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Showing a god the ropes

So I started Okami yesterday afternoon after reading through the story part of the manual, briefly skimming the characters section, and pretty much skipping everything else. It was a typical Capcom manual from what I saw—black and white, with the predictable sections, and nothing particularly unusual or overly compelling about it. Besides, even though I didn’t so much as glean a hint that there would be tutorials from my skimmings, I kind of expected them, and figured I’d learn all the basic moves that way, referring back to the manual as needed later on.

A lot of games nowadays are kind of funny like that. Back in the day, when we blew on dusty cartridges instead of cleaning disks and “saving” meant password inputs, reading the manual for any game with a hint of complication about it was practically required, because there were no in-game tutorials. Nowadays, manuals are mainly there for reference, and the rest can be learned during the course of the game. The first time I remember seeing any sort of in-game hints as to how to do stuff in a video game was probably Super Mario World, where bonking on a blue and red box would give you hints and information. Fast-forward several years and just about every game out there contains something within it to show you the ropes, and oftentimes these bits are mandatory.

The best in-game tutorials, especially in story-driven titles, are the ones that don’t break the immersion, only pulling the player out of the game’s world when discussing which button to use to do certain actions. For example, in Final Fantasy VII, you take the role of Cloud, a hardened mercenary and former soldier. It would be odd for such a character to not know how to fight, equip items, and so forth, so Cloud himself guides his audience, including the player, through most of the game’s (optional) tutorials.

Though mandatory, the approach Okami’s tutorials take likewise don’t break from the setting too much. After a long introduction, I took control of Amaterasu, a god returned to the world in the form of a wolf. With my task set in front of me, I went forward with a sidekick in tow, a miniscule artisan named Issun.

I feel compelled to note here that Amaterasu fits the mold of the silent hero, like Link, Chrono, or the guy in Grand Theft Auto III. Issun, on the other hand, is a cocky chatterbox who seems to regard Amaterasu as inexperienced and/or rusty—a n00b, of sorts—compared to himself, and thus readily explains what to do whenever I approached certain spots in the game’s first area. Upon completing whatever tasks were asked of me, this friendly yet seemingly presumptuous bug would be impressed and we’d move on to the next thing. By the time my main task was completed, I’d learned how to break certain types of objects in the field, fight enemies, jump to high places, and paint brushstrokes. I’d also learned more about Issun as a character.

It would’ve been strange for a god, even one who has been absent from the mortal world for a long time like Amaterasu, to have had his/her hand (or paw) held at the beginning of the journey, but thanks to a self-assured tiny bug of an artist who had decided early on that this god needed to be shown what to do, this hand-holding doesn’t seem so strange after all.