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What games have your favorite Art Direction?

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  1. Pretty self explanatory. Here I'm not looking for ZOMG graphics, but games that because of their art direction would be good on any system, regardless of specs.

    SO, some my picks in no particular order.

    Shadow of the Colossus

    Talk about breathtaking. This game relies on two things as far as gameplay and looks: Less is more. You can see the color palette is limited to a few colors, although the range in which these colors are used is very diverse./The vistas are breathtaking, but are mostly empty. It would have been very easy for a developer to screw this up, but somehow the mood, the environmental perspective, the perfect contrast between big and small made this probably the most entertaining game for people to watch you play and have just as much fun as you did playing it ... and thats one of the biggest compliments a games art direction can have.

    Okami

    This is one game that looks so much like a storybook that sometimes you just have to stop whatever you're doing and admire it. The color theory in this game is off the charts and it feels fresh, distinct and will no doubt pass the test of time. The textures are simple, yet detailed, the settings varied, the gameplay itself affects the look of the environment and when you put it all together it gives you a visual performance that indeed feels like your playing a movie.

    Final Fantasy XII

    Without a doubt, no other game makes me want to start texturing as soon as I see someone play it. This is the one game in this list that I would love see an HD version so that the textures could be bigger and not flicker. The amount of details and variety in this game is stunning. The models in the game used roughly half the polycounts of Final Fantasy X and it seems like they used that to their advantage by giving the texture budget a larger memory. Even without the detail though, this game is on this list because of the well designed characters, the very different styles each location has, its amazingly VAST monster library, with descriptions and background story for each one, no less and very smart use of colors for each location (Rabanastre, the main city, has very obvious Turkish inspired designs, colors and textures, giving it a very busy city look without being overwhelming)

    Radiata Stories

    Probably the least known game on this list. This was a SquareEnix RPG that came and went for the PS2 a couple of years ago, got ho-hum reviews and most people forgot about it. Recently me and Michelle picled it up due to good word of mouth and we were shocked by how pretty everything was. In most games today, cartoony or realistic, you find a troubling lack of good color schemes and values. True all the games in this list have all that, but its this game that I finally saw shadows that where not BLACK, which, a small a detail as it may be, carried with it a lot of weight in influencing all the other color schemes throughout the game, making it look really fun and likable.

    Rez

    Probably, other than Shadow of the Colossus, no games visuals match the gameplay better. In Rez you play a space shooter of sorts (think Starfox) but the gameplay is completely revolved around music. When you start a level a regular base beat starts up, and by either you shooting or killing enemies new sounds will appear that complement the initial beat. As you progress the initial beat becomes more complex until you reach the boss, thats when the song finally reaches its full complexity and by the time you realize it, you're in the middle of a boss battle with the music going absolutely INSANE which makes for a pretty damn entertaining experience. The art itself is simple, like next-gen Vector graphics really, but it holds onto you, it resonates with the music and allows you to really immerse yourself in the game without being detracted by the lack of overwhelming visual cues. If games were considered art by most, this game would be its abstract masterpiece.

    So thats it for me for now. I wanted to hit some popular basics and a couple of lesser known ones. There are plenty more games to discuss though, so get to it and collaborate!

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  2. Great list, thanks for sharing. And motherfuckers want to exclude games from art.

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  3. I have to mention the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the rendition of the Twilight World, as sort of a footnote.

    The hyper-saturation of some colors and draining of others leads to this sort of soft-focus aura of subdued, surrealistic dread that's just fantastic. I know that originally, the idea was to make it a world of shadows and black - boring as shit. The inclusion of cel-graphics is seamless and effective, without any of the jarring clash of virtually every simultaneous mix of mediums in any visual format.

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  4. By Cel graphics you mean the squaed sprite effects right? Some people may think youre talking about cel shading, so include images next time ;)

