As systems were advancing into full Arcade in its technology, developers started to innovate and mess around with new art styles and IP’s for them. One of the biggest changes in history gaming after Super Mario 64 and The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, was Smilebit and Sega’s Jet Set Radio. Released on June 23, 2000, JSR brought us the introduction to cel shading. Not only is the game a classic, but influence many others to adapt to this style, even though, not many have tried it. It’s one of my favorite styles.
Cel Shading is a non-photorealistic rendering that take 3D computer graphics and makes them look flat with less shading color instead of a shade gradient or tints and shade which gives a paper-like texture. So while the world may be 3D, the animation is running smooth like a cartoon in motion. It was popular around the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era of consoles.
For most of us, the one game a lot of us can remember who used the style best was none other than The Legend Of Zelda: Windwaker. After it’s E3 presentation, many hated what the seen and what direction it was going in. When the game came out and people played it, most feel in love with adventurous world and seeing these clean images huge boss fits in silly animated style. The scene of Link in the castle and fighting all those enemies or swinging on Valoo’s tail during your first boss fight are a sight to be seen.
Then there is Okami. It took cel shading to a whole new level and with its recent HD release, it retains the beautiful sumi-e print mixed with cel shading which brings this delightful richness and colorful environment as Amaterasu runs through the land and flowers grow from her. The thick bold lines and watercolor moments still looked flawless ever since its PS2 release.
With games like Journey, Sly Cooper, Bastion, Crackdown, and more, cel shading presents itself as a style that will preserve a title for decades. It has a look that doesn’t have to be touch when done right. Even with indies getting into it, a game like Rime, will still have a polish to it with the art.
Although we don’t see it often now, and with Sable and hopefully a remastered No More Hero’s to come next year, cel shading seems to get better and better. Watching this fascinating art style evolve just makes me love it more. It doesn’t look cheap. It stands out and attracts the viewer regardless of what genre the game is suppose to be. It can make feel like a child again and it brings this warm and calm emotion on how it makes the game fun.
The sad thing about cel shading though is that other developers avoid it because of cost, opinion the game won’t sell, and that its not the type to bring a cinematic narrative. Some say, it’ll never top the love and popularity of Windwaker but I find that false. If the talent is their to use it and showcase it with bold colors and apply a story that they want to tell, I think they’ll find a community of players who will purchase it and speak about it. It’s not kiddie. People just have an opinion that it is and when that get’s back to some developers, it kills the idea of the product or can hurt the team morale working on a game.
Still though, I love cel shaded games, its style, and just how it reminds me of all the Looney Tunes, Aeon Flux, Batman: The Animated series, and more cartoons and animated shows and movies I grew up with. Even with Level-5 bringing Ni No Kuni that is quite opposite of cel shading, I appreciate the little touches and flourishing world. So to cel shading, thank you all for continue to bring it to games and stay beautiful in its existence.