The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Art Direction – Ethos

wht_PS3_keyart_22_r04-80.inddEthos’ Pick: Final Fantasy XIII

What the hell, man? Even I’m pissed off that this game has got the first two awards on this list from me. But don’t worry, everybody, if FFXIII gets another nod from me this week it’ll be in the dishonourable mention category.

But if you read my review, this pick shouldn’t really come as a surprise either. The two things I praised the highest were the battle system and the visuals, and the visuals are spectacular for more reasons than just being in HD for the first time. While nothing was done in the gameplay to connect anybody to Cocoon, the world was designed in intricate detail. Architecture and clothing to subtle plant growth, even the tunnel of Cocoon was beautiful to behold. So much so, actually, that it made the game a little worse to think of how incredible the connection to the gorgeous surroundings could have been.

But Cocoon is only the beginning. Pulse is a wild, sprawling paradise with ruins that whisper its history, caverns swarming with wildlife and mystique, and huge fields dominated by truly massive beasts. Speaking of, FFXIII has my favourite enemy design of any Final Fantasy, and that’s saying a lot since both X and XII had great enemy design as well. In fact, all the characters are well designed. The main cast – although idiots that should never open their mouths – are my favourite character designs in the series. Ridiculous, yes, but Cloud’s hair was ridiculous, and so was Zidane’s tail although they at least had good personalities.

Still, the visuals may have made the overall game bittersweet, but judging them purely on their merit, I’d say Final Fantasy XIII has the best art design of the series that I’ve seen, which is quite a feat. Granted, I haven’t beat every game, so I might sing a different tune after finally completing VI, but as it stands, this is an easy choice.

Runner Up: Final Fantasy VII

Again, I almost wanted to say VI here, but I don’t feel educated enough in the game to choose it.

I realized that people might have an incorrect perception of my opinion of FFVII when Riddles was in Toronto and he was surprised I loved the soundtrack so much. Because my love for FFIX is so great, I suppose it overshadows the special place FFVII has in my heart. Anyway, I love the way this game looks. All the PSX Final Fantasies have beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds and I miss the style a lot, to be honest. Final Fantasy VII started it off beautifully with detailed and varied environments that really drew you into the world and made it the beloved classic that it still is.

Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy III

There is no real loser here because every Final Fantasy looked great for its time, I just really hate FFIII.

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20 Responses to “The Final Fantasy Awards: Best Art Direction – Ethos”

  1. 7thcircle says:

    Granted, I haven’t played 13 yet, but it sounds like you picked the Shiniest Art instead of the Best Art Direction. Many FFs have excellent art direction, and your piece reads like you were swayed more by the HD-ness and how recently you played it than stylistic reasons. Do you really think 10 years from now (about when FF15 is coming out, I’d wager) you’ll look back and think FF13 has the best art direction of the first 13 FFs? Or was it just the prettiest because it was in 1080p?

  2. Ethos says:

    “and the visuals are spectacular for more reasons than just being in HD for the first time.”
    I list a number of reasons why I love the visuals.

  3. SiliconNooB says:

    I think you’re wrong Ethan. XIII’s art style is just a rehash of X’s which was a rehash of VIII’s. XII, VII, IX and VI are the ones with somewhat original art.

  4. Ethos says:

    Yes, but it wasn’t most original art. That would go to IX. And although every area drips of nostalgia for me, I don’t think it’s the best. And X didn’t have the futuristic elements of XIII, which I loved in the cities and scenery. But yes, it was very similar to VIII, which was in the running for me.

  5. DarthGibblet says:

    While I wouldn’t say FFXIII has my favorite art direction of the series, I can certainly see where Ethos is coming from. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of work went into the visuals for XIII (probably at the expense of certain other areas), and there are loads of reasons to rank it first besides the next-gen-ness of the graphics (specifically, I think I may agree that it has some of the best enemy design in the series).

    Personally, even though I think it’s the ugliest in the series, I’d probably give the “best art direction” to FFVII, hoof-hands and all. Maybe it’s just the fanboy in me talking, but I still love the world design of that game, especially Midgar itself. Also, I usually prefer Sci-fi to Fantasy, which probably plays a factor in my fondness for VII’s design (and probably XIII’s, as well).

  6. Andogo says:

    @Ethos FFX had Zanarkand, Bevelle, and, to a lesser extent, Luca.
    I’d have to say that the art direction in FFX was the best from a videogame perspective: it offered a varied palette and distinct styles that gave each area its own flavour. (Not to mention summons that you can actually draw from memory, unlike the various contraptions you get in XII and XIII.) FFXII had FFX beat in terms of realism, but it went too far in that direction, such that things were beautiful, yet otherwise not memorable.

    FFXIII was just too busy. Ship designs were ridiculously ornate, which is nice, but it adds to the constant sense that the game doesn’t want to make sense, it just wants to overwhelm you with cheap theatrics.

  7. SiliconNooB says:

    @Ethan: Ah, I think the category you were looking for is Best Graphics (technical). Else it would be far more honest to give the Best Art Direction category to FFVIII, since XIII is just copies from that.

