Don’t Worry, Do Your Best! The Lesson of Katamari Damacy
Katamari Damacy is a game about an intergalactic prince rolling up objects on Earth to recreate stars and constellations his Galactus-esque father destroyed in a drunken stupor. And it only gets crazier with each new game in the series. It’s a game series so absurd and pure of heart it can be hard to see it as anything more than another outlandish japanese game. But once you look past the brightly colored environments and surrealist story you’ll see a simple moral told through the relationship between the King of All Cosmos and the Little Prince, between father and son. The Katamari series is a lesson of doing your best and reveals the relationship between developers, the challenges set in games, and the player.
When you first enter a level in Katamari Damacy, you (the Prince) find yourself standing on top of the Earth. Despite your diminutive size, a mere five cm, you still stand on top of the earth, a fitting position for the Prince of All Cosmos. Then, with the sound of a haunting organ, appears your father, the King of All Cosmos, a towering, flamboyant figure who nearly fills the screens vertical length. Despite this haunting introduction an almost silly chorus of light “bahs” begins to play and the King reveals himself to be rather humorous. He speaks in oddly paced sentences, has a tendency to ramble, and seems very absent-minded.
In each level the King will often comment on peculiar items you pick up, give some comments on the size of your Katamari, and overall seems like a funny, enthusiastic guy who thoroughly enjoys seeing his son roll stars and constellations. And then time runs out, and if you’re Katamari is up to snuff you’ll ride the King’s orally dispensed Royal Rainbow to victory. But it’s when you fail that you see the other side of the King.
When you fail, the colorful scenery and exciting music is engulfed by a darkness that places the Prince back on top of the Earth as he was before the level began. But now the normally cheerful Prince is on his hands and knees, wallowing in despair as a heavy rain fall on him. And looming above him in the dark is the King, his stony face looming down on the Prince, his body only seen by the illumination of lightning. It’s here where the King’s speech switches from colorful to cruel.
That’s just a sample of the harsh words of the King. The punishments of the King become even crueler and more eccentric in later games in the series. He shoots lasers in We Love Katamari, uses the Prince as a punching bag in Me & My Katamari, puts the Prince on a pool table and throws billiard balls in Beautiful Katamari and hurls meteors in Katamari Forever.
This isn’t to say the King is an entirely cruel man. He gives the Prince great praise when he delivers a well-sized Katamari and often gives the Prince presents, though expects the Prince to find it in the level. But you reach the point where you have to ask why a father would treat his son so harshly, especially for something as apparently simple as rolling a Katamari? To understand this we need to look into the childhood of The King of All Cosmos and his relationship with his father, a man (God? Being?) called Papa.
From the video it’s fairly obvious where the King’s firm parenting style comes from. While at first Papa’s demand for excellence drives the King to anger, to the point of violence, the King learns that behind the mask of stoicism Papa puts up, behind the seeming cruelty, he is legitimately proud of his son’s accomplishments and truly loves him. It’s not a far stretch to surmise that Papa’s act of throwing the 2nd place trophy into the water was a way of showing the King that 2nd place is beneath the potential of the son of the Emperor of the Cosmos. Yet going back into the river to retrieve the trophy reveals the tenderness and love at the heart of Papa’s actions.
Though the King’s words are usually harsh in response to the Prince’s failures it’s not out of anger or spite, but disappointment that you did not meet goals he believed you could easily achieve. The Royal Family, like any royal family, has a reputation to uphold. And for royalty, nothing but excellence can be tolerated. The universe is almost literally at stake.
In the Katamari series, you are the Prince, you are the royal member with great expectations placed on your shoulders. In almost every level of Katamari Damacy the King of All Cosmos gives remarks on the size of your Katamari.
“Hmm, 20 cm, huh? Long, long way to go.”
“Hm, 45 cm. We’re sure you can go further.”
The King wants you to strive for excellence, to always do better than what you did before. Sure you met the goal of the level, but is that all you want, to just meet the bare minimum? Hell no! Keep rolling, make that Katamari as big as you can! But in reality it isn’t the King who set these goals and put these expectations on you, the player: It’s the developers. The developers are the ones who created these levels and put these goals and restrictions in place, the King is just a mouth-piece, a fictional commentator used to express the developers’ feelings of disappointment or praise at the Prince (or should I say you) accomplishing or failing to meet the goals set. The Katamari series, through the life and words of the King encourages the player to do your best not just in the game, but in everything. Be the best you can be and one day you, the small Prince, can be a King one day.
I’m not going to claim that the Katamari series is hardcore or overly difficult, but it never rewards you for failure. You’re expected to meet the odd time and size limits the King (or rather the developers) places on you in each level not because the King wants you to suffer, but because he believes you can do it. And because you can do it, you should and never accept anything less from yourself. But on the flipside, Katamari Damacy doesn’t punish you for failure either, besides the harsh words of the King. It goes without saying that you’re meant to have fun with the Katamari series. Even when you fail, you have the opportunity, the privilege to play through the level again and push yourself as much as you can to get the biggest Katamari in the time limit. Katamari Damacy tells us that the fun of a game is being challenged, and to not just succeed, but excel.
Katamari Damacy’s main theme, Katamari on the Rocks, has a line that sums up the entire attitude of the series: Don’t worry, do your best! From almost the very moment the game begins this credo is introduced to you. For the Prince, for the player, it’s a goal. For the King, the developers, it’s a demand, because you are the royal player and you can accomplish any goal.