Traditional Japanese Art Makes For Beautiful Games

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 watercolour of the “soul” of its subject.

Because it’s all done in one colour 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 from fighting games to driving games have embraced this art style in one form or another. Scroll down 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 touchscreen, 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 colour 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 colour and the Sumi-e style brush-made line art is filled with vibrant colours. 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 cutscene 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 coloured 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 stylised, 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.


  • Really good article. I always believe okami was one of those games that the art style just flourished the game itself. I’ve been meaning to play Demon arts, as I’ve heard great things about it, don’t have a vita unfortunately though 🙁

  • It may be beautiful, but it doesn’t sell, even if the game is good. In fact the only one there that sold to megabucks is SF4 and that’s because it’s SF4, it would’ve sold well if it was claymation.

  • Ah Okami, it’s one of those games that really deserves nostalgia. Even if one forgets how it plays, the art, the music, and the goddess herself still lingers in your mind, like a charm.

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