The DDNet Awards! Best art direction

6 mins read

Welcome to the DDNet Awards, our annual celebration of the best and brightest games that we’ve been playing throughout the year.

It has been a really good year for games in 2016, with great examples of every genre popping up through the year. Across 15 categories over the next three weeks, we look at the winner, runner up and three bronze medalists for each category.

In order to qualify for selection, a game needed to have been released for the first time on a new platform, between the first of December 2015 and the end of November 2016.

Let us know what you think of the award winners in the comments!

Best Art Direction award

Art direction does not mean “graphics.” Art isn’t made by throwing budget at a game until it’s lifelike in detail and massive in scope. Art direction means creativity; it could be a minimalist approach that creates meaning through white spaces, or it could be abstract, surreal, or weird. At DDNet we don’t believe that “blockbusters” have an exclusive claim on having “good looking graphics,” and the award winners below do more than just have the most polygons and textures that money can buy:


World of Final Fantasy is a better looking game than the other Final Fantasy that Square Enix recently released; Final Fantasy 15. That’s not to take anything away from the latter game (which we absolutely loved in every way), but there’s a near-impossible level of charm to the bright, cute graphics in World of Final Fantasy that perfectly encapsulates the warm nostalgia that so many of us have for the series, which has been around since the ’80s. In fact, no game that Square Enix has ever produced is so effective at reminding us why we have loved Final Fantasy for so long.

You can read our review of the game here.

So ABZÛ is the kind of game that a lot of people will dismiss for being a “walking simulator” (you might be swimming around, but it’s that same kind of exploration game with minimal interactivity that has made ‘walking simulator’ such a pejorative term for some). But what is almost impossible do deny is that this is one heart-wrenching beautiful game. Capturing the majesty of underwater environments is difficult, as it has different “rules” to land, from movement to physics through to the design of the environment itself, which is much more a 360-degree space. But ABZÛ absolutely nails it, and will be one of the most beautiful games for many years to come.

You can read our review of the game here.

You might find Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 to be silly, exploitative, or a “non-game” but one thing you wouldn’t be able to deny is that this game absolutely nails the pin-up aesthetic. Every one of the Dead or Alive girls that appear in the game are detailed to a fetishistic degree, and the way they are animated is perfectly directed to make them as sexy as possible. Character models simply don’t get better than this, and I think we speak for all Dead or Alive fans when we say we can’t wait to see how Koei Tecmo will be able to one-up itself when it comes time to announce Dead or Alive 6.

You can read our review of the game here.


If you want a good case study in what abstract art direction can achieve, then Severed is the game that you should be looking at. Despite being relatively untaxing on hardware, Severed’s use of colour and the sheer quality of its enemy and environment designs evokes an exotic sense of wonder in the player. The earthy style of the art perfectly complements the vision quest-style narrative, and the savagery of the combat, as you’re tasked with lopping off the limbs of your rivals in order to power up your character and make progress through the game.

You can read our review of the game here.


It’s difficult to describe just how beautiful I Am Setsuna is, and just how important that beauty is to the game’s narrative. Set entirely within a wintery world, where white is the overwhelming aesthetic, I Am Setsuna uses the beautiful simpleness of that colour to create a melancholic, cold, but emotive setting, through which the flaws and strengths of the human soul a highlighted and emphasised. There is nothing else quite like it out there, and while it is certainly a risk to set a JRPG within a single “type” of environment, we’re quite glad that Tokyo RPG Factory was able to do that, because it will be a long time before you’re be playing something quite like this again.

You can read our review of the game here.

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