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How Japanese folklore inspired Okamiden

Ink to the past...

With everyone currently cooing over 3DS, it's sometimes easy to forget that Nintendo's other handheld, the faithful old DS, is still serving up some particularly tasty treats.

Capcom's Okamiden - the follow-up to Wii belter Okami - is one such mouthwatering morsel, its bold art style scratching out a beautiful world inspired by traditional Japanese sumi-e ink and wash paintings.

But did you know that much of both games' story is based on classical tales from Japanese mythology? You didn't? Perhaps it's time for a quick history lesson, then.

Join us as we uncover the surprising past behind these modern watercolour wonders...

AMATERASU
The stories of Okami and Okamiden are a mixture of several ancient Japanese myths and folk tales - and a fair wodge of made-up stuff besides - but Amaterasu plays a key role in the Shinto faith, as she's one of its most important deities, or kami.

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Legend has it that she was born from the god Izanagi's left eye (that's gotta hurt) as he performed a cleansing ritual following the death of his wife, Izanami, who was also, um, his sister.

Ammy went on to become ruler of the Takamagahara. As the sun goddess, her retreat to a cave following an argument with brother Susanoo plunged the world into darkness, until she was lured out by a bit of dancing from the goddess of revelry, Ama no Uzume.

Though her digital offspring Chibiterasu doesn't hold a place in Japanese mythology, the Amaterasu of legend did have a son, who she asked to rule over the Earth. He declined, saying that it was a place filled with chaos.

The parlous present state of our planet - economic meltdown, war, those Jedward Dragon Quest adverts - would suggest he knew what he was talking about.

KUSHI
Having witnessed her seven sisters gobbled down by the Orochi, Kushi - short for Kushinadahime, the rice paddy princess - is disturbed, if not entirely surprised, to find out she's next on his to-eat list.

Fortunately, Susanoo promises to save her, in exchange for her hand in marriage (which sounds a bit like blackmail to us, but still). The brave warrior turns her into a comb - giving a whole new meaning to the phrase 'till death us do part' - before slicing the sake-swigging snake into serpentine sashimi.

The couple spawn a son, Kuni, who grows up to be one of Chibiterasu's companions in Okamiden. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, until you realise that Okamiden takes place just three months after the events of the first game. All sounds a bit dubious if you ask us.

ISSUN
A tiny and slightly irritating sidekick who interrupts a bit too often to offer 'helpful' 'advice'? You could be forgiven for thinking Issun was just Capcom doing Navi, but the character is actually based on the Japanese fairytale of Issun-Boshi, or The One-Inch Boy, essentially an eastern take on Tom Thumb.

The story is much more exciting than the English version, as Issun becomes attendant to a princess, and is swallowed by an oni rather than a boring old cow. Said monster is then defeated as our miniature hero stabs him from within using a needle, before besting another by poking it in the eye.

In the process he earns himself a magical mallet, with which the princess whacks him, returning him to full size. Could the hammer-related shrinkage featured in the Mario & Luigi RPGs be a subtle reference to the legend of Issun-Boshi? We reckon so.

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