Okami is an incredibly unique game in every way, and it uses its setting to its advantage. Okami is still visually striking ten years after its release, but was even more impressive in 2006.
The game features a distinct cel-shaded style that almost looks like a beautiful Japanese painting. Most of the themes in Okami deal with Japanese folklore and mythology, and that look seeps from every facet of the game. One of the integral gameplay pieces involves using a brush to draw symbols on the screen to enact miracles.
The main character, Amaterasu, is a Shinto sun goddess that takes the form of a wolf. In Okami she sports a giant flaming disc on her back. Amaterasu fits perfectly in the world, and her movements almost flow through the ink style painting. Okami is one of the most gorgeous games ever made, and something that remains wholly unique to this day.
Journey is a simple game, that has fairly basic controls and very little setup to the story. Simplicity is what really makes Journey brilliant though, and that applies to the aesthetic as well. The first shot of the game has you stumbling up giant hills of sand as a lone Wanderer, with an imposing mountain constantly in the background.
The Wanderer is a cloaked figure with a scarf, but a memorable and striking design. Journey has no HUD, and this works to the games advantage as you really get to soak in the scenery. As you wander through the desert, your character shifts and slides through the constantly changing sand. Grand ruins and murals spring out of the desert with living flying carpets buzzing around.
Every piece of scenery in Journey is striking and evocative. It’s an incredible experience that has you wandering through scorching deserts and freezing peaks. The beautiful stylized graphics just help to give everything more impact as you move from area to area, with an especially memorable scene at the end of the game as you reach the top of the mountain. The final minutes of Journey are truly a sight to behold.
Ori and the Blind Forest
An art style and aesthetic can be everything for a game, and it doesn’t need to have a ton of graphical power to be beautiful. Ori and the Blind Forest is the perfect example of an aesthetic that works so well.
Taking some inspiration from the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Ori is presented in an art style that gives it a hand drawn look. This adds a layer of fluidity to movement through levels, and backgrounds that are absolutely entrancing to look at.
The main characters of Ori have charming and cute designs, which only helps to add to some of the sad tones near the beginning of the game. Somehow the art style of Ori consistently manages to capture the emotion and feel of where the story is at. Whether that’s sad, melancholic, hopeful, or anything else. It’s a game that makes full use of its art, and can do a lot of evoking emotion just from what you’re seeing.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
El Shaddai is yet another game that uses a cel-shaded style to great effect. Taking cues from anime, a lot of this game does look like a direct animated sequence. Part of what makes El Shaddai so unique, though, is the theme the story and aesthetic plays on.
The game is actually based on an ancient Jewish religious text called the “Book of Enoch.” Enoch is the main character of El Shaddai, and religious themes and imagery are inserted throughout the experience. There’s an air of sophistication El Shaddai has in its visuals that few other games grasp, even other cel-shaded ones.
This style goes with Enoch’s armor as well, which falls off in pieces as he’s hit in combat. Contrast is used to great extent in the visuals, with bright pastel colors mixing with blacks. There’ an ethereal air in the game, that surely only helped it achieve the cult classic status it holds.
The Witness has been years in the making, and recently released into the hands of fans. It’s a puzzle game, and one that theoretically didn’t need the gorgeous graphics it comes along with. But the painterly watercolor touch that the island of The Witness has only adds to the mystery and quite.
The story of the game isn’t immediately apparent, and its something you kind of have to work to uncover. The art style is specifically done with bright colors and a lot of saturation, and there are some incredibly beautiful vistas to behold.
There’s a surprising amount of variation to the island , even for as small as it is. The Witness has deep and challenging puzzle gameplay, and the beauty of the island makes the experience even more engaging. Especially as you hope to gain any bit of explanation as to what the place is.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
The first Mario game that really starred Yoshi as the hero, this game functioned as a prequel to the first Super Mario World.
Yoshi’s Island has Yoshi himself carrying around and protecting Baby Mario. The childlike innocence of Mario in the game, translates over to the game’s aesthetic perfectly. The game is down in a whimsical crayon-like style. Plants and smiling flowers dot the levels, making Yoshi’s Island a joyous game to play.
Even enemies and bosses sometimes turn out to look more cute than deadly. Yoshi’s Island had great platforming gameplay and an art style to match. It’s charming, colorful and imaginative right until the very end.
The Order: 1886
For all of its myriad issues, one area The Order does not falter in is the graphics department. The pure technology on display in the game is staggering, as you an see excruciating detail on the world and characters, even down to the bristles in their hair.
The Order is definitely a ominously themed game, taking place in a dark and gritty 1886 London. Regardless of this fact, there’s a certain kind of beauty within the world. Characters have interesting visual designs, and items in the world are created to exact detail.
Explosions give off radiating waves of fire, and you can practically see the dirt and grit that seeps into the pores of characters skin. The letterbox presentation of the game gave this title even more of a cinematic feel. The Order: 1886 may not have been met with hugely positive reaction, however, it’s certainly a technical marvel to behold.
Ni No Kuni
Without a doubt one of the best animation studios in the world is Studio Ghibli. Their gorgeous animation and great storytelling has always combined for memorable experiences. With Ni No Kuni, Studio Ghibli partnered with the lauded RPG makers Level-5.
This combination leads to a charming game that truly looks like an anime in motion. The spirit of Studio Ghibli comes shining through in both character and environmental design.
Environments are gorgeously built, with dappled sunlight shining through the forest and wind blowing through grass. Characters are equally as impressive, as Ghibli and Level-5’s style meets to make some fascinating creatures along with their human counterparts.
Ni No Kuni was the meeting of two greats, for a jaw dropping visual experience. We can only expect even greater things out of the sequel coming soon.
The structure of Valkyria Chronicles story is presented in a storybook fashion. As such, the game employs a graphical style to match it.
Valkyria is presented in a beautiful hand drawn style. Watercolors make up the environment, and you can almost see pencil strokes on characters and buildings. It’s a great example of how a game can use cel-shading in a unique way.
Valkyria Chronicles is truly a visual marvel, even in the turn-based battle segments. The world of Valkyria is embroiled in a terrible war between two countries. The game handles its war themes much more maturely than most games, and the striking visual style may intentionally be a stark contrast to the atrocities of war.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
The original Windwaker is incredible looking on its own, but the HD remaster took an already great aesthetic and made it one of the most fantastic looking games ever. Wind Waker was met with some resistance from fans when it was first announced.
Any complaints were shoved to the side as soon as the game released though, as the world saw a charming, heartfelt and utterly gorgeous game.
The cel-shading that Wind Waker uses really gives it the look of a cartoon, and heck even Link in this game is known as Toon Link. A sprawling ocean lies ahead of you in this entry, with colorful and varied islands dotted throughout the world.
The art style of Wind Waker helps the game be cute at points, dark and moody in others and more. Whatever the setting is, the art direction helps this game along. The ocean wave rising up and down are mesmerizing, the forests are lush and the sand shines. The HD remake of Wind Waker truly makes the game even a cut above, as adding the processing power of the Wii U just helped strengthen everything about an already charming look.
There are a lot of games out there with fantastic visuals and art styles. What games do you think are the prettiest around?