Cel-shading is a type of rendering that eschews photorealism in order to emulate the look of a 2-dimensional drawing. Cel-shaded games have a timeless quality that tends to age better visually than games that prioritize polygon count over creative art direction. With the proper use of color, texture work, and lighting, even a cel-shaded game from 1999 can look as good as a modern-day title.
These games looked great back then, and they’ll still look great years from now. The best cel-shaded games are sure to elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘awes’ from onlookers and are just as much fun to watch as they are to play.
10 Dragon Ball FighterZ Is The Best Looking Akira Toriyama Video Game
Following a long history of rushed licensed cash grabs, Dragon Ball FighterZ nails the look and feel of its source material with lush visuals and intricate animation. Character models are expressive, and the projectiles are completely on point.
Much like the film Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, cutscenes deliberately omit frames of animation from the characters to give the game an appearance of a traditional hand-drawn show. While many games have utilized art by Akira Toriyama and cel-shading, Arc System Works’ effort is undoubtedly the best-looking game to sport his distinct style.
9 Madworld Is A Bloody Noir Action Title
Although the Wii lacked the graphical capabilities of its HD competitors, Madworld’s comic book Noir art direction played to the hardware’s strengths. Evoking the look of a manga, mixing it with Frank Miller’s gritty Sin City comics, and throwing a dash of Tom & Jerry slapstick violence into the mix, Madworld is one of the console’s most visually striking games.
While the monochromatic art style could have made it hard to discern where players were in relation to other enemies, PlatinumGames expertly uses proper lighting and texture work to make the game both stylish and functional.
8 El Shaddai Ascension Of The Metatron Utilizes Different Art Styles
El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron is like the bizarro Bayonetta. Both titles are hack and slash games that mix religious symbolism with erotic subtext. In El Shaddai, the subtext is more homoerotic and considerably less ostentatious. Each chapter in the game utilizes a completely different art style.
One section involving Nephilim juxtaposes its darker themes with a childlike appearance featuring cartoony Nephilims playing with beach balls and hula hoops. Another takes on a more futuristic look, evoking the aesthetic of mecha anime. The religious themes help give these disparate art styles some consistency.
7 Sly Cooper Thieves In Time Benefits From The Leap To HD
The Sly Cooper series has always been a looker with its vibrant cast, colorful worlds, and slick comic book visuals. However, Thieves in Time for the PlayStation 3 benefits the most from the leap to HD hardware and delivers what might be the best-looking game in the entire franchise.
The time travel premise allows the crew to take on jobs from exotic locales in different eras, giving every chapter a distinct look and feel. Players can take control of Sly’s numerous ancestors and perform heists in modern-day France, feudal Japan, the Wild West, and even medieval England.
6 Ni No Kuni Allows Players To Explore A World Crafted By Studio Ghibli
Level 5 of Dark Cloud and Professor Layton fame teamed up with the legendary animation giant Studio Ghibli for their JRPG title Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Animator and director Yoshiyuki Momose was heavily involved during the game’s production, contributing character designs, producing storyboards, and even directing actors during the motion capture sessions.
The game combines its whimsical cel-shaded in-game visuals with painted backdrops and hand-drawn cutscenes. Players will feel like they’re taking part in an animated film on par with the studio’s pedigree of cinematic masterpieces.
5 Prince of Persia’s 2008 Incarnation Is The Most Visually Striking Entry
While subjected to a polarizing reception from fans, the 2008 incarnation of the long-running Prince of Persia series is arguably the most visually striking entry in the franchise. Players are tasked with restoring the color and beauty to each of the corrupted lands.
Once Elika rejuvenates the world with her magic, the dark and dreary environments become vibrant and colorful, giving players the proper incentive to traverse the rhythmic platforming sections. Bolstering the majestic Arabian fairytale art is the fluid and jaw-dropping animation. The Prince and Elika navigate the game’s many hazards with a mix of parkour and magic that almost seems balletic.
4 Jet Set Radio Future Is The Realization Of Smilebit’s Artistic Vision
Jet Set Radio was a landmark title in its initial release, but its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, played better and looked prettier. The benefits of the original Xbox hardware allowed the title to push graphical boundaries to make Future the realization of Smilebit’s artistic vision.
Character models and environments saw a bump in polygon count and graphical detail that simply wasn’t possible on the Dreamcast. It’s a shame that although Sega released a great HD version of the original title, Future has not been re-released or made backwards compatible with Xbox One or Xbox Series X.
3 Persona 5’s Anarchic Art Style Extends To Its UI
Persona 5‘s anarchic and colorful art direction is perfectly suited to its premise of rebellious thieves who invoke the heroes of Picaresque literature, such as Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin. The cel-shaded visuals look stunning and do a good job of accompanying the hand-drawn character portraits and cutscenes.
The game’s vibrant art direction even extends to its UI, which manages to be both flashy and effervescent without ever becoming unintuitive. Masayoshi Sutou, the game’s art director, stated that he aimed to capture the aesthetics of magazines that were geared towards women.
2 The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker Has Been Vindicated By Time
While gamers expected another title to match the look of Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker utilized the improved hardware of the Gamecube to give the title a hand-drawn look reminiscent of Disney’s animated features. Derisively called “Celda“ by the press and fans alike, the game was eventually vindicated by history as it’s the Zelda title that’s held up the best visually.
Link was at his most endearing and expressive in this installment, and the colorful environments made players want to uncover every nook and cranny. While the game saw an excellent HD release on the Wii U, it’s still not yet available on the Switch
1 Okami Is A Playable Sumi-e Painting
Invoking figures and mythology from Shinto Japanese folklore, Okami‘s unique visuals masterfully channel the look of a watercolor painting. In a major deviation from Hideki Kamiya’s more flashy and over-the-top action titles such as Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe, the majestic and regal aesthetic of Okami is perfectly suited for the tale of divine intervention and the preservation of nature.
The game was originally intended to feature a more realistic art direction, with the more timeless sumi-e cel-shaded look being adopted later due to the story’s themes.
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