As I was composing the list of flower-laden springtime games that Paste published just last month, it quickly became apparent that one particularly recognizable spring plant deserved a list all to itself: The cherry tree. More specifically, the brilliant pink flowers whose significance in Japan has made them an exceptionally familiar sight in game landscapes today. We may be just past the peak of cherry blossom viewing season, but it’s never too late to acknowledge the widespread and often breathtaking use of these iconic pink blooms in videogames.
Mr. Flower is far from the most important character in the Wii classic Okami, but his quest line is among the more charming ones that the player can complete. This colorful man helps the celestial wolf (and main character) Amaterasu restore the flowers to the corrupted cherry trees scattered around his city… Or rather, Amaterasu helps him by casting a spell that can revive plants while Mr. Flower performs his special dance, “The Gura Shuffle.” This then feeds into another quest where a sickly old man is returned to health only upon seeing the cherry blossoms returned to their full glory. This isn’t the only time cherry blossoms appear in the game, and they are also used to great effect in some of Okami’s promotional art, providing softness in stark contrast to Amaterasu’s bold, fiery design.
Perfect Cherry Blossom is the seventh game in the cult favorite bullet hell shooter series, Touhou Project. Its story revolves around an endless winter, as the energy of spring is being used to feed a demonic cherry tree, coaxing it towards a full and “perfect” state of blooming. There’s also an ancient (and obviously incredibly powerful) corpse sealed beneath said tree and, well, you can probably guess how things work out with that. The plot itself aside, it’s pretty darn clever to invoke the image of cherry petals swirling in the wind for a bullet hell game that has players both dodging and delivering projectiles in increasingly elaborate patterns.
Tengami is something like a digital, playable pop-up book. You explore environments, solve basic puzzles, and interact with the papercraft world on your screen as you might interact with it if it was sitting on a table in front of you. Cherry trees play a big part in Tengami, not only as an aspect of its rich watercolor environments but also as the central point around which the game itself unfolds. It’s a short and relatively simple game, however, so I’ll avoid spoiling the experience in too much detail.
There have been several creatures in the Pokémon universe whose designs take advantage of cherry blossom imagery. Evolving from a pair of cute cherries still on the stem, Cherrim is certainly the first that comes to mind. A fourth generation grass type, Cherrim actually has two distinct appearances: Its “Overcast Form” looks more like a hybrid between an eggplant and a bluebell, while its “Sunshine Form” is crowned with recognizable notched pink petals. My own favorite cherry blossom infused Pokémon, however, are a little more subtle than Cherrim and make their first appearances in the series’ fifth generation. The forms of Deerling and its evolution, Sawsbuck, both change depending on the seasons. In spring, wide-eyed Deerlings sport a bright pink pelt, while the pink flowers adorning Sawsbucks antlers around the same time of year are hard to miss.
The high contrast, ultra-saturated look of Muramasa’s art really makes it pop on the screen, and its use of cherry blossoms only underscores that. The clusters of lantern-lit pink and lavender draped in front of the murky darkness make up only a narrow slice of the many stunning backdrops in this stylish sidescroller, but they’re easily among the most impressive.
One of the reasons that many games employ these vibrant pink cherry blossoms, even when developed in a place where the sight is far less common or culturally significant than in many parts of Japan, is likely because it can be hard to differentiate the appearances of trees between spring and summer otherwise. Think about it. Winter treetops are skeletal and bare, while in autumn red, orange and yellow are all viable options. But spring and summer are pretty much stuck sharing green, and for games that need to convey (or at least emphasize) the changing of seasons through their graphics, those eye-catching pink trees are one of the easiest ways to go. I can’t say with any certainty that that’s the case with Proteus, a game that involves meditatively exploring a forested space as the seasons pass, but it’s as plausible a reason as any. Proteus’ graphics, which nod towards the Commodore 64 era of gaming, don’t leave much room for detail, so communicating with broad, bold visuals like those pink treetops definitely goes a long way.
An endless number of games have included cherry trees blooming in the background of their stages and environments, but Bushido Blade earns its place on the list purely because of how memorable its cherry blossom grove stage remains. For many players it’s still the quintessential Bushido Blade level, the first one that pops into mind when the game is mentioned and the first one to be chosen when the game is played.
Cherry trees have been a part of Animal Crossing for quite some time now. There’s the traditional flower-viewing holiday on its calendar, not to mention stationary, fashion and furniture invoking those iconic pink blooms. In the latest game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, falling cherry blossoms are even a weather type that can come up in the spring. Just like rain and snow, pink petals will occasionally tumble and twirl down from the sky over your town. It’s a very pretty (not to mention relaxing) sight, worth loading up your town even now to see.
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.