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USgamer Community Question: What Older Game Did You Think Had Graphics That Would Never Be Bettered?

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Article by USgamer Team, .

Games always feel like they're developing at a faster rate than we can keep up with. The jump from 2D to 3D astounded audiences. And from then on, both formats have only grown better with time. As technology rapidly improves, as do video games with it.

For this week's Community Question, we ask this: Was there ever a game that impressed you so much with its graphics and visual finesse that you felt it could never be topped? A game that looked so good, that you felt nothing could ever compete with it, or best it? Let us know in the comments! And you can find some of the USgamer team's answers below.

Mike Williams Reviews Editor

At the time? I thought Vagrant Story was the the business. Way back in 2000, Square Enix released this odd, interesting action-adventure title. It was directed and produced by Yasumi Matsuno and the rest of the team behind Final Fantasy Tactics. Tactics remains one of my favorite games of all time, and at the time, Matsuno's name was enough to get me onboard another game.

The city of Lea Monde was a dark and brooding place. Our hero Ashley Riot wandered through the city's alleys and catacombs alone, shadows playing across decaying walls and water-logged stone. You really felt like you were trapped in a city lost to the oceans of time. Looking back, it was actually a precursor to the same feeling I had in Bloodborne's Yharnam.

Back in the day, I thought it was the peak. I figured graphics would never get good enough to surpass that art direction. I was wrong and naive of course, but hey, that's youth for you.

Caty McCarthy Staff Writer

Shadow of the Colossus floored me when it was released. It wasn't just purely because of its "graphics" either; it was how its graphics helped create its immense sense of scale. The colossi, or bosses, in it are all memorable. The world itself is too, with vast open spaces with nothing in-between, just room for quiet contemplation.

Shadow of the Colossus was emblematic of everything that made the PlayStation 2, in my opinion, the best console ever. It was an experimental sort of game that wasn't afraid to take things slow. It was well past when "graphics" were first evolving beyond the low-poly style, but it wasn't letting the bumpy road hinder its art direction. It was "epic" in the actual sense of the word, watching giant beasts arise out of rubble. It's the type of game that still visually holds up, even today.

I don't think I've ever been more moved or blindsided by a game than I was with Shadow of the Colossus. Playing it initially was the first time I felt like games had honest potential to be profound in ways like literature or other art is. At the time, I felt like games really couldn't get better than Colossus, that this was as good as it really gets. I later was proven wrong by other games I also love from the PS2 library—such as Okami, Persona 3 FES—but Colossus' looming visuals still astound me to this day. I worry about its impending remake, about it losing the rougher edges, the film-like grain that coats it. I'll play it nonetheless though. I'm always looking for an excuse to return to that world.

Matt Kim News Editor

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but when I first saw Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the PlayStation Vita I believed for a moment that we reached one of the highest points of portable gaming graphics. Obviously with the Nintendo Switch out that's no longer the case.

I think Golden Abyss on the Vita still holds up pretty well visually and was an excellent showcase for the Vita's graphical prowess. It's just a shame that later Vita titles couldn't quite live up to the Vita's potential with the system, instead falling back to hosting mostly visual novels and games with stylized art direction. I can't really blame developers eschewing pouring money into pushing the Vita to its graphical heights when it was probably more economical to develop smaller games for the underperforming portable system.

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Comments 54

  • Avatar for boxofficepoison #1 boxofficepoison 4 months ago
    Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast was to me the point I thought we never need another console generation. Dreamcast looks amazing. That game still looks good even today.
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  • Avatar for neilhood #2 neilhood 4 months ago
    Super Mario World. It was a interactive cartoon (to me, at the time).
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  • Avatar for link6616 #3 link6616 4 months ago
    Final fantasy 8 was impossibly gorgeous to me as a young whipper snapper. Nothing could top that it's just impossible...

    Admittedly, skipping the ps2 gen and staying with the ds, it didn't really get surpassed until I got a psp and then a ps3 in the same year...
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #4 UnskippableCutscene 4 months ago
    Link To The Past was probably the first one. FF8 could have done it if only it hadn't launched here the same day as the Dreamcast.

    Since then there's only really been three: Doom 3's engine demo at Macworld 2001 was a blurry video full of promising new ideas, though by the time an alpha of an actual game appeared the next year it looked worse. Half-Life 2 at E3 2003 was an incredible development in adding lifelike properties to the world and materials in a game, and the subsequent leaked data from that demo that confirmed it could run on my machine and look just that awesome. Finally, although GTA4 gives me mixed feelings for it's themes, it felt like it took the physics and realism of something like Half-Life and applied the kind of immersive world-building that appealed to me in Shenmue.

