2D: Retro without a cause

I was planning to write a post today that kicked off by saying, “Hey, remember when I wrote about Half-Minute Hero and mentioned that I was initially really skeptical of it because it looked like a meaningless retrogame bandwagon-jumper that affected its visual style just to be trendy? And then I played it and realized it was actually really clever and wholly justified in its choice of graphics after all? Well, I think Nippon Ichi has just announced the game I assumed Half-Minute Hero would be in the form of Classic Dungeon.” But then Turnip went and wrote exactly that in the forums, so now I feel really unimaginative.

But not as unimaginative as NIS!

Seriously, though, why is this game “retro”? So far as I can tell, it’s a pretty standard action RPG sort of thing with the usual arcane and elaborate NIS-brand systems (for instance, you can use your party members as “equipment”). The visual style looks to have no real bearing on that, which suggests that the company saw something trendy and decided to imitate it without stopping to understand what has made things like Half-Minute Hero, Retro Game Challenge, and 3D Dot Game Heroes so creatively successful. Each of those games has a clear and visible purpose behind its throwback visuals; Classic Dungeon, so far as I can tell, doesn’t.

I think it would probably also help if NIS were to create a game that doesn’t look inherently dated before getting all cute and faking it.

I gave Half-Minute Hero a fair chance, though, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Maybe NIS can do the same. I just won’t get my hopes up.

I do like that they stole the explosion graphics from Blaster Master, though.

21 thoughts on “2D: Retro without a cause

  1. It also doesn’t help that the screenshots look really bad. All of those other retro games mimiced the 8-bit aesthetic fairly well…but what 8-bit games actually used graphics like this?

  2. Yeah, I was about to say. That looks like everything I dislike about 8-bit. HMH at least always looked purty – as did Megaman 9.

  3. Yeah, exactly. There’s no visual consistency between characters and environments. It’s really cheap-looking, and ugly.

  4. You ever see a post and you want to comment just to realize any meaningful thing you had to say was pretty much taken by everyone else? That’s how I feel here.

    More over, exactly what Parish said in his comment. It looks like its trying to be pre-89 NES, post-89 NES AND early SNES all at once, with a slight sprinkling of early TG-16. And then it’s all… splattered as if the art director for this game is the game industry equivalent of a frustrated pop artist just throwing buckets at his canvas.

  5. I think NIS, in general, needs to learn to take a breath and reflect now and then. They generally seem to take this approach of thinking up 5 or 6 different wacky ideas, throwing them at the wall, then running off to start in on their next game without stopping to look at what stuck. That still doesn’t rationalize such a HIDEOUS visual style though. The only thing that could possibly save this is if they’re actually trying to play up the visual chaos and they toss in some huge high res monsters in the same room as yellowish blobs for humor’s sake… but even then…

  6. I don’t think the pieces themselves look awful. In fact the character sprites look pretty good to me. But as others have stated the inconsistency between the graphic elements really makes the overall design look terrible.

    I really like that warthog and bunny creatures in the first screenshot.

  7. @Chris: I agree mostly, but I think the character sprite, at least in the second screenshot, is the centerpiece for everything that is wrong with this visual direction. Her bow and staff have depth and shading, but the rest of her is completely flat colors?

  8. Well, you can draw your own characters for the game, so that’s probably why Flonne’s bow is shaded. Of course, this just raises the question of why they would lovingly draw the weapons and shields when they know the character creator can’t make comparable sprites.

    Of course, this is N1, the company that released a new game this year that reuses a number of graphic assets from a game they made ten years ago and still manages to look worse.

  9. It’s like all the hideous earthtones of modern gaming smashed together with the sub-par spritework of the worst of the NES generation!

  10. What’s really interesting is the amount of attention being given to an unassuming game that doesn’t look any more mismatched than any of the Dragon Quest remakes. If it wasn’t an N1 game, no one would know about it anyway! Aren’t there some Full Metal Panic games more deserving of disgust? Or that awful looking Fi-nul Fat-nasty XIII?

  11. Seeing it in motion on the NIS website was a bit better, but the weaponry doesn’t match the character designs. Now all we have to see is if it has an over the top story typical of NIS standards.

  12. Are we sure this PSP title isn’t really just a Flash game in disguise? Because this is the kind of bizarrely mixed-up look I’d expect from a Flash game that just mish mashes a bunch of unrelated sprite elements together. =/

  13. i definitely have the same worries, but the music in the last 45 seconds sound so good! also, what i’ve heard about the character progression system sounds interesting.

  14. Well, I guess I’ll be an apostate and say that I think this game looks potentially fun and I wouldn’t mind playing it.

  15. Look at the numbers next to the gold pouch vs. the other numbers in the area. Hell, look at the pouch and then the other icons.

    NI at least usually has some sense of artistic cohesion, even though I’ve never liked the style of their games at least they had some. This is just a mess, and it makes me think it’s half palce-holder art…

  16. eric_c: I really liked the music from the trailer as well.

    I still like NIS games no matter how quirky, obtuse, or haphazard their approach can be. Honestly, they’ve always been willing to try new things as far as game mechanics. Many of their games play differently from each other, despite most of them being in the same genre. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s at the cost of out outdated visuals and overall polish. I’d be interested in seeing what NIS could do with a budget on the same scale as an EA or Activision game, though that isn’t likely to happen.

  17. I have to agree with you, Chris. Despite their sometimes shoddy production values, I respect NIS for trying seemingly batshit insane design ideas on a daily basis. I may not always like the results, but the process is a worthy one.

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