Female portrayal in video games has long been a tireless subject of controversy and debate. Commonly held opinions implicate that women are primarily represented in submissive roles, through sexual objectification, or by being simply outnumbered. Though very relevant, my purpose is not to argue the validity of these views. As a life-long gamer and a female, I feel our society has become so preoccupied fighting the good fight for our digital dignity that we unknowingly dismiss or ignore the substantial, wholesome impact many female characters have made on video game history. So my purpose, rather, is to celebrate the formidable and inspiring instances of feminine awesomeness that have left a mark on the industry. With nearly half of all present-day gamers being female, I feel it is important to honor the positive contributions our pixel-comprised personas have made in the industry.
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“Amaterasu, now is the time. We have never needed your power more. Shine your divine light upon this broken and polluted world. Let your heavenly rays become our hope as you guide us all!” – Sakuya
Who She Is:
Amaterasu is the protagonist and playable character of Capcom and Clover Studio’s 2006 release Okami. It may come as a surprise to some that Amaterasu is indeed female. The Japanese and European releases openly refer to Amaterasu as female, however nearly all references to our heroine’s gender were taken out of the North American version. Based on the Shinto Sun Goddess of the same name, Amaterasu manifests as a pure white wolf to most. Only other spiritual beings and true believers can see her fiery crimson markings and the divine instrument carried on her back. Okami opens by depicting the backstory of our protagonist. Originally she existed as a protector deity in the Celestial Plains, ruling over the Celestials and the mortal world. Reincarnated in the present as Amaterasu, she was once known by the name Shiranui. 100-years before the game is set she battles and seals away the demonic hydra Orochi, which was threatening the human world. Shiranui dies of poisoned wounds shortly after the close of this battle, and thus loses most of her power. When the ancient evil Orochi awakens after a century-long slumber, our canine goddess is again summoned by a spirit guardian to deliver the mortal world from darkness. Accompanied by the sprite Issun, who nicknames Amaterasu “Ammy”, our heroine sets off on a journey to regain her abilities and restore the land of Nippon to its former glory.
Though the game launched in the dwindling twilight of the PlayStation 2 era, Okami was an impressive, ambitious undertaking. With Okami, Clover Studios hoped to fuse tales from Japanese mythology with historical art styles and modern gameplay concepts to create an epic, sprawling adventure. Okami is set beautifully in a woodcut, watercolor style, cel-shaded environment. The gameplay is a mix of platform, action and puzzle genres, and holds many general similarities to the overall gameplay style used in The Legend of Zelda series. As reviews published at the time of Okami’s launch will attest, Clover was wildly successful in their execution. Critics seemed to unanimously agree that Okami was a masterpiece. Despite the acclaimed reception, Okami was overshadowed by next gen hype and suffered from lackluster sales. The game has since been remastered and ported to the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and PS3.
Why We Love Her:
Amaterasu is a truly original character in general. As if being a mythical Sun goddess in the form of a white wolf isn’t rad enough, our heroine wields a very unique and powerful tool/weapon called the Celestial Brush, which is absolutely core to the gameplay. The Celestial Brush is essentially Ammy’s tail dipped in ink. The player can bring the game to a pause and call up a canvas, where the player may then draw onto the screen a variety of learned brushstrokes to solve puzzles, defeat enemies in combat, or enrich gameplay. There are 13 main brushstroke techniques you learn from gods throughout the game. Shiranui possessed all thirteen Celestial Brush techniques at her peak of strength, but at her death, each god split up and went its own way to wait for her return, hiding in constellations. Each technique is reacquired as the game progresses. Some strokes are basic, such as drawing a circle in the sky to bring or prolong daylight, and conversely drawing a crescent in the sky to bring nighttime. Many brush techniques help you navigate or manipulate the environment. Greensprout is the combined name given to the three plant-based strokes and can help restore cursed plants, connect vines or create pathways where none exist. Veil of Mist slows down time to a near stop for several seconds to help evade enemies or provide a moment to strategize in battle. Others have a dual purpose and are useful for general gameplay as well as combat. Drawing a swirling loop will activate Galestrom, which can extinguish fires, knock down flying demons, or move objects around by bringing a strong wind. Waterspout will quench fires or drown enemies when an existing water source is available. Some other strokes are almost totally dedicated to combat. Cherry Bomb creates a single round bomb with a burning fuse. Drawing a straight line through an enemy will activate Power Slash and can be used on multiple targets concurrently.
Throughout her journey, Amaterasu is reunited with many of her powers, and regains people’s faith in the form of Praise. Through acquiring her lost abilities, Amaterasu eventually manages to destroy Orochi permanently. She then continues on to vanquish greater foe and restore harmony back to the mortal world. Her character has been received extremely well by critics and fans alike, and has been ranked on many lists as one of the most unique, memorable and influential video game characters of all time. She also makes an appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds as a playable character.