    I still have that feeling now playing GTA5 on the PC this year. It's not because it's has cutting edge technologies that kick my GPU in the gut, it's because it has working traffic signals and legible menus outside restaurants and hundreds of unique buildings instead of stock pre-fabricated ones. I remember when colored lighting and curved surfaces were new concepts in 3D polygonal gaming, but my admiration of graphics today is less a reflection of the ability of hardware processing or engine features and more about displays of incredible talent working untold man-hours to create something so carefully considered that it feels like I'm transported to a place, and not simply the starring character running through a bunch of stagecraft.Edited October 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for timelessgamer #5 timelessgamer 4 months ago
    I remember the Christmas my cousin got an NES. I was still looking for new games for our Atari 2600. He loaded Top Gun and the opening screen with the F-14! We both couldn't believe how "REAL" it looked, lol. It was two months before I could find a NES of my own in the store, but that is another story for another time.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #6 touchofkiel 4 months ago
    I think the framerate really hurt Colossus when it was new. Maybe my whole experience was soured by the way it lurched around (combined with the very clunky controls). The original Ico holds up better, though they both look pretty stunning in the PS3 HD remake.

    Personally, Shenmue was the game I didn't think could be topped. You might say it had the opposite effect of SotC - the small open-world (whose attention to little detail still holds up) helped me ignore the atrocious acting, dull gameplay, and slow narrative.

    Oblivion was another one that stunned me when it was new, mainly because western RPGs weren't common on consoles, and its predecessor Morrowind, graphically, looked like garbage.
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  • Avatar for captainN2 #7 captainN2 4 months ago
    There's has been several.
    The original Ridge Racer arcade. First 3D game I had seen with textures. To my delirious eye I thought it looked photo real.

    I remember thinking that certain caves of Banjo Kazooie embarrassingly enough were as good as it was going to get.

    Scud Race made a huge impression on me. More polygons and less jaginess gave a smoother, more pre-rendered look than the harsher, angular PlayStation 1 style graphics I were used to.

    I also must mention Soul Calibur.. what a jump! there I was, used to my Nintendo 64. My mother had purchased a Dreamcast for my kid brother's birthday, while I had payed zero attention to the machine. Clueless I booted up Soul and next thing you know Astaroths damn axe falls from above and shatters my brain. A good damn Naomi arcade board in my own home. Will never again see such a mega leap in console graphics, that feels certain.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #8 MetManMas 4 months ago
    As much as I loved the system, I always had a feeling that games could and would do better at 3D than the Sony PlayStation did. For the most part the PlayStation's handling of polygons was like caveman paintings compared to the excellent 2D art direction in games and the rendered (and sometimes hand-drawn backgrounds of the time.

    But since we're talking about graphical thresholds, I thought 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay would be a really act to follow graphics-wise. That li'l Xbox game seriously looked frickin' amazing compared to the stuff the PS2 and Gamecube had pumped out at the time.
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  • Avatar for ajhopwood #9 ajhopwood 4 months ago
    Final Fantasy VII. No, not the blocky doll-like character models (although they look really cool 3D-printed...Google it), but rather the magic of FMV technology that made Midgar feel like a living, breathing underground city. My friend and I recorded the FMVs onto a VHS tape to watch them over-and-over.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #10 Godots17thCup 4 months ago
    I couldn't believe how great Rogue Squadron II looked back when the GameCube launched; I thought it was the closest thing to actually being in a Star Wars movie!

    I used to walk the mile or so to the local K-Mart (back when my town had such a thing) several times a month, just to gawp at the demo.
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  • Avatar for ChronoDave #11 ChronoDave 4 months ago
    Soul Calibur for the dreamcast for sure. LOL I remember specifically saying that it was the best looking game I've ever seen at the time. Heck the animation still holds up today! I would spend hours just looking at the exhibition theater
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #12 jeffcorry 4 months ago
    @ajhopwood I also recorded the cut scenes from VII on VHS. The 90s were gnarly.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #13 jeffcorry 4 months ago
    My first instinct was to say Final Fantasy VII, for sure. Up to that time, it had been 8 and 16 bit for me with a little Atari before...so seeing a game like Final Fantasy VII was mind-blowing. Of course it just kept getting better.
    Unfortunately, with improved graphics, the illusion is lost.
    Pixel art, or even a painter aesthetic, in many ways continues the illusion in a way that 3D models can't. Even a beautiful game like Horizon Zero Dawn can't capture the essence that was found (for me) in Secret of Mana, but something like Valkyria Chronicles can.
    For me, Windwaker still holds up and even more so since the Wii U version. Art direction is huge. It's not the realism...it's the feeling of the place. It's the art and the music. Which is one reason that the Upperland Forest from Secret of Mana will forever be in my mind and heart as one of the most beautiful sections of a game I have ever played. It is why the Forgotten City in Final Fantasy VII with its haunting melody will always be a place I hate moving on from...even though the story takes a tragic turn. Maybe that adds to it. I feel that is why Breath of the Wild is so immersive...it's not just the graphics, it's the feel. It's amazing.
    I wish more developers would remember the simple art of making a game. It's not realism...we already have that. It's the escape to a foreign place. The games that bring that feeling, are those whose graphics stand the test of time, in my opinion anyway...Edited October 2017 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #14 SatelliteOfLove 4 months ago
    I had a Dreamcast and went to the arcade before VS came out so it was more like "oh wow, someone can get this out of the old creaky PSX!" rather than an unquencable benchmark.

