This is a tale of a video game that captured your humble and beloved narrator’s heart. The game’s name is Katamari Damacy and it is perhaps the most Japanese game I have ever played. Dan, told me that the title translates into something like “ball of souls.” But our story doesn’t begin here.
Two years ago when I was a starry eyed senior at fair Oberlin College Fleur, who has a knack for finding odd things on the internet, sent me a link to a game play movie of Katamari Damacy. I watched it what seems like hundreds of time. The “story” of the game is that all the stars in the sky have gone out. God charges his young son with the task of replenishing the stars. To this end, you (playing as the son) are sent to Earth with the katamari damacy (the ball of souls.) You then push the ball around and it picks stuff up. Because God has a schedule to keep, you only have so long to get your ball up to a certain radius. God than takes your effort puts it in the sky and turns it into a proper star. I desperately wanted to play this game but it was only in Japan when I saw the trailer. Then it came to the States, and I had half forgotten about it, plus it was not widely available. But then I came here. Dan picked it up when we went to Toys R Us a long while back and I have gotten a chance to play it and it is everything I dreamed and more. You control your character “mech style” with the two analog sticks – so right off the bat you know it rules. Your ball starts small, picking up paperclips, erasers, thumbtacks, etc. But the more junk you pick up the bigger the ball, and the bigger the ball, the bigger the stuff you can pick up! So eventually you are running around picking up medium stuff like: people, cars, animals, etc. And then finally you are picking up things like buildings, Godzilla, giant octopi, stadiums, hot air balloons, flying submarines (did I mention this is THE most Japanese game I have ever played). Katie even got a chance to play it when she here. She was as enchanted with this title as I was. The game cannot really be described it must be played, because it just doesn’t sound THAT fun, but it is.
Let me try and tell you why it is so awesome. First, the graphics are not great, until you realize what is going on. Everything is pretty blocky, but when you have played a level where you started by picking up erasers and by the end are picking up the house you started in, you realize the scale is so great that it doesn’t much matter. The transition from small to big is flawless and very well done. Instead of reducing the number of objects the designers went with a really stylized funny look to the world. There are too many objects of too varying a size to have them look too realistic. Plus the style of this game is really great. In actuality, given the amount of information, the graphics are really great! The ball is equally cool, because if you look carefully you see what you have picked up sticking to the ball. You can see the birds trying to fly away or the giant octopus thrashing around. You loose sight of an item only when it is completely covered! So the ball is in itself is an accurate history of your game thus far. Plus the world itself is Japan. Having lived here for a while playing Katamari is like going outside, all be it, into a slightly more haphazard crazed Japan, but it is unmistakably Japan. Right down to the school kids wearing upsettingly short shorts and bizarre square backpacks to the “gangs” of “tough guy” Yankees riding really loud motorcycles.
Next there is the soundtrack. The soundtrack is so utterly upbeat and charming you can't help smilling and popping along. One of my favorite songs features a Japanese guy, with a very thick accent, yelling "Don't, don't, worry! Do you best!" Or a synthazed voice in the background repeating over and over again, "You are smart." But the two highlights are the Katamari Company Jr.'s song. It is a group of children singing about how great the game is. Many of the song are about the game itself, how post modern (or to my hip Obie friends, "po-mo") The other highlight, and my favorite, is the main opening song. Featuring just a person making sounds with his mouth, and very little actual music. I downloaded the soundtrack (I will buy it if I ever see it, but even in Japan it is hard to come by.) I love it! It makes me super happy.
This is a game that makes me want to run out and buy a Play Station 2 and play until I have replenished the night sky a dozen times over.
Now check out the Katamari web site: http://www.namco.com/games/katamari_damacy/
For those inclined to Japanese: http://katamaridamacy.jp/
Don't Don't Worry Do Your Best!