With the release of Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy – and the upcoming Live A Live and Dragon Quest III HD 2D Remake — Square Enix has become synonymous with a new style of retro-inspired graphics. Combining rich HD 3D backgrounds with SNES-inspired pixel art characters and monsters, HD 2D’s color palette, lighting, and beautifully detailed boss sprites helped create a nostalgic, popular art style, from that fans want to see more of.
In a recent interview with 4Gamer, Triangle Strategy producers Tomoya Asano and Yasuaki Arai sat down to discuss how they’ve implemented these retro visuals into their latest strategy game. An interesting question from the interview – translated by Jarop for Nintendo Everything – is when 4Gamer asks Asano why other studios haven’t tried HD-2D. More and more indie studios have embraced pixel art to capture the heart of the games that inspired them, but Asano has a very simple answer:
It’s probably worth noting that it costs more than you think. In that regard, it goes well with the titles that Square Enix demands. There might not be much to gain from other companies copying it.
This answer is a pretty good reminder that game development doesn’t come easy or cheap, and while it’s inspired by classic SNES-era RPGs, there are so many extra touches – aside from the HD backdrops – that require a bigger budget would. Asano
Asano also talks about the “sharing of expertise” between the various HD 2D projects done at Square Enix, and the producer confirms that the development teams did indeed share.
The teams of the earlier titles have published information for the newer teams. If they have information that they think could be useful, we encourage the exchange of information between development companies. If a phrase has been used in an earlier title, there is no reason why it cannot be included in the newer titles.
Asano and Arai also talk specifically about Triangle Strategy, including the differences in working with the popular visual style in Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy. These answers have also been translated for Nintendo Everything by Jarop. Octopath Traveler is a turn-based RPG, while Triangle Strategy requires a top-down camera so you can see the tactical RPG action, so the team faced new challenges.
Asano: Octopath Traveler had a fixed camera, but in tactical RPGs you need to be able to rotate the map 360 degrees. We had to find a way to make cards in Triangle Strategy look good from all angles.
Arai: It took a lot of resources to make the map viewable from all sides. Early in development, we spent a lot of time discussing what to do at the edge of maps. In addition to the beautiful looking world maps, the artists and art team did an amazing job mixing so many locations together. We hope you explore every inch of the maps and immerse yourself in war-torn Norzelia.
The 4Gamer interviewer also goes into detail, focusing on the effect she thinks HD-2D is trying to create and comparing it to a diorama:
A mix of the real and the surreal, HD-2D strikes an excellent balance between the two styles. It’s interesting to see how realistic light shines on deformed characters – it feels like I’m looking at a diorama or vignette-like object. I bet that was hard to do.
Asano: We tried to find the right line with the deformation because the pixel art characters had to be attractive as pixel art. As the proportions change to look more realistic, the resolution increases and the pixels get smaller, making them look more like illustrations than pixel art. Of course it’s attractive as a standalone illustration, but it would be different than what we built as HD-2D.
Games have evolved to make pixels invisible, whether in pixel art or textures applied to polygons, but I get the feeling that with HD 2D you’re going in the opposite direction.
Asano: We invited several companies to create HD 2D demo footage in the early stages of production of Triangle Strategy and after reviewing it with Acquire, the other developer of Octopath Traveler, we brought Artdink on board. While other developers created photorealistic images and flattened them, Artdink was the only developer Acquire said had the “accurate” HD 2D visuals.
Asano speaks of “accurate” HD 2D and also mentions that Triangle Strategy looks more like “illustrations” as the pixels get smaller and the resolution increases. This helps give the game a more “realistic” look and feel, and when he clarifies what he means by “accurate” HD 2D, he likens the graphics to photorealism.
They prepared a deformed stationery-level image before adding realistic effects to “build it up.” A well-made HD 2D screen has pixel art characters and background.
On the other hand, when you downsize a photorealistic image, it looks like you’re simply downgrading the image quality, which draws an image that says, “Maybe it would have been better to leave it clean.
Given that we’re getting another HD 2D game in less than two months, we’d say that Asano and the team have successfully created and perfected a now-iconic visual style. Asano even went on record that Square Enix plans to do more HD 2D remakes in the future. We’d also like to see more new IPs in this visual style, but surely we can dream of a Final Fantasy VI HD 2D remake, right? Even with the existing Steam and Mobile Pixel Remaster…
Triangle Strategy’s graphics were just one of the many things that gave us a 9/10 in our review of the game.
What do you think of HD 2D? Are you excited for the Live A Live and Dragon Quest III remakes? Let us know below!