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  5. Agreed with everything on Xavi's list. I believe I will add:
    Wind Waker: notable for its ability to compress and reimagine a franchise that has existed for 2 decades while still retaining the overall atmosphere that people love about Zelda
    WoW: Defines the concept of a living game ecology where you can move from a mountaintop to a dense jungle and still feel like you're part of the same world. Not easy to pull off.
    Viewtiful Joe: Mentioned by way of being unique and just tongue in cheek enough to be able to laugh at itself rather than be made fun of. Also, from a technical point of view, making polygonal models that animate as if they were 2d (similar to Wind Waker) is not easy
    ZOE2: Tight mech design. One of the few games where the framerate is critical to supporting the feel of the art direction
    BoF: Dragon Quarter: You'd think a dungeon crawler RPG couldn't look very interesting but this game manages to pull it off because everything has this "Doom" feeling of closeness and claustrophobia about it; even the music is part of the art direction
    Crystal Chronicles: A hidden gem like Radiata Stories. This game is gorgeous even if it's not the best game to play alone. I remember everything coming together to create this tightly packaged original world that feels like a classic Final Fantasy but at the same time has this unique fantasy faerietale feel to it that no other Square Enix game really touched on
    Half Life 2: Well gee, it makes you feel like you're in authentic Eastern Europe. Despite not being the best looking engine technically speaking, simple things like the lighting model and HDR system give you a feeling of warmth when in the game. Attention paid to the precise way Alyx looks in different environments supports this. Obviously also other environmental touches like number plates on cars and the various kinds of graffiti you come across
    Paper Mario: 2d sprites in a 3d world? No one else has done it and certainly not as integrally as here. Especially the way one screen flows into the other with cardboard cutout buildings falling away, etc. Similar to Viewtiful Joe, in a way. But not a beatemup!
    GTA Vice City: Also unique because no one else has been able to realise the 80s or any other real world cultural era so exactly and immersively as this game. Even if you don't like it you have to appreciate the exact finesse with which clothes, makeup, the soundtrack, the lighting and the cars were researched, all as part of making the whole as nostalgic as possible. Can only be done with a visionary art direction team.
    Silent Hill 2: Exclusively this game because some of the monster design stands out as representative of how you can make a game's art direction revolve around a single facet such as enemies: Pyramid Head and the come-to-life mannequins hold up all by themselves in terms of building the feeling of the town. Obviously also things like muted colours, the noise filter and ambient sound

    Note that we're talking art direction here, not quality of artwork used in the game. Art direction is related to the consistency and overall integrity of a production's artistic feel and atmosphere, which includes everything from level and character design to gameplay experience and sound design. Games with solid art direction can easily outperform games with lots of polygons but shitty art direction.

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  6. I submit Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Legend of Mana

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  7. What? Have you even played any games other than generic popular Squaresoft productions? What's so goddamn great about Xenogears' art direction? It's a bunch of boring manga with ugly spritework and simplistic mech design. If you want strong manga art, go play Wind Waker or Dragon Quarter. If you want superior mech design, play ZOE2. Geez.

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  8. Yeah I agree with Rahul. Chrono Trigger was stunnign visually, but the art direction was simply OK, Xenogears is very basic and Legend of Mana does have good art direction, so that one fits the bill.

    Guys, please try to .. you know, back up your opinions with images and some thought, we cant read your mind you know ;)

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  9. i've played plenty of games, just because most of them don't stand out, doesn't mean i haven't played them.

    I also Submit Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn.

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  10. Thanks for commenting on my lengthy post Xavi! I specifically refrained from getting work done last night just for you!

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  11. Oh I was just replying to Cabin Republican here, not you. I thought your post was fantastic.

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  12. I throw in Persona 2 or any of the later MegaTen game. Their style was always pretty unique and interesting, even if the game itself bored me to tears.

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  13. Definately the MegaTen series. Kazuma Kaneko is a fucking master.

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  14. Rachel said:
    Definately the MegaTen series. Kazuma Kaneko is a fucking master.

    Of characters whose faces look the same.

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  15. Yeah cause peoples faces, being 5 percent of the art thats in a game, are so indicative of the artists skill.

    Come on now

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  16. Bioshock

    Final Fantasy IV

    I would play either of these games for their art direction on any console (that I could afford)

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  17. Vagrant Story did it for me in every possible way. The PlayStation's inability to render Akihiko Yoshida's work in a definitive form, which became apparent years after this title's release with the arrival of Final Fantasy XII, remains, in my humble opinion, irrelevant. Here, Yoshida-san's characters are, as in Xavi's reference, extremely well designed alongside breathtaking backdrops. Why Roger Ebert hasn't played this game, I know not.

    Great post!

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  19. Vagrant Story would just validate Roger Ebert's point: despite our opinion that VS is a masterpiece of storytelling, compared to solid, complete and well-directed films, it's extremely B-rated and conceptually simplistic. He would laugh off the "amateur" attempt at introducing a Shakespeare-style scenario and script. This certainly wouldn't be my choice to defend our hobby with.