    Now the economy of writing and choreography? It's sad how THOSE haven't been matched enough since.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #15 chaoticBeat 4 months ago
    @boxofficepoison I came here to say Soul Calibur so great job! First time I ever noticed a home console game being on par with or surpassing the arcade cabinet it was based on. Arcades were already dying before Soul Calibur came out on Dreamcast but after it did, they felt even more diminished.Edited October 2017 by chaoticBeat
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #16 The-Challenger 4 months ago
    Resident Evil 4 definitely had that effect on me. While I appreciate earlier Psone and N64 games for doing the best with what they had available at the time, as a teen I still thought they looked fugly.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #17 mattcom26 4 months ago
    Out of this World was a true show stopper that had me jaw-dropped from the first quiet moments all the way through to the epic, cinematic climax. I never wanted to leave that world and it was indeed a long time before another game's graphics and art direction stole my heart in such a way.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #18 cldmstrsn 4 months ago
    Definitely has to be the Resident Evil Remake on Gamecube. When I first saw screenshots I was already terrified. All these years later I usually play it around this time of year. Its timeless for me.
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  • Avatar for Thad #19 Thad 4 months ago
    My answers are mostly sprite-based 2D games that have a timeless quality -- technology has improved, but 2D games really hit some astounding highs in the mid-1990s that have rarely been surpassed.

    Earthworm Jim, Yoshi's Island, and Suikoden 2 are a few of my favorites.
    Vanillaware has made some damn pretty 2D games too.
    For a more recent example, Cuphead is about the most beautiful game I've ever seen.
    And for one 3D example, Yoshi's Woolly World is just captivating.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #20 VotesForCows 4 months ago
    @neilhood Same generation, opposite side - for me it was Sonic 1 on the Megadrive! I jumped to a Megadrive from a 1-2 combo of a Spectrum 48K and an early PC, and it blew my mind.


    @cldmstrsn Did you check out the lady who was freaking out with me about FFXV over on Eurogamer? I've run into her before. She really, really hates FFXV and wants to make sure everyone knows it!
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  • Avatar for nimzy #21 nimzy 4 months ago
    Crysis.

    The game turns ten years old next month, and for most of those ten years, the phrase "can it run Crysis" was used as a benchmark for hardware performance and graphical achievement.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #22 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 months ago
    Maybe Donkey Kong Country?

    I mean, I thought it would get a little better, with the promise of smoother models like in the promo art for that and Killer Instinct, but the Nintendo 64 failed to deliver on that. While I warmed up to them eventually, I was not impressed with those types of models being replaced by Triangle Man fighting Cube Guy in Virtua Fighter and the like.
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  • Avatar for Talraen #23 Talraen 4 months ago
    I remember seeing Battle Arena Toshinden at the local movie theater and thinking its graphics were basically photorealistic. I remember this largely because of how laughably ridiculous it is, and to remind myself that I'm dumb. :)
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  • Avatar for metal_maniac #24 metal_maniac 4 months ago
    Out Run in the arcade was the epitome of graphics in my very young and naive mind. Of course, as I grew older I knew that graphics always would improve and become better. But in 1986, Out Run WAS the future.
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  • Avatar for themblan #25 themblan 4 months ago
    Resident Evil for Gamecube. It's amazing how the HD remaster uses the same 3D models and it still looks great today.
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  • Avatar for TerryTrowbridge #26 TerryTrowbridge 4 months ago
    I think I was impressed every generation, but I remember getting Gears of War and an HD tv at the same time and that transition was stunning. The jump in texture fidelity was mind blowing at the time. We were finally getting close to that Toy Story level of graphics.
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #27 Mikki-Saturn 4 months ago
    Well, I guess it depends on what "bettered" means. The first time I played Odin Sphere I thought it was probably the best that 2D games were ever going to look (because I figured very few people would make them going forward). Instead there was a bit of a 2D renaissance and so Odin Sphere now sits among a group of highly polished 2D games.

