By Nick Benefield / February 15th, 2019
Our choices for Best Design are almost certain to ruffle some feathers this year. Regardless of what your personal preferences may be when discussing art design, all of our nominations this year have unique styles that help make each stand out from the rest. No two of them are the same and all of them satisfy different tastes. From the most abstract of designs to those going for near-realism, 2018 was a satisfying mix of different artistic flavors.
Right out of the gate, one of the more unique design choices of 2018 came in the form of Square Enix’s recently trademarked “HD-2D” style. Octopath Traveler has found a place in several of our award categories this year and its art style most certainly influenced that outcome. As its trademarked style suggests, Octopath uses a combination of 2D spites and high-definition 3D backgrounds. While this isn’t the first time that this idea has been executed (even for Square Enix), this is an instance where it is done exceptionally well. Every character (especially boss characters) is incredibly detailed and the lighting work lends itself very well with the scenic backgrounds. It would’ve been a crime if this title didn’t find a place on our list this year.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Following in the footsteps of Wrath of the White Witch, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom takes what made the style of the first game so mesmerizing and gives it a nice polish for current gen platforms. One should expect no less though, as the same artistic lead from the aforementioned White Witch title made a return for this one. Studio Ghibli made no contributions this time around, but the art style is still in that same vein – heavy emphasis on shading and lots of color. All comparisons to its predecessor aside, Ni no Kuni II’s beautiful storybook art style earns it a spot as a top contender on our list this year.
Taking heavy influence from the 8-bit and 16-bit games of yesteryear, The Messenger pays homage to those titles while offering a generous amount of quality animations and colors that would not have been possible on such systems. Each level is incredibly detailed and full of rich, vivid colors. The sprite work can best be compared to that of titles found on the Sega Genesis while the backgrounds are something entirely different. Much like the first title on our list, the difference between The Messenger‘s sprite work and its backgrounds makes its art design stand out as unique and worthy of a nomination this year.
One of the more unique entries on this list is Desert Child, an indie title that popped up at the tail end of 2018. It features a mixture of different design choices including detailed pixel art, rotoscoped animation, and a variety of interesting camera angles. The pixel art is somewhat reminiscent of what one might expect from an old Amiga game. While the animations for characters are generally pretty unassuming, certain interactions feature rotoscoped animations and really add to the game’s overall charm. Those camera angles mentioned above also add to the game’s character with every screen being shown from a different vantage point. The mixture of all three of these elements helped establish Desert Child’s place on our list of contenders this year.
Last on our list is another title that expands upon the art design of its predecessor. That game is Guacamelee! 2 and it features a simple yet sophisticated design that lends itself well to the overall tone of the game. The Mexican imagery of the first game makes a return here, as does the vibrant color palette. The first Guacamelee! title saw a release on PS Vita, but this time around the developers chose to drop that support while adding a number of graphical upgrades that would not have been possible on the Vita. If you’re a fan of the art from the first game, our staff believes that you will also be a fan of the designs in this one.
And the winner of oprainfall’s Best Design for 2018 is……
All of the titles nominated this year are deserving of this award, but in the end Octopath Traveler was able to pull ahead. I know that some of our staff were really rooting for Ni no Kuni II, but Square Enix really did strike gold with its decision to try releasing a 2D/3D hybrid. The fact that they’ve trademarked a name for this style as well as the Octopath Traveler moniker shows that Square Enix has a lot of faith in the game’s art direction. Our staff certainly thought so too, which led to its placement at the very top of our list this year.
Thanks to Brandon and Brodie for the awesome Featured Images
2018 oprainfall AwardsBest DesignDesert ChildGuacamelee! 2Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdomoctopath travellerThe Messenger