Riddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII
Ahhh, Final Fantasy VII. How I love you. I might shower more praise on this game than it deserves, but regardless of my fanboyism, I feel perfectly justified in awarding it Best Art Direction.
One word I’d use to describe Final Fantasy VII’s art style is “gritty.” And that’s gritty in a good way. To this day, Midgar remains one of the greatest virtual cities ever created for any videogame, of any genre, of any generation. The city oozes of a beautifully oppressive, industrial atmosphere that simply hasn’t been matched. Lots of games combine magic with technology. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t even the first game to do it, really; but Final Fantasy VII is still the greatest showcase of this particular match-up. Final Fantasy XIII took aim at it, yes; but in the end, it failed to provide the same palpable atmosphere that literally drips from Final Fantasy VII’s environments.
Midgar is certainly the paragon example, but it’s not the lone star. Final Fantasy VII is packed with more memorable locales than any other game in the series. What’s fantastic about it, though, is that they all manage to be incredibly distinct, yet they all feel like a crucial part of the world as a whole. From the aptly-named Kalm, to the delightfully organic Cosmo Canyon, to the eerily gorgeous paths of The Forgotten City, Final Fantasy VII is an atmospheric rollercoaster ride unlike any other.
And let’s give some credit to Nomura’s character designs. Final Fantasy VII was the first game to feature his patented character designs, and in my opinion, it’s still his best work. Maybe it’s just because the characters themselves are so iconic; but then again, without his artistic vision, they probably wouldn’t be.
The game may look like complete shit on a technical level, but the powerful artistic vision behind Final Fantasy VII still manages to cut through the pixels, even to this day. And that, my friends, is an accomplishment.
Runner Up: Final Fantasy XIII
Maybe it’s just because I dig the technology/magic schtick so much. Maybe it’s because I feel like supporting Ethos in his (perfectly justified) decision to give the Art Direction award to XIII. Or, maybe it’s just because Final Fantasy XIII features some of the most inspired art direction of this generation. If any one department wasn’t slacking during XIII’s development, it was the artists. See Ethos’ award post for my thoughts.
Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy III
I’d almost give this to Final Fantasy X-2, since hardly any of the artwork in that game is original. But then I realized that I literally can’t clearly recall a single town, dungeon, or environment from Final Fantasy III. And that’s probably because the art direction, like everything else about the game, was pretty mundane. Also, I just hate Final Fantasy III.