Elite. That's right, those are honest-to-God 3D vector graphics on an NES.
Blizzard is well known for their excellent cinematic work, but Diablo III sets a high water mark not just for video games but for motion picture animation as well!
Journey. Just look at a screenshot or video of it, you'll see what we mean.
While it seems dated now, the second level in Unreal was, for the time, nothing short of mindblowing. The first level was a rather standard, if well-done indoors level, which would not look out-of-place in Quake. Then, the second level, you step out of the ship into a massive, outdoors world, with no clipping or fog to be seen. The sheer difference is amazing, even now. Back then, when even the best graphics designers in the game industry where still playing with shades of brown and green and talking about "polygon counts", here comes a lush, fully 3D jungle environment in believable color. For anyone that was into PC gaming at the time, no other game graphics triumph has ever come close, mere logical progressions to Unreal's quantum leap.
While we're looking back: Wolfenstein 3D. Real-time, texture-mapped 3D rendering on a 286 PC with stock VGA graphics — something that didn't even have a blitter, much less any sort of Polygonal Graphics hardware. Back in 1992, that was mindblowing, especially considering how weak a 286 was even then.
Mass Effect 1's space scenes were good, but less than mind-blowing: the technical "graphics" of the game had been toned down to fin the massive amount of content. Mass Effect 2, however, spanned 15 GB on the PC and 2 disks for the 360. The graphics, particularly those that apply to people speaking, were stunning.
What stood out was the planet from the Normandy Crash Pack DLC. It's a beautiful ice planet, with the low sunlight creating areas of both light and dark, the stars visible in the sky, and some aurorae just for good measure.
Lampshaded in the Overlord DLC, in which the Firewalker's VI prompts you to look out at the scenery when "Sensors indicate that an aesthetically pleasing view" is nearby.
The entire 'Escape from Earth' scene in Mass Effect 3. As the Normandy lifts off, you see Anderson running back to the soldiers from earlier. The camera pans across the wreckage of Vancouver, and you see shuttles being loaded with survivors (including Vent Boy). As the shuttles life off, a Reaper destroyer shoots them down with its main gun. As the Normandy flies away, you can see more Reapers landing on Vancouver, and the wreckage of the Fourth Fleet falling from the sky and burning up in the atmosphere. It's gorgeously rendered, and a brilliant Tear Jerker, set to a hauntingly sadLonely Piano Piece.
Menae is utterly breathtaking. As you make your way across the moon, you can see Reaper capital ships stomping across the surface off in the distance, and watch as husks attack the smaller turian outposts. And off in the distance, you can see the world of Palaven burning.
Then there's Thessia which manages to be both Scenery Porn and Scenery Gorn at the same time. The architecture and skyline through the mission is utterly gorgeous with an almost Roman/Greek look but with a futuristic feeling, and combined with total destructions as the Reapers lay waste to democratic center of the galaxy.
In Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 / Shutokou Battle 01, one racer, when challenged in the rain, causes the rain to turn into blood. Another racer, when battled, results in a dramatic shift of the screen's tones and the Saint Elmo's Fire effect to appear when going up to higher speeds.
Uncharted 3 has mind-blowingly gorgeous scenery, from a mansion burning to the ground around you to firefights in a sinking abandoned cruise ship, which as it starts to fill turns the entire environment sideways. In the special features, it was mentioned that waves were in fact rendered in real-time. You're fighting on a ship that is rocking on actual waves. The desert scenery is similarly beautiful.
Special mention goes to the facial expressions. They could have used motion capture, since they already had the actors playing the scenes. But no, they animated the expressions from scratch, and the Uncanny Valley is mostly avoided with only a few major exceptions.
"Naughty Dog outdoing themselves with the third game"? Hm. Sounds familiar.note Without counting the first game, of course. On the other hand, some levels in "CB 3: Warped" are, for lack of better words, gorgeous.
Ōkami. One of the most beautiful art styles in gaming, ever. It truly looks like a painting in motion, and easily holds a candle to more technologically impressive games like the above examples. Another example of utterly gorgeous cel-shading is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, with its dazzling water, fire, particle, and distortion effects, as well as its impressive rope bridge and cloth physics engine.
Wind Waker is one of the finest implementations of cel shading. Despite being almost a decade old, it ist still considered to have some of the best graphics of all time.
One cutscene features a gigantic tower rising from the ocean, complete with drying patches of water. And it's all rendered in real-time. The scene is especially impressive at sunrise or sunset.
