Ten Visually Astounding Video Games

In the modern era, visuals have become a key component of video games. Here's a couple that stand out for you to check out!

Visuals in gameplay have changed greatly since the early years. What was once a row of large white pixels on a black background to represent table tennis has become a variety of visual stylization and execution of ideas. Many video games now come with a full cast of designers hired exclusively to create the visual style, design, and overall look meant to capture the attention of the player.

In modern video games, doing this can become almost necessary to stand out from the massive amount of content regularly released. Naturally, the actual game mechanics matter too, but the artistic merit in many of these games deserves attention and respect. 

Here is a collection of video games that have an admirable visual design: 

1. Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest
Image Source: Hardcore Gamer

Cited by the indie game studio Moon Studios as having strong inspirations in Disney classics such as The Lion King, Ori is an immediate eyecatcher with its ghost-like character design and lush atmosphere. The gameplay of Ori and the Blind Forest is akin to visual motion design, leaving the player with a dreamlike feel rooted in the flowering forests and exquisite architecture. Characters are designed in a remarkably simple, sweet, and welcoming manner, with the main character itself appearing as a very soft, sweet, cat-like creature which may bring to mind memories of Stitch from Lilo and Stitch

Lilo and Stitch
Image Source: Metro.uk

The Disney inspirations are apparent in the watercolor backgrounds of the game, with many of the characters evoking a feeling that may remind the player of a Ghibli movie. With its ethereal nature, Ori is a surreal and visually entrancing platformer journey that is available on Steam for PC. As of 2020, the game also has a game with similar visual cues, called Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which won the Steam 2020 Outstanding Visual Style Award. Both games have also been released on not only the Xbox One but as of 2019, are also available on the Nintendo Switch. 

2. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Image Source: Nintendo.com

Speaking of Ghibli Studios, they partnered with the game studio Level-5 in 2008 that culminated in a 2011 Japanese release. The final product of their years of effort was Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a game that drips with all the atmosphere of Howl’s Moving Castle and The Cat Returns. This is a player’s closest chance to jump right into the world of Hayao Miyazaki, though surprisingly, the famous director and producer do not seem to have had active involvement in this game. Despite Miyazaki’s apparent lack of presence, Ghibli has stunningly recreated what it might be like to step into the world of his visual style, complete with animated cutscenes that, while sparse in appearance, are always a joy to watch. 

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Image Source: Bandai-Namcoent.com

While the legendary studio was unfortunately not involved in the sequel game, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, the original game still shines with that Ghibli spirit. If you’ve ever watched a Ghibli movie and thought that you wanted to jump into it, then the original Ni No Kuni game is your chance. There is even Ghibli food to feed your familiars with! Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was originally released for the Playstation 3, but was later made available on Playstation 4, the Nintendo Switch, and in the Steam shop for PC. The sequel game, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, is quite similar but it was not available for the Playstation 3.

3. Persona 5

Persona 5
Image Source: Twitter

While Atlus’ Persona 5 is a predictable addition to any list talking about the visual advantages of a game, there is a good reason for that. Most if not all the Persona games have had some sense of hip visual style that lines up with the current pop culture of the era, but Persona 5 is the current peak in that design sense. Everything, right from the start menu onwards, reads as if it was meticulously thought out by a team of design experts.

The menus within the game have active animation that follows the player through, such as the display character swinging across the screen when changing the system settings. In another game, these kinds of long-form transitions would become irritating. Persona 5 levies this issue by making said transitions smooth and more importantly, very quick and snappy as to not become a bother to the player. 

Persona 5
Image Source: Marooners Rock

Within the gameplay itself, the concept of ‘All Out Attacks’ expands on the stylization of the system. The player is encouraged to achieve these battle advantages, which then provides them with a screen transfer to show off an elaborate ‘finishing move’—each one customized for each character in your party. While this is a device carried over from the previous games, Persona 5 puts emphasis on the specific characters who initiate the All-Out Attacks, giving it more individuality and lending an enticing visual charm.

The maps that are traveled are much more thought out than previous games, involving a more precise stealth element, and designed to truly reflect the mentalities that they are exploring. Persona 5 is both a visually and mechanically amazing game, available currently on the Playstation 3 and the Playstation 4. Also available is the spin-off title, Persona 5 Royal, which contains an extra dungeon with new visual splendor.

4. Odin Sphere

Odin Sphere
Image Source: Segalization

Based in Norse mythology, Odin Sphere is another Atlus game (this time in conjunction with Vanillaware) that has a heavy emphasis on visual beauty. The player is given five separate characters, all with a variety of different fighting styles, and all of which have the movements of dancers executed in a platformer game set. This can make the game both fun to play and view, with the dainty art style and elaborate dragons painting the scene of eight different dungeons that change to adapt to the character being played.

From the beginning of the game, it is obvious that there is a visual flair in the game, highlighted by the save selection menu being an elaborate library where the player picks up their save file in the form of books. This mechanism allows the five separate playable characters to be selectable at will while allowing an impressive visual touch. 

Odin Sphere
Image Source: Pinterest

The unique leveling system allows the designers to go wild as well. In Odin Sphere, the player levels up their chosen character by consuming food that they collect ingredients for. Each meal looks delectable and straight out of old fantasy manuals. Even the ingredients look appetizing—the player may be hard-pressed to not just eat the ingredients with how good some of them look!

This combined with the character design, map design, and fight mechanics make Odin Sphere an extremely engaging game for the eyes. The original game was released for the Playstation 2, however, updated versions were released for the Playstation 3, the Playstation 4, and the Playstation Vita under the name of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (with Leifthrasir being a variant on an old Norse word, meaning ‘zest for life’ or ‘love for life’). 