    As for 3D games, I really can't say... but I can say exactly the first time I realized that I didn't care about graphics getting better anymore. That moment came when playing Rogue Leader no the gamecube. I very clearly remember thinking "If graphics never get better than this I'll be okay." That game still looks pretty good today actually.
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #28 Vaporeon 4 months ago
    I remember being shocked at the gleaming graphics of the Crystal Cavern level in Donkey Kong Country for SNES. Fast forward about ten years and I'd say Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was stunning. I've no doubt I explored Cyrodiil longer than I did Skyrim. The shimmering water, the grand vistas... I was feeling nostalgic awhile back and booted it up again. Big. Mistake.

    Warning to anyone else who loved Cyrodiil: it has NOT aged well. Keep it in your memories :-)
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #29 NateDizzy 4 months ago
    Ninja Gaiden on the XBOX. It looks dated now, but back in the day it was a sight to behold.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #30 SuperShinobi 4 months ago
    I'd say the arcade version of Dragon's Lair and Night Trap on the 3DO, but their developers kind of cheated, as they were barely games and more like interactive movies.

    As for normal games, I think Radiant Silvergun on the Saturn looked so great that you wondered just how much better could 2D graphics get. Fortunately some developers are still raising the bar of 2D games, with Cuphead and Ori being two great recent examples.

    With 3D games I still feel, as always, that there's lots of room for improvement, although games like Gran Turismo Sport, DriveClub and The Order 1886 are if not approaching, at least taking steps towards photorealism and movie-quality visuals.

    VR is another paradigm shift like the move from 2D to 3D visuals, so there's even more room for visual quality to improve there. Current VR game visuals have a pretty basic gen 1 feel, but the level of immersion has suddenly taken a massive leap forward compared to regular 3D games.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #31 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    Soul Calibur. It was the most state of the art thing I'd ever seen.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #32 cldmstrsn 4 months ago
    @VotesForCows Ya that was crazy. To me FF XV was a great game and a solid effort for the amount of pressure that was on it and they continue to support it with new features even a year from its release. Some people see that as a bad thing but I think its great. Once everything is out I want to go through it again.
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  • Avatar for Megamoppy #33 Megamoppy 4 months ago
    @Godots17thCup Seconded! Considering the year rogue squadron 2 came out the fidelity is incredible and the lasers and space craft everywhere, insane! Played it through recently still holds up.

    May have thought graphics coulnd get better after being blown away seeing zelda the wind waker in motion, beautiful!
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #34 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    Mario 64 was a huge jump for me. I remember the first time I went underwater and it became a slow motion flight sim. Blown away.

    The first Gran Turismo was a pretty big deal too.

    Now Forza 7 is pretty amazing when you view cockpit and see the changing crinkles of leather driving gloves, the raindrops blowing differently across the windshield depending on your turns and acceleration, and the working valves on the engine intake as you floor the gas. While the cars look just about perfect, the landscape could use some work (but things like the rocks in Dubai are great!).
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #35 kidgorilla 4 months ago
    Street Fighter III. I almost felt that it was over animated when I first played it, and it (along 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike, of course) still look beautiful
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #36 Monkey-Tamer 4 months ago
    Robotech Battlecry on PS2 blew me away. After the N64 Robotech Crystal Dreams was never released it was my dream come true. I felt like I was playing the cartoon from my childhood. It still looks great when emulated with anti-aliasing.
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  • Avatar for Vodka-Tonic #37 Vodka-Tonic 4 months ago
    Metal Gear Solid 2. I still vividly recall the unveiling. It was June 2000, and I'm at E3, (im)patiently waiting for Konami to begin the first trailer for MGS2 at their show floor booth. When they began rolling the video, I remember thinking that I must be seeing a pre-rendered cutscene. Then a UI appeared, and Snake began wreaking stealthy havoc on a boat, while rain poured down. I couldn't believe the PS2 was going to have games that looked that good.

