HD-2D: the future of the past

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Aina Prat Blasi
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When Octopath Traveler came out in 2018, its particular graphic style certainly delighted us with its retro magnificence, but at the time, we didn't expect to see it exploited so much.

In giving life to the HD-2D style, probably not even Square Enix and Acquire had planned other future uses from the start, however its potential was not slow to be noticed and could prove to be the pigeon's egg for a new way of imagining remakes.

Octopath Traveler

Square Enix is ​​known for putting a lot of emphasis on repurposing its past glories, but that process is routinely subject to some controversy. Just choosing the right format right is not so obvious and in fact gives rise to various discontents. An overly modernized remake risks losing part of the feel of the original along the way, while a port or remaster that is too faithful can result in a lazy operation with little vigor (and value).

Then there is the generation gap problem, of the collision between old and new: when a classic game, with a gameplay structure of the past, is re-proposed in a modern graphic, the contrast inevitably makes itself felt. Just think of Trials of Mana, a delightful title that certainly makes you feel the age behind its 3D reconstruction; or Oddworld: Soulstorm, whose wooden and unresponsive controls may have been bearable in the 90s, but which now cause more frustration.

So far, therefore, an age-old basic problem has always remained mostly unsolved: how to replicate the feeling of enthusiasm in (re) seeing a classic title, given that gamers are now accustomed to modern graphics standards, but at the same time same time without exaggerating in changing its original appearance? Well, HD-2D really seems to be the ideal answer to this need.

This graphic style was created by a completely unconventional use of the Unreal Engine 4. In practice, HD-2D uses 2D pixel art sprites within three-dimensional environments, which in turn mimic the style of the pre-rendered backgrounds drawn by hand, but with a real 3D thickness. To smooth out the contrast between elements, locations are depicted with pixellated textures that visually recall 16-bit titles, but with a higher level of detail. To complete the mix, there is a lively lighting system that rests surprisingly well on the 2D sprites, and a camera that progressively focuses on the plane in which the character moves and amplifies the sense of depth of the spaces.

The result is truly enchanting. Game environments are gods dioramas suspended in time, in a perfect balance between retro charm and modern effects. One is enchanted both by the care of the pixel art and by the fascinating combination of light and particle effects that accompany the minimal animations.

It goes without saying that HD-2D is at its best for games built from scratch with an original artistic direction, such as Octopath Traveler or Triangle Strategy, rather than having to adapt to the matrix of games of the past, structurally more limited. However the Live A Live remake proved that this graphical technique represents the ideal solution for making revisits of titles from other times.

In writing the review I deliberately avoided preparing by replaying the original, to check what effect it made on me at first glance, and in fact it was like playing it for the first time. Live A Live on Nintendo Switch is a pleasure to watch, yet at the same time its controls, dynamics and rhythms gave me the right feeling of playing a title for the SNES, which however did not weigh too heavily on its years on the screen.

  • Square Enix has already announced plans to produce more remakes of this type, the next of which will be to Dragon quest iii. Above all, I personally hope that the trend of bringing to light above all little-known but worthy of attention titles will continue, as was the case for Live A Live. This intent could really be an opportunity to rediscover titles from the golden age of the RPG genre of the 90s, both for players who missed them and for those who would like to play them again.

    Since we like to daydream a bit, here's a list of titles we think deserve a HD-2D remake.

    Final Fantasy Tactics

    Clearly one of the major inspirations for the creation of Triangle Strategy and in general one of the most influential tactical RPGs of all time. There are several reasons why it is still fondly remembered today by lovers of the genre, from the excellent synchrony of the gameplay dynamics with the brilliant Job System of the saga, to the memorable story full of themes with a strong human and political component (which among other things we celebrated in the Final Fantasy Tactics retrospective to mark the 25th anniversary of its release).

    Triangle Strategy has amply demonstrated how the HD-2D style applies beautifully to environments with an isometric view and manages to make even very small sprites expressive. The graphic transposition would be ideal, and in fact rumors about a possible remake of FFT already circulated some time ago. We just have to hope they were true.

    Bahamut Lagoon

    One of the most unknown pearls of the Square production of the 16-bit times, Bahamut Lagoon was released exclusively for Super Nintendo in 1996 unfortunately only in Japan. Western gamers have been able to play it thanks to fan-made English patches, but only relatively more recently.

    It is another tactical RPG with maps organized in a grid, but instead of the isometric view it used a more classic frontal one, very similar to that of the first Fire Emblems. Among its main features was a system of growth of various types of dragons, which accompanied the protagonists in battle with a vast repertoire of skills, but also of the spells that had an effect on the boxes of the arenas.

    The graphic rendering of the sprites and the soundtrack were absolutely remarkable for the time. A review with updated graphics would bring back one of the most unjustly overlooked titles of those years.

    Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

    Probably the first occasion that Nintendo has entrusted an external studio with the honor and the burden of making a game with Super Mario as the protagonist. This should give an idea of ​​how much Square was on fire in those years.

    The title was a delicious combination of platforming and turn-based combat, all infused with the goofy humor typical of Nintendo products; and if this formula sounds familiar to you, it's because it was later revived for the Mario & Luigi series.

    Super Mario RPG is not "only" one of the most original and entertaining RPGs for the SNES, but also one of the titles that exploited the graphics capabilities of the Nintendo console to the limit. Unfortunately for us it never reached the European market, one more reason to create a modern conversion for everyone to rediscover.

