HD-2D (High Definition 2D) is a term coined by Japanese video game developer and publisher Square Enix to describe a specific style of 2D graphics that combines retro-style pixel art with modern visual effects and high-definition resolutions. The HD-2D style was first used in the 2018 video game Octopath Traveler, which has since been used in other Square Enix games, including Live A Live remake and the tactical RPG Triangle Strategy, both released in 2022.
Screenshot of Octopath Traveler II
Back in the early days of video gaming, 2D graphics were the norm, and games were typically designed with pixel art and limited color palettes. But as technology advanced, 3D graphics took the spotlight, and most game developers shifted their attention to creating 3D worlds and characters. However, there were still some developers who recognized the value of 2D graphics and wanted to give the style a modern makeover. One of those developers was Tomoya Asano, a producer at Square Enix, who saw an opportunity to bring a fresh look and feel to their RPGs by blending the charm of classic pixel art with cutting-edge graphical techniques.
And thus, the birth of the HD-2D style! With this approach, Square Enix achieved the incredible feat of crafting visually breathtaking games that appeared as if they belonged to the golden era of 16-bit gaming. However, they didn't stop there. They added modern upgrades like high-resolution displays, depth of field effects, stunning lighting effects, and intricate animations to enhance the overall experience. Long story short, the HD-2D style emerged from the aspiration to leverage the power of modern hardware and display technology while preserving the nostalgic charm and allure of beloved classic 2D games.
Screenshot of Live A Live remake
However, while it may be visually stunning for many, there are still those who do not embrace this art style. One possible reason for their reluctance to try HD-2D games is their association of the retro-inspired aesthetic with outdated gameplay mechanics. While this argument may hold some truth for remakes of old-school titles, which aim to evoke nostalgia from previous generations of gaming, it does not accurately reflect the original HD-2D games released in recent years. In fact, many of these games feature innovative and cutting-edge gameplay in popular genres. For example, Triangle Strategy arguably boasts one of the best battle systems in the genre of turn-based tactical games, challenging the notion that HD-2D games are limited by antiquated gameplay mechanics.
On the flip side, there are also players who might be more accustomed to the visually complex 3D graphics of modern games and may not feel inclined to explore something that seems visually simpler. Nevertheless, as the saying goes "if you never try, you'll never know", it's worth acknowledging that HD-2D games often offer breathtaking visuals infused with a nostalgic charm, while also delivering distinctive gameplay experiences that can be equally immersive and fulfilling compared to 3D games.
If you're up for exploring HD-2D games that have the potential to redefine the visual appeal of gaming, we've got a few recommendations for you here at Gamicsoft:
1. Octopath Traveler & Octopath Traveler II
The Octopath Traveler series, jointly developed by Square Enix and Acquire, takes the form of JRPGs available on Nintendo Switch (later also on PC). The initial game was released in 2018, followed by the sequel that debuted in February 2023. Each installment revolves around a group of eight protagonists, each possessing their own captivating storylines and distinct abilities. In the first game, these characters embark on a thrilling journey across Orsterra, a fantastical realm teeming with danger, magic, and excitement. Meanwhile, the second game unfolds in the world of Solistia, showcasing a more contemporary setting in contrast to its predecessor.
The series utilizes a turn-based combat system in which you can choose to attack with various weapons or elemental abilities, use items, and store up to five Boost Points per party member. Boost Points can be expended during a turn to amplify the impact of attacks, bolster defenses, or enhance abilities. In combat, enemies possess a shield counter that diminishes when attacked with weapons or elements they are vulnerable to. Once the counter reaches zero, a "break" occurs, leaving the enemies stunned, vulnerable to increased damage, and unable to act on their turn. A fresh addition in Octopath Traveler II is the inclusion of "Latent Powers" within the battle system. These are special moves that can only be utilized once the corresponding gauge is built up throughout the course of a battle.
Upon its release in 2018, Octopath Traveler garnered widespread acclaim from both critics and players alike. Its distinctive HD-2D graphics style, captivating storytelling, and immersive turn-based combat system were highly praised. The game currently holds a respectable score of 83/100 (Switch) on Metacritic, indicating a consensus of "generally favorable reviews". It even received nominations for notable awards, including Best Role-Playing Game at The Game Awards 2018.
Octopath Traveler II also received positive reception, amassing a score of 85/100 (Switch) on Metacritic. While some players voiced concerns about the main party's narrative and the occasional disappearance of characters during significant story scenes, others lauded the game for improving upon its predecessor. They appreciated how it elevated the strengths of the original game while integrating several quality-of-life updates, ultimately solidifying its status as a superior gaming experience overall.