Wind Waker HD has been announced for the Wii U. Imagine all that plus ten years of improvement and 1080p resolution.
Even more so is the trailer of BioShock Infinite, you'd be amazed on how much detail they put in on it.
Star Wars Roque Squadron 2: Rogue Leader boasts some incredible polygon counts and lighting effects in a game that was released in 2001. Its sequel, Rebel Strike, has the highest polygon count of any game during the last generation (in the Battle of Hoth level.)
Recca Summer Carnival '92, an NES game released only in Japan, features extremely fast-paced space shooter action as well as trippy, almost polygonal background effects.
The Prypiat missions contain some of the most gorgeous usages of gray filter.
Modern Warfare 2 keeps up the amazing displays. The exterior of the Gulag and the Rio missions are wonderful displays of beauty, but war-ravaged Washington D.C. is simply jaw-dropping, whether from amazement or sheer horror.
And Modern Warfare 3 keeps up the trend, with more war-torn cities like New York, Paris, London and Prague. The scene with the Eiffel tower collapsing is absolutely jaw-dropping.
The original Call of Duty is one of the best-looking games that use the id Tech 3 engine. Not only the visuals are quite realistic for their time, they also look beautiful. its expansion pack, United Offensive, is even better looking.
Perhaps the best example of this trope in the original is a level where you raid the German battleship Tirpitz. In the sequel, the looks of the Sicily and Bastogne levels are simply fantastic.
The way Middle-Earth is presented in The Lord of the Rings Online is a lot of the time breathtaking, especially Moria. From entering through the Hollin Gate and all the way to the East Gate, you can really see why Moria was considered the grandest of the Dwarvish halls. One could only imagine what it would look like before it's fall.
Honorable mention goes to Caras Galadhon (Lothlórien), especially by night, and the view when first entering Rivendell.
Final Fantasy XIII: It's just the little things, really. Like how they got the hair to look so nice in game, despite the fact that it's probably just a bunch of flat planes sticking out of their heads with a partly transparent texture mapped on.
Panau in Just Cause 2 looks absolutely spectacular on its own, but try putting your destination on the opposite side of the map. A little marker saying "15 km" or something like that pops up... and you can see your destination. That's right, this game renders stuff over 15 kilometers away (about 9.3 miles if you're American), still looks amazing, and it's all one seamless map. Try to top that.
Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel have some of the most utterly gorgeous levels in any game, a fantastic art style and color palette, and brilliantly creative areas.
Super Mario Sunshine is still considered to have some of the best water effects in a video game, and it was released in 2002.
The Wii/PS2 version's graphics aren't too shabby, either. The levels look pretty nice, but the Gaia Gates look beautiful.
Sonic Generations uses the same graphics engine as Unleashed, and looks incredible as well. The re-imagining of the original Green Hill Zone now includes huge backdrops full of amazing scenery; of particular note are the massive waterfalls and the underground river in Modern Sonic's level. The graphics become even more eye-popping on the PC version.
Let's not forget Sonic Colors, a Wii game which looks better than a lot of games look on the 360.
Hell, let's keep going: Sonic Adventure" and Sonic Adventure 2'' demonstrated what the Dreamcast was capable of, and the first game blew away the competition of 1998 and 1999. The graphics may not have aged well, but they were mind-blowing back then.
Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 stays true to its 2.5D predecessor, and offers next to the comic style the famous long-time CG scenes of the series, realistic particle effects, very advanced shading and literally brilliant water.
It also features FMV cutscenes of the actual in-game units, all beautifully rendered — it's one thing to see, say, submarines that can turn into aircraft or floating tanks or four-story mecha in gameplay, but it's quite another to see them in live action.
The Myst series has a few. You might consider pre-rendering to be "cheating", but some of the pre-rendered graphics are incredible.
Serenia in Myst IV, full stop. It's like some Tolkien-esque fantasy world, only you get to run around in it. Haven and Spire were good, but Serenia was breathtaking.
Riven in, well, Riven. A vast world that is far removed from the emptiness of Myst.
All of the coming-in-for-a-landing clips that play when you use a linking book should rate a mention, as do the various roller-coaster animations that mark the completion of Ages in Exile or Revelation. Whoa...
One of the main draws to the original Sonic The Hedgehog 1 and the Sega Genesis was that the graphics looked incredible. It may look dated now, but the genius use of parallax scrolling and vibrant colors really showed off the console.
