Traditional Japanese Art Makes For Beautiful Games

Illustration for article titled Traditional Japanese Art Makes For Beautiful Games

While playing the remake of classic JRPG Walk Over My Corpse on the PSP, I couldn't help but be dazzled by its traditional Japanese "Sumi-e" art style.


Sumi-e, for those of you who don't know, is a kind of painting where an artist uses nothing but black ink, brush, and rice paper to create a watercolor of the "soul" of its subject. Because it's all done in one color and erasing a line is impossible, the artist must be able to produce many different shades from the black ink—all while making no mistakes. The resulting images are as unique as they are beautiful.

But Walk Over My Corpse is not the only game to feature Sumi-e's "ink wash" painting style. Over the years, everything fromfighting games to driving games have embraced this art style in one form or another. Check out the gallery for some of the best examples.

Drift Sumi-e

Drift Sumi-e is iOS title that combines Sumi-e art with drifting. After choosing a course and car, you draw in one continuous stroke the path you would like the car to take across the racetrack. Then the track becomes a Sumi-e painting in motion where you see how well your car does on the path you chose.

Sumioni: Demon Arts

Kotaku East has taken an in-depth look at action-platformer Sumioni: Demon Arts before. Using the Vita's touch screen, you are able to draw platforms for your character to stand on, as well as use ink to summon magical creatures to aid you. The whole game is very much in the Sumi-e style, though there is a bit of color on the character and enemy models that wouldn't be there in a traditionally done Sumi-e.


One of the PS2's underground hits, Okami, like Sumioni, incorporates the Sumi-e art style as a gameplay element as many of Amaterasu's attacks require the player to use the controller's thumbstick as a brush. However, unlike traditional Sumi-e, Okami does not shy away from color and the Sumi-e style brush-made line art is filled with vibrant colors. The result is a game that can best be described as astoundingly beautiful.

Samurai Showdown

While not having as much to do with Sumi-e as the other games featured here, the Samurai Showdown series is more than a little inspired by Sumi-e aesthetics. The backgrounds and most of the cut-scene character designs have the ink-brushed outlines of a Sumi-e piece, though making the gameplay sprites in the Sumi-e style was impossible back when all games were made with pixels and not polygons. Even in the latest game, a 3D fighter, all the character art is still presented in the same colored Sumi-e style.

Street Fighter IV

The original trailer for Street Fighter IV was so Sumi-e it came complete with ink splatting across the rice paper background. While the actual game didn't turn out quite that stylized, the thick brush stroke line-art remains on all the character models and ink splatter shows up in more than a few of the finished product's special moves.



So, avoiding the bag of crap that is the Wii version of Okami (that game has had all the joy drained from it thanks to the astonishingly bad controls), how does one play Okami these days?

So much mediocre rehashing has taken place this gen, it's criminal that Okami hasn't at least been made available to play this generation.