So much of what we expect to see in Katamari Damacy is brought to you right in the beginning – the halting, two-dimensional motion of the main characters, the bright colors of rainbows set against dancing pandas and creeper giraffes, flying through the heavens and enjoying the dominion over all of the creatures, with a strong synth horns and persistent percussion music that invokes flair and whimsy. As the game starts, however, there is something both unnerving and romantic about the world presented.
The unnerving feeling began right at the tutorial stage, where, as I learned how to roll the katamari, I saw the King of All Cosmos eerily staring at our Prince from above. He holds an intent look on his face, as if he’s waiting for me to fail so that he can swoop in and save the day. The storyline alludes to my father as a flamboyant alcoholic, going on a bender and deciding that every star in the universe was unneeded, leading me to clean up the mess he’s left behind across all space and time. Later, as I progressed through the first level and completed my first katamari, I was greeted back to my father’s palm over the spilled guts of the Royal Rainbow, where the King gently dismisses my work and states that he (actually using the royal “We”) could build a better one.
Still, I preferred this reaction than the one I get when I didn’t achieve the desired size of katamari. In this scenario, the colorful whimsy and vibrancy that my father showed disappeared, and there was no Royal Rainbow. There was only hardened scorn, with only my father’s face peeking out from a completely darkened night, save the few times I could see my father’s figure through violent blasts of lightning.
This entire relationship reminds me of being a child in an overprotective first-generation American family, where, since excellence is expected at all times, being successful is seen as mediocre and not being successful is the worst, most dramatic event that your diminutive frame can take.
The story is also unnerving while collecting different items in the katamari. While I didn’t feel any particular feelings about rolling up thumbtacks, D batteries, strawberries and shrubs, I started feeling a little wary when I began collecting organic matter. The rats were more disgusting than tragic, seeing little brown tails waving back and forth on my screen, but the weird feeling increased as I picked up creatures that made more tragic noises – first birds, then pigs, and eventually small children, each one of their screams as painful and sad as the last. This effect is only amplified when your lump becomes the size of islands and cities, and those large human obstacles that you slammed into only ten minutes ago are now collectively shouting in terror, with not even the police officers able to stop your rampage.
Extra craziness is added when the game declares what you have collected and the person you rolled up has a name. Rolling up “police officer” does not have the same effect as sucking up good old “Grandpa Akiba” or snatching up balloon-riding wayfarers.
Still, there is a sweet romance that surrounds the atmosphere of this version of our world. The King allows us a chance to interact across the globe, greeting us in the languages of the world, even speaking the universal language of Esperanto. There are no items that are off limits to the katamari, collecting everything from the tiniest thumbtack to the highest skyscraper, from the abstraction of a little girl’s sidewalk chalk mural to the clouds, volcanoes, even the Loch Ness monster. There is an implied oneness throughout the experience, where the fruits of evolution, created from millions of years of violent reactions that led to our known universe, are needed to restore that same universe and make life whole again. Even the ending credit scene shows a theme of oneness, allowing the nations of the world to be wrapped up in one final katamari, with no country too big or small to join together among the stars.
In all of Katamari Damacy’s colorful insanity and humorous excitement lies a story that brings us all together for something greater. It allows us to separate ourselves from the craziness in our everyday situations and unify anything and everything in our path. The experience remains memorable for so many reasons, and someday we may all lump up to make our own single star in the sky.