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X-Planations #5: Cel-Shaded Edition
Written By: Nick Arvites

Celda. A term that’s been kicked around since we discovered the cel-shaded animation style of the upcoming Zelda game on the Gamecube. People automatically scoffed at the game based on the graphical look. One can easily see the concern for many people. Instead of excellent and realistic styled graphics that were shown off through concept videos at E3 and other shows before the Gamecube was released, gamers now had to swallow a Zelda title with very cartoonish graphics and almost childish character designs. Is this the fault of the graphical style itself?


There are many examples that prove cel-shading is a viable and useful technique that can help produce a truly great game. One such example is the title Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox. Compare the title to another inline skating game like Aggressive Inline. The first noticeable difference is the graphical styles. Aggressive Inline sports realistic graphics while Jet Set Radio Future sports a cel-shaded world. If we go by the reasoning of the Zelda basher, Jet Set Radio should pale in comparison to Aggressive Inline simply because of graphical styles. However, Jet Set Radio is easily an equal and arguably a superior game. Why? The graphical style suits the game style. If a game is not a serious simulation and features a wild and crazy world (like Jet Set Radio Future), it would make sense to have colorful, bright and vibrant graphics in the game world. If it were the same game style with graphics like Aggressive Inline, a huge part of the game would be lost. The game universe in Jet Set Radio Future is so bizarre that a realistic approach would simply destroy the fun factor. Realistic graphics make people expect realistic gameplay...something that Jet Set Radio Future cannot supply.

Another shining example of cel-shading doing good for a game is Robotech: Battlecry. Our editor, Jared Black, had this to say about the use of cel-shading:

The graphics aren't terribly impressive, but the cel-shaded look goes a long way towards making the game look unique. Robotech's roots are in a cartoon series, and the cel-shading does a great job of updating that look while staying relatively true to the series' anime roots.

As Jared points out, cel-shading does nothing but help the game. If realistic graphics were used, Robotech would look like any other mech game out there (be it one of the Gundam games on the PS2 or MechAssault on Xbox). Not only do the cel-shaded graphics help separate Robotech from the rest of the mech crowd, it also keeps the anime look of the actual show. Instead of playing some realistic game based on the show, you actually feel like you are playing a part IN the show.

The two previous examples seem to prove that the graphic style can be good, but the question of Celda’s appropriate use of cel-shading still remains. Personally, I do not think a cel-shaded Zelda is a good idea. The Zelda universe does not call for a cel-shaded world like Jet Set Radio Future’s does. In fact, the Zelda universe shown in all previous incarnations have suggested a more realistic world than any other Nintendo produced title save Metroid. I find it disturbing that Mario has a more realistic world and feel to it. If anything, I would have expected Mario to be a cel-shaded game simply because it seems like it would fit in the Mario world. I simply cannot accept a fantasy adventure (outside of the Hobbit because I’ve always pictured that as a cartoon) done in the upcoming Zelda’s style. It completely takes away from any sort of serious game to have some overly cute cartoon 6-year-old stabbing overly comic monsters in the rear. It seems that I am not alone. Many other Zelda fans have always envisioned Zelda in the world presented in the original concept videos and the CGI commercials for the recent Gameboy games. This cel-shaded version of Zelda is a slap in the face of the fans. While it is part of the creator’s vision, Miyamoto seriously needed to look at the initial reactions when they switched the graphic style to cel-shading. There are some that will accept whatever is spewed at them, but there are many that cannot help smirking, mocking and bashing Zelda because of it. I thought Nintendo was trying to shed its "kiddy image?" Making one of its major flagship titles a childish cartoon world only further establishes and strengthens the claim that Nintendo is aimed at younger children. If they were dead-set on cel-shading, I still cannot fathom why they made the general look of characters almost comical. You can make a serious cel-shaded game, though very few companies have even attempted it. If Nintendo could have done that, perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this.

What does the future hold for cel-shading? Well, thanks to Celda, the technique will either get a black eye or a boost in popularity. How can a high profile game give the style a black eye? If the game is a disappointment among fans simply due to its look, most companies would then ignore cel-shaded projects. Personally, I like the idea of having various anime franchises turned into cel-shaded games. I like the idea of more Jet Set games. I really like the idea of the Hobbit (due out eventually on GameCube). However, if Celda tanks or turns into the modern day Zelda II, I fear the style will be blacklisted. There is some good (or more bad depending on your perspective). If Celda is a success among fans in the long run, expect to see tons of games utilize the graphic style. However, if Celda is a smashing success (like far too many people automatically think it will be), we will see many games that utilize cel-shading in a childish cartoon way. I was really hoping that Nintendo would manage to make Celda seem mature, but it does not look that way. Nintendo is supposed to be an innovator in this industry, yet moves like this make them just seem out of their minds.

In closing, I really cannot predict what will ultimately happen to cel-shading after Celda comes out. As seen with Jet Set Radio Future and Robotech: Battlecry, the style holds promise if used correctly. However, Zelda’s use of cel-shading simply does not feel right and may prove detrimental to the entire graphical art style’s future.

Posted: 1-14-03
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