Okamiden: An interview with producer Motohide Eshiro

GR: It’s interesting that you mention these endearing characters. Amaterasu and Chibiterasu are both very memorable, even though they have nothing in the way of dialogue.

ME: I think when it comes to silent protagonists – and especially Ammy and Chibi, in particular – making a character really pop despite their lack of dialogue is key. There are a couple of ways to go about doing that: one way is the see how other characters react to them, so you can get an idea of their personality and how they are perceived in that world. Having the partner – be it Issun in the original or the new partners in this title – speak on behalf of Chibi is an important part of it. The movement and motion of characters is paramount as well, you have to strike a balance between human emotion and the movement of an animal. You also can’t forget that the main character is supposed to be the embodiment of a deity, so there’s a balance between three aspects of that personality. You can make a compelling character out of it, but you really have to take it from a lot of different angles, because you can’t just take the “easy way out” of having them talk.

GR: It seems like a lot of emphasis of Okamiden is on the partners. I’ve noticed in combat that there’s a new aspect to ranking called “Partner Assist.”

ME: The system rates you on how often you use partner assists in battle. If you go through the game using short-burst combos and brush attacks, you’ll get a low rating because your partner isn’t actively helping. The key to getting partner help is longer combos – when you reach the end of a chain, the last hit will engage your partner. For example, if you have Kuni on your back, he’ll jump off and do a sword attack as the final strike. So using long, sustained combos will give you more points.

GR: There are some new celestial brush powers, as well – I just saw the magnet power, which can both pull and push certain objects. What else is new to Okamiden?

ME: There are two big additions, and we’ve already hit on one with the magnet power. There are also techniques that engage your partners to help solve puzzles. You’ll find that all the moves you know and love from the original game are back, too. We wanted to add more, but it seemed that these two in particular really fit with the vision of what we wanted to accomplish with the game.

GR: Moving forward, do you think we’ll be seeing any more of the Shiranui clan in the future? Perhaps on the new batch of portables?

ME: That’s going to depend a lot on the reaction of the fanbase. The game’s been out in Japan for a little while, and we’re pleased with the reviews – users seem to be very happy – and sales are healthy. We’ll see what happens here in North America on March 15: how many people deem the game worth playing, how they feel about it once they’ve played it. We’re certainly willing to explore the option of another Okami game if the market is there for it. If people want it, we’ll be pleased to deliver it. As for what hardware, it will depend entirely on what ideas we have and what the demands of the market are. We will pick the appropriate platform from there. If we have an idea that’s perhaps better suited to one piece of hardware than another, we’ll make our choice based on that.

GR: As of late, one of Capcom’s strengths has been leveraging these characters that – while perhaps not as mass-recognizable as, say, Master Chief – have a lot of clout among their fans. Since we’ve seen Okami’s characters appearing quite a bit lately, is there any possibility we’d see more of games from around that time period? In particular, people seem to be especially enamored with God Hand and its cast.

ME: I personally am quite the fan of God Hand – I thought it had really dynamic gameplay of focusing not on blocking but on constantly dodging and moving. It was really fun and refreshing, and it would be great to see that turned into a series. Once again, it boils down to demand – how many people want it, what kind of ideas we have that would be fresh and make it worth exploring again, and we could come up with a plan that could fit the users’ needs and the market’s needs at the time. But once again, it really depends on what the appetite is for it. So all of you Gamesradar readers: look up Capcom’s address online right now and send us some letters, and see what happens. It gets a lot easier to push an idea through management if it looks like we have a lot of support for it!

GR: So we should combine the Darkstalkers 4 and God Hand sequel petitions into a nice little bundle and send them to Mr. Tsujimoto. Got it.

ME: *laughs* We joke around about that a lot, but obviously what the fans want really is important to us, so by all means do let us know. The good news is that we in R&D do often hear from fans – we have a pretty good idea of what you guys are interested in. The best thing in the world is when the timing matches up: when a lot of people are asking for something and we recently had an idea that suits that sort of game. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, the synergy is awesome. We could definitely use your continued support – if there’s something you want to see, be vocal about it! We most certainly are listening!

GR: Since Okamiden’s pretty much complete at this point, what about the game are you most satisfied with?

ME: Hmmmm… It was a project that was difficult to get going at the beginning. There were a lot of internal communication issues between the team, and we owe the director a debt of gratitude for getting everyone on track. We were able to take a lot of people from disparate backgrounds and needs and get them working together as a team – that’s something we’re certainly proud of. If you want a more concrete answer, the visuals. I’m really happy that we were able to reproduce the same sort of visual style seen in the original Okami – it would have been kind of pointless to do the game otherwise. The fact that we could overcome that hurdle is something we’re really proud of. There’s also the Celestial Brush gameplay – we all knew it would work really well on the DS, but it wasn’t necessarily easy to get it working the way it was. I’m really happy with the way the game feels, in that sense.

GR: Do you have any special messages for our readers?

ME: You have noticed that the game is coming out later than you expected – it’s already out in Japan, so you may be wondering why you had to wait for it. I’ll justify that by saying that we spent a lot of time making sure that this game was really well localized, so you’re going to get a good experience out of it even without the Japanese cultural background a native player would. So please know that it was extra time and care we put in it for you, so that’s why you had to wait a bit longer. We do hope that Okami fans will check the game out, but beyond that, we hope that people thinking “hey, I haven’t played a good portable action game in a while” – by all means we hope those people check this game out as well. It really is one of those rare games that will stick with you once you’re done playing it. You’ll remember the story for a long time coming. I hope you’ll put the game on your radar – no pun intended – and check it out when it releases in March!

Feb 15, 2011