For whatever reason, Sony kept Gravity Rush 2, the sequel to Japan Studio’s 2012 physics-defying action game, from gaining much exposure at E3 last week. Tucked away in a private room, the game had a sole kiosk next to The Last Guardian, and if you happened to notice it, your first thought might be questioning why more attention wasn’t getting lavished on it.
Before I had taken a look at the game, someone described it to me as “anime through the lens of Moebius” the influential French artist Jean Giraud – which is quite an apt description. If you look at the game’s vaguely European architecture, or listen to the faintly French-sounding (but entirely fictional) language, found in the original Vita game and its sequel, it’s easy to reach that conclusion.
Sure enough, director Keiichiro Toyama, who interestingly created Silent Hill and went on to work on Sony’s own Japanese horror series Siren before shifting gears, started out as an artist; the development team has also referenced Moebius and other artists from the bandes dessinée style as a major influence.
Despite its lack of processing power, you can see a similar clean simplicity in Gravity Rush’s original form. Bluepoint Games recently did a wonderful job remastering the game for PS4, and though there would have been no way to entirely shake off its graphical roots, it still does an admirable job of capturing the decidedly non-Japanese style the developers were aiming for. (Nevertheless, it goes without saying the game’s design is utterly unique and quite fun – I highly recommend it).
Gravity Rush 2 is, as you might expect, even better at this. As something built from the ground up for PS4 – particularly in contrast to the original – it looks like interactive anime. Cel-shading (and other techniques that make polygons appear closer to hand-drawn animation), have come quite a long way since the days of Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast, by all accounts a progenitor to a trend that ended up lasting several years.
These days the aesthetic is mostly relegated to, go figure, anime titles from publishers like, say, Bandai Namco. The look of something like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is great, but there’s a certain individuality inherent in the new Gravity Rush thats feels less like polygons and closer to the artistry of a Studio Ghibli. (Not even Ghibli’s Ni No Kuni sequel with Level-5 quite manages such an organic look, and it’s gorgeous in its own right).
When the Gravity Rush team was first doing interviews for the original game, they said they didn’t want to make something that felt “too Japanese”. Maybe it was an oversight that the sequel felt relatively hidden at E3.
It’s also possible that amongst the tentpole western games, PSVR and The Last Guardian, whose appeal seems to transcend the typical culture barriers Japanese games often face from players here, Sony might’ve felt a bigger presence for another Gravity Rush might not have garnered any more real fans. Judging broadly from many players’ tastes, they could even be right. If they are, what a waste it would be.