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  20. 15-20 years ago the video game medium was very limited on what it could do with story telling, just like with graphics and sound. It seems to me that as the industry progressed, much more emphasis was put on gameplay improvements than story. Thus we get a number of RPG's with very similar plots, and we get a lot of action style games with little to no plot at all. And people buy these because they love rpgs or they love FPS or whatever. RPGs went out of style because they do the same stories over and over, Action game get really popular because they are fun to play. Thus we get lots of game that are fun to play, but have the artistic quality of The da Vinci Code

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  21. great list xavi, i agree with you but i never touch Radiata Stories before. For me i suggest Genji to add to your list.

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  22. SaGa Frontier II and Unlimted SaGa need to be on this list. Both games are beautiful.

    A few others: Eternal Sonata, the Katamari series, The World Ends With You, No More Heroes, killer7, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, PixelJunk Eden, echochrome, WipEout HD, Jet Set Radio, Samurai Legend Musashi (awful game), ICO, Blue Wing Blitz.

    There are probably more that I can't think of right now.

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  23. I'd totally corroborate you on Yoshi's Island, but Blue Wing Blitz...???

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  24. I have a bit of a hard-on for obscure games... BWB was awesome even though I didn't understand a word of it.

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  25. Saga Frontier 2 has definitely moved into my #1 favorite art direction spot over the past year or so. Good call Hito.

    Rahul said:Vagrant Story would just validate Roger Ebert's point: despite our opinion that VS is a masterpiece of storytelling, compared to solid, complete and well-directed films, it's extremely B-rated and conceptually simplistic. He would laugh off the "amateur" attempt at introducing a Shakespeare-style scenario and script. This certainly wouldn't be my choice to defend our hobby with.

    Though I agree with your commentary, I think that VS did show very good progress towards what games should be like if considered a story telling medium. I'd call it a sign of better things to come if now, 7 years later, I didn't still feel like we are in the same place (generally) we were at its release.

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  26. All of my favs have already been mentioned but I'd also say the Metal Gear Solid, Burnout, and SSX series. MGS for character/mechanical designs, Burnout and SSX for their inventive environment design.

    I think we see very few games that achieve the scope of Akihiko Yoshida's games because he's someone involved in almost every aspect of a game's visual development and is unwilling to sacrifice the smallest details.

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  27. Yeah, SSX was pretty gorgeous. I think it would be a pretty serene experience were you not preoccupied with mad tricky-azz flips.

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  29. Maybe I was being hasty, but I got thoroughly annoyed with Legend of Dragoon withing about 15 minutes. The music was extremely cheesy (in a bad way). Battle was clumsy. Though the graphics were pretty, they were uninspired. Haven't touched it since and will continue avoiding it into the future.

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  30. Reviews just like that one kept me from ever playing that game.

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  31. Nels said:
    Battle was clumsy.

    Slowest fucking battle system ever. Fuck that game.

    And this is something, coming from me, who sat through some slow-ass shit for dozens of hours.

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  32. Hater!!!!!!!!

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  33. I've been playing Jeanne d'Arc lately and I've been really impressed with the gorgeous environments and the rendered characters. Though the character designs are seriously retarded, like seriously (a maiden with a receding hairline, a sassy French mercenary with an afro, a legendary knight straight out of Flock of Seagulls), once the 3D animators are done with them they look terrific. The 3D artists at Level 5 are great.

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  34. There's some seriously ridiculous art direction going on in Wrath of the Lich King, unsurprisingly.

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  35. Speaking of Warcraft, my computer refuses to play Warcraft III any longer. This makes me sad.

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  36. What is the big about about WoW anyway? I mean, come on, you pick your race and class then go on quests to get money and level up, kinda reminds of another game coughEverQuestcough. Will the day ever come when we get see another real-time strategy Warcraft. Is there ever gonna be a Warcraft IV? Answer me Blizzard!

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  37. You should play it. It's a pretty fucking refined MMORPG formula.

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  38. I feel you Son Gara, but personally I'm still happy with WC3. As soon as I get tired of that one, then I'll be right there next to you shouting consumery demands at no one in particular at the wrong forum. Give me a few years.

    Until then, we do have Starcraft II and Diablo III to hold us over.

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  39. The deal with WoW is that it's one of the most playable games available and that makes everything you do in it extremely satisfying. I tend to explain it to folk as Grand Theft Auto meets LotR, because that's pretty much what it amounts to at the end of the day.