    If we then wanted to color this hope with a romantic note, right at the beginning of this year Chihiro Fujioka, director of Super Mario RPG (who then took part in the team of the various Mario & Luigi), revealed during an interview that before retiring he would like to work on a sequel.

    Final Fantasy V and VI

    Okay, let's tackle the elephant in the room: if you're talking about SNES and RPGs the link to F it is immediate. We are talking about one of the best chapters of the Square Enix flagship saga, as well as one of the absolute masterpieces of the JRPG genre. It is not surprising that many of his fans ask to devote similar attention to the one so lavished on the seventh chapter. However, an operation similar to that of Final Fantasy VII Remake may not be the best option, since the visual style of FFVI is hand-in-hand with 16-bit pixel art, so an HD-2D remake could be the best choice. ideal solution.

    Although historically overshadowed by the sixth chapter, it seems fair to include in this list as well Final Fantasy V, both because it is an unjustly undervalued title and because, precisely by virtue of the rediscovery of "minor" titles, it would make all the more sense for it to receive the spotlights. After all, FFIV has received a remake on Nintendo 3DS and a (questionable) sequel, so it would be fair to also pay some attention to the adventure of Bartz & Co.

    Also because let's not forget that it was FFV who inaugurated the evergreen Job System which was then taken up by several other chapters of the saga; which in turn was inherited by Bravely Default and, later, ended up being one of the greatest strengths of Octopath Traveler.

    Star Ocean: The Second Story

    In recent years, the Star Ocean saga hasn't had it very well and only the latest The Divine Force seems to have improved the situation, even if not in a striking way. For many fans of the saga created by tri-ace the second chapter still remains the best chapter, as well as one of the best JRPGs released for the first PlayStation, although it is not exactly among the most popular. The title later had a transposition on PSP with the title of Second Evolution, but - thanks to the limited scope of the Sony handheld - it did not achieve noteworthy sales.

    Square Enix seems to want to continue supporting the saga, as evidenced by the trust granted for the last chapter (far from obvious after the thud of Integrity and Faithlessness) and Star Ocean: First Departure R, the reissue of the progenitor for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. A remake of The Second Story would be a good opportunity to rediscover this classic, as well as test the HD-2D with the action-RPG genre.

    Treasure of the Rudras (Rudora no Hihō)

    Similar to Bahamut Lagoon, this title is a small cult gem that has never crossed the borders of Japan and that fans have only been able to play thanks to patches in English.

    Treasure of the Rudras was by the way the latest game developed by Square for the Super Nintendo and as such demonstrates all the experience of the software house in mastering the graphic potential of the console, as evidenced by the beautiful sprites of the characters and various creatures.

    Among other things, the title proposed some rather original ideas for the time, first of all an out of the ordinary history management. The storyline was in fact divided into three narrative arcs, each led by a different protagonist; the player was free to complete these arcs in any order he preferred, and could even interrupt one arc to continue another. What's intriguing is that certain actions performed in one arc could have an effect on others. Add to this a system of spells based on the combination of words and the involvement of some themes inspired by Hindu mythology and you have one of the most atypical JRPGs of the generation.

    If you feel like playing it, you know where to turn your hopes for a remake.


    Xenogears is a game as revered by fans as it is totally unknown by everyone else. Describing the reasons for its cult status would be too long, but just think that it is considered by many to be one of the best JRPGs of all time, especially in terms of narrative.

    To be honest, its inclusion in this list is a bit risky. If on the one hand Xenogears actually proposed two-dimensional characters in 3D environments, it is also true that during the cutscenes and battles aboard the mechs polygonal models in movement were used abundantly, therefore not exactly in the HD-2D strings. At least as far as we've seen so far.

    However, it must be said that if it were possible to adapt it, it would be the perfect opportunity to recover one of the greatest classics of the PlayStation era, as well as to completely rewrite the history of the game as its authors would have wanted. At the time, in fact, the time and budget constraints for development forced the team to rush the conclusion, leaving a good half of the game clearly fragmented. The director of the game Tetsuya Takahashi he would be happy to be able to rectify that missed opportunity, especially since after Xenoblade Chronicles 3 it would really be time for him to take a break from the saga to evaluate its future.

    Chrono Trigger

    Together with Final Fantasy VI, the other maximum JRPG masterpiece on Super Nintendo could not be missing, and still today one of the most influential peaks of the genre. Chrono Trigger was a true visual marvel, both technically and artistically, and seeing a remake with modern graphical quality would be a dream for many. Not to mention that it is certainly one of the titles that most deserves to be rediscovered by all those players who, for one reason or another, have lost it along the way. And after the Chrono Cross remaster it would be all right.

    Moreover Keisuke Miyauchi recently revealed in an interview with Famitsu that for the creation of the graphics of Octopath Traveler II they were inspired by Chrono Trigger. Then there is to consider that the director of the milestone for SNES TakashiTokita is the same as Live A Live, so we can say that, in theory, there would already be a natural creative availability from Square Enix.

    The possibilities for the exploitation of HD-2D are certainly many, and even more the wishes of the players. Square Enix seems intent on continuing to employ it in the future and already in Octopath Traveler II we should see further improvement. However, Triangle Strategy producer Tomoya Asano has revealed that the art style is more expensive than one might think, so we hope titles like the Live A Live remake sell enough to stimulate a long-lasting production and give our wishes a chance.

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