5. Bioshock

Source: Nintendo Switch

While praise is often lauded upon the most recent of Bioshock games, Bioshock Infinite, the game that truly outdoes itself in terms of visual amazement is the original Bioshock game itself. Colored in lush art deco appeal and an atmosphere of a post-roaring twenties dystopia, the game is immersive to the point of being a truly interactive film. Tie this in with the underwater aesthetic of whales swimming past you in the watery hallways of Rapture, and one will find it to be the most hauntingly beautiful game not only of its time but even of this modern day. 

Source: Imgur

The standout attraction in Bioshock would, of course, be the dystopian underwater society of Rapture. Right from the beginning to the end, the player is weaved into this city in a way that drowns them in immersion. While this is not a list meant to talk about narrative or gameplay mechanics, it can be said that Bioshock's narrative path is immediately woven into everything from the gameplay to the design.

It would do no good to ruin the experience for you--this is a visual experience that has to be seen firsthand. Bioshock, as well as its sequels, are available on all platforms both console and computer, with Steam selling all of the related games as a package.

6. Ōkami

Source: WIRED

When this game originally came out, it was rightfully lauded for its unique visual style and how it twisted its thematic designs together with its gameplay. Harkening back to classic Japanese mythology and sticking with the theme, the gameplay is one of the thick Sumi-e brushstrokes that are delivered by the player. It exists in a world of vibrant watercolor and subscribes completely to the visual narrative that it hopes to weave. 

Source: WIRED

Ōkami is what happens when an artistic team comes together to try and do the impossible: make a simplistic, beautiful two-dimensional style into a three-dimensional, playable game. It seems beyond the capability of the medium to capture the simple and fluid strokes of Sumi-e in the form of a game but Capcom and Cover studios did it. Ōkami is available on most consoles and is available for download on Steam for $19.99.

7. Alice: Madness Returns

Alice: Madness Returns
Source: EA

Though definitely a darker entry on the list, Alice: Madness Returns is a dark and twisted sequel to the 2000s game, American McGee's Alice. It takes a dive into what the world of 'Wonderland' looks like in the mind of a person who is suffering greatly outside of the fantasy world, adding a harsh meaning to the imagery put on design. Like the original American McGee's Alice, it has a morbid design sense that oozes from every pixel of the screen. 

Alice: Madness Returns
Source: Youtube

Unlike the previous installment, however, the player is given the new option of having different dresses to unlock for Alice. Each has a unique, fun thematic design and a different gameplay advantage. For the fan of the world of clothing design, Madness Returns adds a little extra onto its pile of design quirks alongside its lovely though sometimes grim atmospheres. Unlike many of these games, neither Madness Returns nor its prequel can be purchased through Steam. Rather, it can be purchased on EA's original platform, Origin, or purchased for console play. Be warned that both games contain disturbing themes and excessive violence, and should not be approached lightly. 

8. Eastshade

Source: DarkStation

There could be nothing more visually intriguing than a game about art itself. Eastshade was something of a surprise that popped onto Steam overnight and gained recognition for being a game that focused wholly around the non-violent act of being an artist. The world is elegantly rendered for the player to paint and make an in-game career out of, with secret and beautiful areas to unlock all across the island they paint on. 

Source: RockPaperShotgun

To heighten the potential of visual surreality in the player's painting, there is also a 'tea' mechanic in which you can brew tea from herbs around the island. Based on the tea you drink, a filter effect will be temporarily applied to the screen, making the potential for art all the more vast. Eastshade is available on Steam for $24.99.

9. Legend of Dragoon

Legend of Dragoon
Source: WallpaperMemory

An often forgotten cult classic from the original Playstation, Legend of Dragoon was made to be Sony's 'Final Fantasy Killer'. Obviously, that gambit did not pay off. However, that doesn't stop the game from being intriguing, and more importantly, it doesn't stop it from being visually astounding. Legend of Dragoon utilizes a now almost completely defunct form of graphical programming called pre-rendered graphics. These lend an astonishing look to the background of the game, even if the actual character models are prone to being a bit twitchy and antiquated. 

Legend of Dragoon
Source: Path of Exile

Each and every area the player is introduced to is a rich palette of beautiful fantasy graphics delivered as if looking into a painting. While an old game, Legend of Dragoon should definitely not be taken for granted among its contemporaries. It had a look that claimed its fantasy world as its own. Unfortunately, physical copies of the actual game are a bit on the pricey side, usually starting out around at around fifty dollars. Thankfully, PSN has the game for sale digitally for only $5.99, with the handful of glitches from the original release fixed.

10. Skullgirls

Source: Nintendo

A game that harkened to a bygone era of 2d fighting games, Skullgirls is a modern spiritual successor to the Darkstalkers franchise in many ways. A great deal of care was put into developing the characters to each have a memorable, unique look that would stick with the player. This is majorly thanks to the artwork of Alex Ahad, who had previously been an illustrator for the Shantae series. It gives it a snappy, cartoony look that really pops.

Source: Port Forward

Skullgirls has everything there is to love about the over-the-top, bombastic visuals of popular arcade fighters such as Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, and of course Darkstalkers. It isn't always an easy game, but it IS rewarding when you achieve the crazier combos. You will always get a visual feast with this showcase. Skullgirls is available on most consoles as well as on Steam for $24.99.

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Many times in video games, the focus of attention is on gameplay. It is important to keep in mind the artistic efforts put forward by the creative minds who spend long hours figuring out the designs and how to apply them to an interactive format. While it may not always result in stellar gameplay, the hard work of the designers behind the scenes is always worth appreciating. When gaming, we as players should stop and take the time to do so, and seek out games with this kind of artistic effort--if only for our own visual enjoyment.

A writer located in the lush Redwood forests of Northern California who loves animation and food.

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