The original PlayStation era will forever be unique. Games will never look like this again. We’ll be having lo-fi sprites and pseudo-8-bit homages till the end of time, but if a developer post-2001 has the capacity to do 3-D rendering, that developer isn’t going to have to limit the polygon count the way developers did 10 years ago while still achieving a somewhat realistic aesthetic. Today’s hardware will allow you to add in a couple triangles to represent a character’s nostrils without much of a hit to your rendering speed. Any low-count polygon games from here on out are going to be intentional throwbacks, exaggerating their limitations to create something highly stylized.
So Final Fantasy VIII, which I am playing now for the first time, hails from a unique moment in time. Textures were experimented with. Backgrounds were prerendered and “shot” from a fixed but interesting position, leaving the player essentially running around a painting. Square’s developers pushed for photorealism on a system that obviously couldn’t handle it, but their experimentation with textures created a stylized vision that is something unique special.
In 2009, admittedly, we are capable of more intricate models and naturally slicker presentations. Our toolbox is bigger and we’re better off for it. And I’m sure Yoshinori Kitase’s 1998 team would have liked to have had the processing power on a PS2 or PS3. Progress is, of course, nothing but a positive on this front and has opened the door to many new ideas, innovations, and genres.
Still. Limitation brings about invention and unique beauty. For as long as games are made, we’ll probably have titles that look like Mega Man 2, but we’ll never again have games that look like Final Fantasy VIII.