2. Triangle Strategy
Triangle Strategy, released in 2022, is a tactical role-playing game developed by Square Enix and Artdink for Nintendo Switch, which was also subsequently released for Windows. It takes place in the fictional continent of Norzelia and delves into a conflict that emerges three decades after the Saltiron War, a battle fought over the scarce resources of salt and iron between the three nations: Glenbrook, Aesfrost, and Hyzante. Players follow the journey of Serenoa Wolffort, the heir of House Wolffort, and his companions as they navigate the intricate web of conflicts. As the fate of Norzelia hangs in the balance, Serenoa is faced with weighty decisions, as his closest allies hold differing opinions and ideals.
Triangle Strategy places you in captivating turn-based tactical role-playing battles where you must overcome AI enemies on meticulously designed grid-based battlefields. Skillful unit placement plays a vital role in achieving victory, as attacking enemies from their blind spots or higher ground can significantly amplify damage dealt, which applies also to simultaneous attacks from opposite sides of an enemy. Tactical exploitation of the environment also adds another layer of depth to combat. For example, igniting the ground with a fire-based attack can hinder enemy movement, while a lightning strike on wet terrain extends its range of effect. As you progress through the campaign, new characters will join your party, further diversifying available tactics and fostering fresh synergies.
The game offers a narrative journey that unveils a multitude of paths, leading to four unique endings. Throughout the game, you’ll face significant choices through the thought-provoking Scales of Conviction. These pivotal moments allow you and your companions to cast votes, influencing the trajectory of the story. Prior to making your choice, you’ll have the opportunity to persuade your party members to align with a specific outcome, with the aim to steer the story in the direction you have in mind. Furthermore, certain characters can only be recruited during specific branching paths, adding further layers of complexity to the impact of your choices on the unfolding narrative.
Critics have generally responded positively to Triangle Strategy, earning it a commendable score of 83/100 (Switch) on Metacritic. The game's ability to infuse modern elements into a well-established genre and its intricate, multi-layered narrative garnered significant praise. Many found the combat system to be deeply satisfying, appreciating its depth and the potential for high replay value. On the other hand, some critics pointed out that the story occasionally overshadowed the gameplay, and that certain dialogue sequences suffered from sluggish pacing. Nevertheless, the game's commercial performance has been remarkable, with over 800,000 copies sold worldwide within two weeks of its release.
3. Live A Live (remake)
Live A Live, a beloved JRPG developed by Square, made its debut on the Super Famicom back in 1994. This timeless classic comprises several distinct scenarios set in various time periods, intricately connected by the presence of a recurring antagonist named Odio. In July 2022, Square Enix treated fans to a remarkable HD-2D remake of the game, released on the Nintendo Switch platform (later also on PlayStation 4/5 & PC). The remake breathed new life into the beloved title, offering players a fresh opportunity to experience the captivating storytelling and immersive gameplay that made Live A Live a cherished gem of its era.
In Live A Live, you’ll embody eight diverse protagonists, each with their own captivating story, across nine distinct scenarios. Each scenario presents a unique gameplay experience, introducing different mechanics such as stealth, unconventional battles, or telepathic abilities for information gathering. Regardless of the scenario, the game employs a turn-based battle system, where you’ll strategically navigate your character, and at times a party, on a 7x7 grid to engage enemies. Normal attacks and special skills are at your disposal, as well as the ability to move across the grid, manifesting the game’s tactical depth. Certain tiles can also gain additional effects, such as healing or inflicting elemental damage, which can be leveraged through specific abilities.
The 2022 remake retains the fundamental gameplay of the original, albeit redesigned and modernized to fit the new graphical style. Some new features are also aimed at improving the overall user experience compared to the original game. According to the review aggregator Metacritic, the remake has received a generally positive reception, earning a score of 81/100. Critics have praised the graphics, audio design, and musical score, highlighting the faithful adaptation of the original game for Western players, as well as the diverse settings and engaging narratives. However, some critics have raised concerns about the limited character development in certain parts of the game.
Overall, HD-2D combines the best of both worlds: the nostalgia of classic 2D games and the visual splendor of modern graphics technology. The recent successful releases of acclaimed HD-2D titles mentioned earlier have started to capture the attention of players globally. With more and more HD-2D game being released or is about to be released, including the HD-2D remake of Dragon Quest III announced some time ago, there has never been a better moment to delve into the captivating world of HD-2D games. Let’s embark on a nostalgic yet visually enchanting journey and experience for yourselves the beauty and charm that the HD-2D genre has to offer!
That concludes the overview of the HD-2D genre, as well as games within the category recommended by Lluvia.