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 visuals. Combining rich HD 3D backdrops with SNES-inspired pixel art characters and monsters, HD-2D's colour palette, lighting, and beautifully detailed boss sprites have helped create a nostalgic, beloved art style 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 just how they implemented these retro-style visuals to their recent strategy game. One interesting question to jump out of the interview — translated by Jarop for Nintendo Everything — is when 4Gamer asks Asano why other studios haven't tried using HD-2D. More and more indie studios have embraced pixel art to capture the heart of the games that they've been inspired by, but Asano has quite a simple answer:
It’s probably worth noting that it costs more than you’d think. In that respect, it’s a good match for the titles want out of Square Enix. There might not be much to gain from other companies copying it.
This response is a pretty good reminder that game development isn't easy or cheap, and despite being inspired by classic RPGs of the SNES era, there's so much extra detail — ignoring the HD backdrops — that would require a bigger budget. Asano
Asano also talks about the "sharing of expertise" amongst the various HD-2D projects that have been happening at Square Enix, and the producer confirms that dev teams have indeed been swapping notes.
The teams on the former titles released information for the newer teams. If they have information they feel might be useful, we encourage the exchange of information across development companies. If a method of expression was used in an earlier title, there’s no reason it can’t be incorporated into 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 responses have also been translated for Nintendo Everything by Jarop. Octopath Traveler is a turn-based RPG, while Triangle Strategy requires a top-down camera to allow you to 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 maps in Triangle Strategy look good from all angles.
Arai: It took a lot of resources to make the map observable from all sides. At the start of development, we spent a lot of time discussing what to do at the edge of maps. In addition to gorgeous-looking world maps, the artists and art team did a fantastic job blending so many locations together. We hope you will explore every inch of maps and immerse yourself in the war-torn Norzelia.
The 4Gamer interviewer also delves into specifics, focusing on the effect that they believe HD-2D is trying to create, and comparing it to a diorama:
HD-2D is a blending of the real and surreal, striking a terrific balance between the two styles. It’s interesting to see realistic lighting shine on deformed characters – it feels like I’m looking at a diorama or a vignette-like object. I bet that was tough to make.
Asano: We tried to find the right line with the deformation, as 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 become smaller, making them look more like illustrations rather than pixel art. Of course, it’s attractive as a standalone illustration, but it would be different from what we built up as HD-2D.
Games have evolved to make pixels invisible, be it within pixel art or on textures applied to polygons, but I get the impression you’re going in the opposite direction with HD-2D.
Asano: We invited several companies to make HD-2D demo footage in the early stages of Triangle Strategy’s production, and after review alongside Octopath Traveler’s other developer, Acquire, we brought Artdink on board. While other developers created photorealistic images and reduced them, Artdink was the only developer that Acquire said had the ‘accurate’ HD-2D visuals.
Asano talks about 'accurate' HD-2D, and also mentioned Triangle Strategy looking more like "illustrations" as a result of the pixels getting more smaller and the resolution increases. This helps create a more "realistic" look and feel to the game, and when clarifying what he means by 'accurate' HD-2D, he compares the visuals to photorealism.
They prepared a deformed image at the writing material level, before adding realistic effects to ‘build it up’. A well-made HD-2D screen has pixel art characters and background.
Contrasting that, if you reduce a photorealistic image, it looks as if you’re simply lowering the image quality, which paints a picture that says ‘maybe this would have been better left clean.
Given that we're getting another HD-2D game in less than two months, we'd say Asano and the team have been successful in creating and perfecting a now-iconic visual style. Asano has even gone on record saying that Square Enix is looking at making even more HD-2D remakes in the future. We'd love to see even more new IPs in this visual style too, but we can surely dream of a Final Fantasy VI HD-2D remake, right? Even with the Steam and mobile Pixel Remaster existing...
Triangle Strategy's visuals were just one of the many things we showered praise on in our review of the game, which we awarded a 9/10.
What do you think of HD-2D? Are you looking forward to the Live A Live and Dragon Quest III remakes? Let us know down below!