  8. Ethos says:

    I’m aware of the category, thank you.
    No, I was honest in my assessment. I prefer the variety and the style in which it was handled in XIII. The art direction itself is whimsical and inspired and I think XIII is more successful at designing a fantasy universe in terms of the art than VIII is.
    They are similar, but I chose XIII because I think it was better overall, all things considered. It’s convenient to point at the HD, but it’s not at the core of my reasoning.

  9. SiliconNooB says:

    … I just don’t think that the recycling of locations is a particularly good indication of strong art direction …

  10. SiliconNooB says:

    @Ethan: Are you going to have a ‘most annoying female party member’ category. I want you to answer the age old question: Rinoa or Garnet? … oh wait … now we have Vanille too … perhaps you could rank them in ascending order from dire to intolerable.

  11. Ethos says:

    @SN – Like I say in Riddles’ post, saying “recycling” does a disservice to both VIII and XIII’s artists. Both games take place in similar sorts of worlds, but that hardly means the locations are recycled. Both aren’t great games at all, really, but both deserve respect for their art direction in their own right.
    I wouldn’t say anything in VIII is anything like Sulyya Springs in XIII or that anything in XIII is like the SeeD gardens in VIII, and the list continues.

    Star Trek and Star Wars are both in space with spaceships, but it’s incredibly easy to tell them apart and to have a favourite or (largely subjectively) choose a best. I think it’s a very similar case with XIII and VIII.

    I know we’re including X in this whole thing, but although I loved the cities in that game, I don’t think any other locations had the same personality as XIII or even VIII.

  12. Ethos says:

    While we’re talking those games, of course. Look at Riddles’ post for why I chose VII as number 2.

    And SN, bah-ha ha! That WOULD be a good category! Although those aren’t the best examples for me. Garnet was stubborn and sometimes passive-aggressive, but her character made sense and also had great redeeming factors, so she never annoyed me. And Rinoa, while an IDIOT for liking Squall, was one of the few redeeming factors in VIII for me.

    HOWEVER, Vanille, Penelo, Rikku, Yuna, and Aeris would all have a fighting chance. My order from most annoying to least off the top of my head:
    Rikku, Yuna, Vanille, Penelo, Aeris.
    Vanille and Penelo were a bit of a tie for me. I’m curious in your version, I have a feeling it’s going to be quite different.

  13. SiliconNooB says:

    XIII has an original art design in the same sense that KHII has an original art design independently of KHI.

    -Vanille would definitely be my most annoying, then Asche, then Rikku and Yuna (but only in their X-2 guises), then Rinoa, then Garnet.

    -In the case of Rinoa and Garnet I do actually broadly like them, but some of the things they did really shitted me off.

  14. SiliconNooB says:

    Oh, and a dishonourable mention goes out to Shelinda (FFX) for being the obnoxious NPC that I would most like to murder …

  15. Ethos says:

    Oh god, Shelinda SHOULD be murdered! I forgot about her. Ashe wasn’t annoying to me because she had zero personality. It’s like she wasn’t there. Oh, and I should have specified that I only meant Yuna in the original X, not X-2. Rikku applies for both.

  16. SiliconNooB says:

    Asche just annoyed me because she seemed to be on a never ending quest to rid Dalmasca of competent governance.

  17. Ethos says:

    No, that’s true. She was just less in-your-face and thus easier to ignore.

  18. SiliconNooB says:

    … She just really got to me, much more so than Panello.

  19. 7thcircle says:

    You seem to have picked FF13 for it’s detailing, though, which IS due to it being an HD game. Most Final Fantasy’s have paradises and ruins and vegetation and whatnot, but you can’t put subtle artistic detailing in an 8 bit game in the same way you can on a PS3. So you aren’t really picking the best art *direction* as much as you’re picking the best *visuals*, highly influenced by pixel count. To me, picking a best art direction across over 20 years of a series would entail considering the original artists’ designs. You’d need to consider Amano, Nomura, and Yoshida’s work, not just how it looks on the screen. Otherwise, of course only a recent FF could be the best looking.

    I have no issue with FF13 being your pick here. I just want to see it argued from an artistic standpoint rather than an ooooo shiny details standpoint. I believe that’s how you feel, but I don’t think that’s how you’re defending it. You do seem to like FF13’s graphics for many of the same reasons why Shadow of Colossus’s art is considered so artacular. But you should be coming up with comparisons like this, not me.

    Question though — if you had no Final Fantasy art collections and had to pick an art book from just one FF to own, which FF would it be? For me, it would be FF6, which is why I would say FF6 has my favorite art direction.

  20. Ethos says:

    See, that is a good question, and my answer would still be FFXIII.
    In terms of the art, the mood and atmosphere of Pulse in particular is something I think could produce a fantastic book of art.
    But I also did mention the enemy and character designs that are both my favourite in the series.

    This might be blasphemous, but I don’t particularly like Amano’s work. And I have a FFIX artbook that I would gladly trade for a FFXIII one.

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