HD-2D. The fabled art style which mixes 2D sprites with HD polygonal graphics and is currently being used by Square Enix to bring both older games (such as Live A Live and the upcoming Dragon Quest III remake) and also new experiences (such as Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy).
Many people have expressed their praise for this art style…but I would be lying if I said I liked this style previously. In fact, it would be more accurate to say I bore a lot of hate towards the art style. But after reviewing Live A Live, it managed to change that opinion for the better.
Okay, so first things first: why did I bear so much hate towards the HD-2D style so much in the first place? The answer…lies in the lighting. In my eyes, Octopath Traveler felt like a blurry mish-mash of 2D and 3D, where it felt like the blooming and contrast in certain scenes was set to five hundred percent, making daytime scenes look blindly bright and nighttime scenes look too dark for you to even see anything on-screen.
It was so jarring that I couldn’t play the game for more than 30 minutes before having to rest my eyes from the lighting mess. I even put down the game after a while, never finishing it, because the art style just wasn’t it for me. Of course, it also didn’t help that the font was too hard to read on both titles, but that’s another can of worms that goes beyond the scope of this current article.
Then, fast forward to 2022, when Triangle Strategy was released, also featuring the HD-2D style. Unfortunately, to my eyes, it exhibited the same issues that were present in Octopath, and in fact, it even looked worse in some cases. So with two “original games” now with those issues, I had thought to myself: “Maybe this is how HD-2D is intended to look”, which immediately killed my expectations for the style for future games.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not a person who generally cares for graphics, but as a designer, I just can’t bring myself to play a game when key elements such as lightning and contrast have off proportions that upset the eyes. The story can be the best thing known to man, but if you can’t even see what’s going on, then that renders the previous point moot.
But then, I played Live A Live, which had a wholly reimagined art style from its Super Famicom era, and while early trailers of it did make me lose interest, one trailer, in particular, caught my eye, and that was the one that showcased the Near Future.
I was instantly drawn to the world. And then, the August 4th issue of Famitsu showed many screenshots comparing the Super Famicom release with the new style, side by side, and it felt that my previous complaints with the lightning and bloom had been addressed.
It felt like a night and day difference. While it still looked like the contrast was a bit off, there were options in the menu that adjusted how the game looked. But even the out-of-the-box experience felt ages better as opposed to the previous HD-2D games. Yes, I am aware that both Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy also had those options (with Octopath only having that patched later on). Still, the amount of tweaking I had to do in Live A Live was minimal to have the best viewing experience.
In addition, the font was actually readable this time (thank you, Fontworks!). Finally, while I can’t show pictures of it due to spoilers, the final scenario’s background and scenery had some of the most beautiful graphics I have laid eyes upon, a far cry from what I had previously experienced with this presentation.
It gave me a bit more hope that this will be how future titles will look: no overblown depth of field or blur. To me, that’s what HD-2D should feel like; beautiful 3D backgrounds with expressive 2D sprites, without the depth of field, just blurring everything. I hope that we can see more games such as Chrono Trigger or even other classic RPGs remade in this improved iteration from both Square Enix or from developers who would want to one day incorporate this art style in their games.
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