With two HD consoles towering over the market and gaming PCs being as prevalent as ever, 2010 was a year of pretty games. Even games that might not have been lauded for anything else had a chance to shine when it comes to graphics. Are graphics becoming a problem? Are developers getting to a point where a game has to look good regardless of whether it plays well or not? Who cares! These games are shiny!
This year was a very close call between this and Mass Effect 2 for the best graphics, however there are certain things that only Square Enix pulls off in its games. Final Fantasy XIII is a gorgeous game; love it or hate it, this fact remains concrete. One graphical prop you can give to Square Enix is that its games are very cinematic which is something that you don't see in many western games, and the cinematics for Final Fantasy XIII were just as gorgeous as any of the studio's past efforts. In comparison to Mass Effect 2 there are some subtle differences to point out. First is that Square Enix has mastered graphically rendered hair which has always been a weakness of BioWare's in the graphics department. Secondly, the game has a much more cinematic feel than Mass Effect 2. While ME2's graphics focus on immersing the player in the game's universe, Final Fantasy XIII really uses its graphics to their full extent, making them essential to one's enjoyment of the game. This is especially apparent during battles where the one's enjoyment comes from watching the now standard Final Fantasy graphical flare that Square Enix pioneered over a decade ago and has become a genre standard for Japanese role-playing games. Square Enix's latest numbered title may not be the best the series has to offer in terms of story, and the battle system can be debated, but it certainly is a visual feast for the eyes.
Mass Effect 2 is a shining example of BioWare's best graphical crafting to appear in a game to date. They know how to make even the smallest of details seem important, but also create luscious environments that are breathtaking. Everything in Mass Effect 2's graphic capabilities is meticulously thought out, from the dark and dreary quarantined area of Omega, to the space dust that floats inside the Quarian Flotilla. These little details really make RPGamers appreciate the atmosphere that BioWare was trying to incorporate within Mass Effect 2, and it surely paid off.
For better or worse, Final Fantasy XIV is one of the best looking RPGs of the year. The reason this is a good thing is simple enough. The game's cutscenes look amazing. Character styles are fantastic and equipment is highly detailed. In-game areas are just simply beautiful to gaze upon. There is little to no end to the praise of how good this MMORPG looks. The downside to this is the barrier for entry. Not everyone out there in the PC world is going to have a computer capable of playing this game as smoothly as it can run, so there will be many who either miss out of the top level of quality Final Fantasy XIV has to offer graphically or that will miss out altogether because they just cannot run the game. It's a shame the PlayStation 3 version was delayed, because the PC version's requirements are just too high for some of us cheap RPGamers.
by Sam Marchello, Michael Cunningham, Roy Burnet