    Especially now with WotLK and the various hybrid gameplay options: horseback racing, siege tank battling, battlegrounds, 10-man raids, death knight gameplay, multi-person mounts, etc. It's drawing on a lot of ideas that don't involve "go here, kill 15 of these, collect gold" that you associate with EverQuest. And while I haven't even really begun to delve into the Northrend content, I'm sure it'll just continue getting more awesome as we go.

    If anything, you should get a free 10 day trial. Nothing to lose. The Death Knight starter quests are especially saucy.

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  40. I've been clean 2 years. I still have great respect for WoW. I don't think anyone could argue that it isn't one of the greatest (just greatest?) games of it type so far in our history. The art direction, music, and game play, are all top notch. However, I would never recommend it to anyone. Those that want to play it are going to and they don't need me to. There came a point when there really wasn't anything new for me to do as a casual player and it was getting very repetitive. If I hadn't gone home to my parents for winter break (they had very slow dial up at the time) and canceled my subscription, I might have kept playing the monotony.

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  41. Your replies have caused me to rethink my opinions of the game. It is true that I have never played WoW or even EverQuest for that matter; but I had friends who played EQ and I saw what it did to them. They would become like complete shut-ins, not wanting to do anything expect play that damn fucking game. I remember back when I got stuck at my friend's house (didn't have a car at the time), and for almost three hours I watched him play then for some reason, he accidentally got himself killed and started crying; so I got up and walked halfway across town back to my house (laughing all the way).

    But anyway, I didn't mean to get this forum off it's original topic. Hey Xavi, have you heard of this new game coming to the Wii. It's called Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and the art direction looks pretty cool. Check it out:

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  42. Sorry, for some reason I can't seem to get the images to upload.

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  44. I'm very disappointed that is only coming to the Wii.

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  45. Though I don't own a Wii and don't plan on it anytime soon, I am excited it is a Wii exclusive. The system needs more quality exclusives that appeal to your more general gamer than that casual one.

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  46. Dean said:
    I'm very disappointed that is only coming to the Wii.

    Me too. Odin Sphere was the sex.

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  47. i guess the developers at vanillaware are also looking at what system is selling the best. I think it makes sense that they are developing it for the Wii but they should also release it on the PS2 or PS3.

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  48. Vanillaware seem to be among those crafty Japanese developers who understand that they only have a small team and limited appeal, so they have only so much money to throw at projects and as such design and develop only games that meet those requirements. That means stuff like the abovementioned, featuring cheap-to-make 2d art and simpler gameplay. It also means that, conveniently, the Wii target audience matches pretty well with the product. Of course, the real market is on PS2, but maybe PS2 is just dead in the water in Japan these days? Anyway, no one wants to be thought of as "behind the times". Right?

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  49. I can't believe that releasing it on the PS2 wouldn't be a worthwhile venture for their company in addition to releasing it on the Wii.

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  50. Maybe they have an agreement with Nintendo. Or maybe porting it to PS2 is costly, or maybe they don't feel like it, or maybe they have a really great Wii team and engine that allowed this to happen versus their resources available for PS2 products, or maybe they'd have to outsource the PS2 project.. or.. well basically we don't know and it could be anything.

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  51. VanillaWare does have other titles out for the PS2 right now, if you're interested. The two I know about are GrimGrimoire and Odin Sphere. GrimGrimoire got relatively high ratings, but to be honest I didn't really enjoy the game much. It was really slow paced and I wish it had more of a variety of monsters to summon. Also, I was disapointed in the way they presented the game. I don't mind still images too much, but they could have given the characters some sort of movement in the cut scenes. They should have taken a page out of the Sly Cooper games book. Odin Sphere is a horse of a different color though. Odin Sphere is a beautiful, 2D, side scrolling, beat-m-up. I have really enjoyed it so far. It has many different intertwining stories/story books that are based on Norse mythology. I recomend it for someone looking for a LONG, in depth, challeging, adventure.

    Back to the topic at hand. There really isn't much information about it out yet, but I'm extatic about the new Beyond Good and Evil game coming out. I know it's going to look awesome and play awesome if it's anything like it's Predecessor. Street Fighter IV should be awesome as well!

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  53. Eh. The new BG&E would be an example of how NOT to do art direction if the trailer is anything to go by, since apparently they dumped the cartoon style in favour of a "realistic" approach. Photo-realistic pig-humans? No thanks.

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  55. Woah! Dean, wtf is that?? Just the box makes me want it.

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  56. Upon further investigation, the character illustrator is Sunaho Tobe, and the game came out just this past June 2. However, it's another turn-based tactical RPG. Blah.

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