Craft a list of truly brilliant PS2 games, and no matter what your criteria, Okami should make the list. If it's art direction you want, there are entrancing sumi-e visuals. If it's new gameplay mechanics, you have a celestial brush to solve puzzles with gestural abilities. If you want length, Okami brought a massive story and plenty of side-quests. For a superb level of polish and atmosphere, you can't do better than the feeling of flowers blooming behind as Amaterasu dashes toward her next goal.
The question of the decade for both Capcom and Okami's unflappable fanbase, then, is this: how can a game that reached such wide critical acclaim do so poorly on the sales floor? In its first year, Okami had only moved 200k copies in North America, and about a fourth of that in Japan. It was beaten out in sales by such timeless gems as Prey, Red Steel, and Eragon. The Wii-release of Clover Studios' adventure garnered about another quarter million in America, but not enough to keep it from a backhanded accolade as the "Least Commercially Successful GOTY-Awardee" in the Guinness World Records Gamers Edition.
Well, this sad tale has some more theories popping up to explain it - this time from someone with a vested interest in the franchise. Motohide Eshiro, producer of the upcoming Okamiden, blames the lackluster sales of the first title on a simple matter of bad timing. There are only so many slots in the ol' RSS feeds, after all, and if you release your game at the wrong time of year, you risk having any and all marketing efforts buried under an avalanche of news about mythical new devices like the "Xbox 360" and "PlayStation 3," and the host of new games and gimmicks they bring.
Yes, Eshiro's view is that Okami was doomed because its marketing budget couldn't outstrip the push-push-push of new information about that year's HD consoles. The charts certainly seem to help this view, since almost everything in the top 20 for sales in 2006 was either an existing franchise (Kingdom Hearts, Madden), or a shiny next-gen title (Gears of War).
Which almost leads one to wonder: has Capcom learned from its mistakes? While the head designers behind what used to be Clover have now found a great deal of success in their new ventures at Platinum Games, those holding Amaterasu's leash almost look to be asking for a repeat performance of her first facefall. As good as Okamiden looks on its current platform, it's landing on our shores just two weeks before the Nintendo 3DS.
Granted, the launch lineup of 3DS is looking a bit light on epic adventures through a watercolor Nippon, but one can't help wondering if Eshiro's words are more of a preemptive 'I told you so' rather than a wish for Okamiden's commercial success. As fans of Chibiterasu and the portable wonder of a Celestial Stylus, we'll keep hoping it's the latter!