get it on PSN, where they released an HD smoothing over of the original game. Of course, you could also play the original on PS2 somehow or on the port that was on the Wii. Basically, we’re talking about an incredible experience, and where I would usually say, “You won’t regret it.” I can assure you that this time it’s more that you’ll regret not playing it.
You can comment below about any songs from Okami that you liked that I may have missed, or just comment about the post in general. Here is where I would normally say, “Either way, I’ll see you tomorrow!”, but today is the 30th of November and thus the last day of this posting series.
I hope you liked what you read, because genuinely from the bottom of my heart, I meant everything I put down in words. Video Game Music has played a major role in my life, so I wanted to thank Frank for giving me a platform to speak my mind on. I also want to thank Chris Matarazzo and Frank Hablawi for editing my crazy writing patterns. It all stemmed from a small idea in my head, and doing 30 days straight of content feels like a real accomplishment. Even if you didn’t comment, I appreciate you all reading, or hell, just clicking the link.
Of course, my hope is that instead of trying to change your way of thinking about video game music, it just makes you appreciate it more. Just like with any other song, a composer is looking to engage the listener in a specific way no matter how it turns out on the surface. They stayed up late at night or didn’t get any sleep at all because they wanted to be sure that the player got the most out of everything.
Whether I write anything else, do a podcast, or make a video series, I’ll always be proud of what I did here for the month of November. I hope everyone has a fantastic December, and makes their lives a little more musical every day.
So this is Alex McVeigh, signing off… Oh wait, there’s one more song I wanted you guys to hear. It’s just a beautiful song, so I’m gonna let it play me off instead of describing it. From Okamiden for the DS, this is the orchestral arrangement of Yakushi Village: