With the release of the new Pokémon game around the corner, I see a lot of mixed opinions from people. One of the recurring themes calling it straight up ugly. But is it though?
Edit: in the meantime I managed to play the game, and I wrote a full review about it.
I am not a long time Nintendo fan. As a kid of course I have played Super Mario games, but that pretty much summed up my journey in the Nintendo-verse. Nintendo games were always walled away on their own platforms and I couldn’t afford the commitment of buying one of their systems.
That was until the pandemic started and my fiance and I wanted some feel-good game, so we bought ourselves Nintendo Switches with Animal Crossing New Horizons on them. As an adult you can finally afford to fill in the gaps that you missed as a chid.
The Japanese publisher’s games grew on me pretty fast. Breath of the wild and Pokémon Shield became some of my top favourite games of all time and I am currently waiting for my pre-order Arceus to arrive this Friday. Are they ugly games? Maybe. Are they aesthetic? Absolutely.
The point I am trying to make is that people are not making a difference between graphics quality and aesthetics. For decades now, we are living in a continuous revolution of video game graphics with hardware manufacturers pumping out better and more expensive parts each month. Also we are just past the arrival of the new generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
Developers have possibilities than never before to create games with graphics closer and closer to real life. Yet I couldn’t be bothered most of the times.
You can have the most expensive paints, brushes, easel but if you don’t have talent or vision, your paintings will remain mediocre at best. The same way with video games, you can build the most ambitious graphics engine, but if you don’t have the artistic vision, your games will be forgotten fast. Yet Nintendo games seem to be timeless.
Speaking of paint and brushes, Arceus (I will shorten it) resembles a painting. An artistic representation of Pokémon Legends. Something that happened in the past and is told as a fable that spreads based on the accounts of people who were there, then their children, then their children, and so on. The exact details are lost in the past, leaving us with legends and myths from that time.
This is beautifully represented in the game’s trailer. The idea is nothing new in terms of transitioning us into the gameplay by flipping through a storybook. But where Arceus differs, is that you stay in the legend, you and your actions are the legend. Vaguely painted, based on memories and not with the sharpness of a photo camera.
Now I am not an artist or art historian by any means, but since I decided to write down my thoughts on this topic, with a bit of research I have found various paintings from the Edo and Meiji periods of Japan, from which the game definitely got some of its inspiration.
I won’t go as far as saying that Arceus is a piece of art, but I do appreciate what Nintendo was going for here. It is an artistic representation of reliving the legends of the Hisui region of the Pokémon universe. In fact through your actions, you will tell your version of the legends of the land.
Of course Arceus is not the only game where aesthetics outweigh the graphics quality. One of my earliest memories of playing with a poor graphics quality game with charming aesthetics, was World of Warcraft. There are many examples which I could bring up, but one that stick with me (even now when I am writing this, the OST chimes in my mind) was Teldrassil. Less polygons that I could count on my two hands, but still I really felt like strolling in an enchanted elven forest.
Another example is Skyrim, which is a little over 10 years old, however I could still spend days wandering its mountain paths, gazing towards the distant snowy peaks under the blood moon.
Then there are games which don’t even try to create a realistic atmoshphere, but trough their vivid colors, soft lights they create a visual orgasm in your brain. Such games are Abzû and Journey. I would not even necessarily call them games, but experiences.
Of course there are gameplay elements such as running, swimming, hiding, dying, but the emphasis is on the visuals. I highly recommend both games for you, they are both experiences that I keep returning to just to relax and drool over.
Also I’d like to note that Journey has a such subtle, smart twist at the end, which made my eyes teary.
In conclusion, I think Nintendo and many other developers are choosing the right path with focusing on the aesthetics over the quality of the graphics. After all, this trend with getting closer and closer to reality in graphics will end one day. We will surely achieve it on PCs, consoles and maybe even in VR. But what then? At one point we can’t make it more real than reality. Isn’t it more interesting to create something that we will never be able to see in real life? The legends of the past in their whole mystical, foggy being?
What about you? Do you have any “ugly” games you just love to look at and get lost in? If anyone stumbles by this article, I am curious to know.