    (After that, I went to the MASSIVE Sega space on the show floor. It was more like an attraction unto itself, feeling like you had stepped into a Sega theme park, even down to the entrance tunnel. RIP Dreamcast.)
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #38 VotesForCows 4 months ago
    @cldmstrsn Yeah me too, loved it on release, and will replay when the dust settles. And you're so right about the comments over on EG - its really grim sometimes.
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  • Avatar for Thetick #39 Thetick 4 months ago
    Basically every first game on a new generation console :). Ff7 stands out though with soul calibur. Though right now I am pretty impressed by VR. It’s not so much the graphics, but the immersion.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #40 riderkicker 4 months ago
    @neilhood Indeed. I am still astounded it looks the way it does!
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #41 riderkicker 4 months ago
    @Godots17thCup Gawked at it all the time every time I went to the Pokemon Center now Nintendo World. Which was pretty sad for the big N then as everybody was supposed to buy the Pokemon RPGs.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #42 riderkicker 4 months ago
    Marvel vs Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes Dreamcast or Arcade. I played this every week at the local pizzeria and it had so much personality oozing out of the graphics and game play. I don't like subsequent games as much.

    WarioWare on the GBA.

    Metal Gear Solid on the PS1. Doesn't need a spitshine, looks great and plays simple.
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #43 LunarFlame17 4 months ago
    Super Mario 64. I remember a friend saying when it came out, “you know, someday we’ll look back at this game and think it looks like crap”, and I was like, “you are crazy. Video games will never look better than this.” Oh well.
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  • Avatar for Drachmalius #44 Drachmalius 4 months ago
    Most of my answers have been scooped but I feel like GTA Vice City deserves a mention here. It came out when I was 12 and I was just blown away by the scale and realism. And boats!!! Seriously, I spent so much of my time with that game because of how immersive the world was.

    Going back now though it looks very dated, I popped the disc in this past summer and it was rough. Still plays great though.
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  • Avatar for daverhodus #45 daverhodus 4 months ago
    Symphony of the Night -- I was right.
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  • Avatar for manny_c44 #46 manny_c44 4 months ago
    Mgs2 and zoe2 felt very complete to me, they both are helped out by higher resolution outputs in the remakes but on the whole I think they hold up-- the tech was good enough to hold up the art direction.

    Oh also My Summer Vacation 3.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #47 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 months ago
    DAMMIT!

    ...I wanted to comment on this the moment it went up, but I forgot my password!!

    Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.

    NOT the official release of Croc for the Playstation. Oh no.

    The version of Croc: Legend of the Gobbos found on the playstation Interactive CD Sample Pack: Vol. 4!!

    This is the best version of Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.

    It plays NOTHING like the final version and yet it makes you want to own a playstation...all over again. ❤
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #48 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @LunarFlame17 Your friends was wrong... it still looks great!
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  • Avatar for Toelkki #49 Toelkki 4 months ago
    I've been usually running behind in "state-of-the-art" graphics, but I imagine the closest I've come to feeling like that is with Rebel Assault on PC. It was the first FMV game I had that stretched to fit the whole screen (or nearly so), and I played it before I saw Quake.Edited October 2017 by Toelkki
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #50 Wellman2nd 4 months ago
    I really didn't think cel shaded graphics would ever top the original Wind Waker in terms of animation or class. I was more or less right until that next generation thing happened.
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  • Avatar for daveyc02909 #51 daveyc02909 4 months ago
    @cldmstrsn@Godots17thCup Both REmake and Rogue Squadron II blew me away when I first played them on the Gamecube.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #52 Mega_Matt 4 months ago
    Mario 64. I didn’t think graphics would ever look better...
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  • Avatar for Sgtkabukimen #53 Sgtkabukimen 4 months ago
    MGS 2 seriously blew my mind. The cutscenes were so fabulous , i remember playing with the theater mode again and again. This game was incredibly beautiful and yet the big shell was not an especially inspired setting, but the character design was insane .To be honest , i never dreamt of such a perfect game

    I think the original Devil May Cry is also worth mentioning. the design for Dante, the weapons , the bosses and all the bosses is just flawless. It was pure visual entertainment and delightful gameplay. I will always remember this gigantic spider invading my screen and the final showdown in space with Mundus. For me, i couldn't get any prettier than that
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #54 Arvis-Jaggamar 4 months ago
    My first memory of such has to be seeing Mario 64 and Ocarina for the first time.

    After that, Gran Turismo 3 on my shiny new PS2. I had quite a collection of jaws on my floor when that one launched, including non-gamer friends.

    And one I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned considering the fervor at the time: Metal Gear Solid 4. I had friends of friends piling into my apartment just to see it. I was only a casual fan of the series, but as a Sony diehard (at the time) I was obligated to get it to prove that my $600 purchase was worth it. The graphics left a big impression on everyone who played it.

    And lastly, kind of an odd one: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. The smooth animations, framerate, and well-realized models made it look like playing a Pixar movie (in the opinions of myself and my roommates).
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