Alan Wake looks fairly good on its own, and then you get the flares and flare guns. Dramatic, awesomely flickering red light? Check. Amazing-looking smoke? Check. Bullet Time if you pull one out while surrounded by mooks? Check. And, above all, safety (because Light Is Good and Dark Is Evil are literal)? Check.
The graphics for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword were inspired by Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. It really shows, especially if you look at something at a distance - it all looks like something from a water-colour painting.
In the Metroid Prime games, there are two that immediately come to mind:
When a flash of bright light occurs, be it from an explosive blast or regular Scan Visor use in Corruption, you can see Samus's eyes. It's especially impressive in Corruption, since you can also see how far she's been corrupted in her eyes and the other facial features.
In Prime 1 and 3, when you use the X-Ray visor, you can see the bones inside of her hands. Prime 1 also has her hand change positions for each beam she uses, which is a very nice easter egg.
Everything in both Golden Sun games was awesome. The psuedo 3D for battle scenes pushed the GBA. Nearly all of the higher level summons were multi-sprited.
And now we have Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, which manages to exceed the originals in graphical quality. Say what you will about the gameplay, this game really pushes the DS.
Captain Falcon's Falcon Punch was just straight awesome in Super Smash Bros.: after shouting the name, he unleashed a fiery punch complete with a 2D image of his emblem. Then along comes Melee and he keeps the punch, only now the flames morph into a falcon spreading its wings.
You can use an Action Replay MAX to ramp up the frame rate and visual quality in XGRA and it looks brilliant.
That's not even being fair to the sheer awesomeness factor of both games. In oblivion, each area has its own feel to it, and has really good graphical effects to it, and the colors look downright beautiful. Fallout 3 starts out when you exit your vault and see natural light for the first time in your life. After the screen stops glowing you get to see this◊. Words fail to describe the awesome, and kinda sad.
The animated sequences in the Professor Layton games. Fluid, beautiful animation on the Nintendo DS, a system not known for its graphics capabilities, and they only get better in the newer games. The game itself has some beautifully done background areas.
StarCraft II actually has outstandingly cinematic graphics, and most of its cutscenes are rendered is the same engine.
It may not be the shiniest game, but Sins of a Solar Empire is impressive in that you can zoom in to see a single fighter craft in battle, or zoom out to see several star systems, and every single level in between that. All of them quite detailed and able to manipulate the camera in a 360-degree sphere.
City of Heroes' Ultra Mode was added to allow players with higher-end graphics cards to take advantage of their processing power. When it's turned on, detail goes through the roof, including real-time shadows and reflections in glass and water. The new areas in Praetoria were designed to take advantage of Ultra Mode, and they look amazing.
And Kirby's Epic Yarn. People argue it looks better than God of War 3! Other games, like Super Star Ultra, have beautiful looking sprites, and games like Canvas Curse have cool looking backgrounds. Kirby games are always beautiful, graphically.
Kirby Squeak Squad. The final world. The space-y background looks like a gosh-darn painting.
Battletoads used a lot of cool tricks in several levels that you wouldn't believe would be possible on the NES.
The Halo series has some of the most beautiful skyboxes you will ever see (and not just in the campaign - the multiplayer maps, especially Reach's Anchor 9, can look wonderful, though there are some throughout the series which are more subtle and possibly even more beautiful because of it). The art style of the 4 different factions you encounter is also wonderfully contrasting - and each is beautiful/cool in its own way. Take the Forerunner designs, particularly the sentinels.
Half-Life 2. The Source Engine has aged brilliantly (and Portal 2 is proof of this). The facial animation is great, and the water effects are flat-out amazing. Oh, and so are the fire effects, while we're at it.
Speaking of Source facial animations, Valve has taken to giving non-human characters facial animations as well, and it's stunning. Just look at Atlas and P-body from Portal 2.
Portal 2 also features an absolutely stunning opening sequence where a room is destroyed and falls apart around the player character.
Some more specific examples... despite coming out in 2004, Half-Life 2 still has quite impressive graphics, and the later games (in particular, Episode 2, which was the first to use the updated version of the Source Engine used in Portal) only go even farther. Some moments that stick out in particular from the Half-Life series are the bridge from Half-Life 2 (it's... just stunning), the moment when you step out of the underground in Episode One and see the ruined city and the Citadel rising above everything, and the moment when Alyx and Gordon overlook City 17 in Episode Two after the train crash—the energy seething around the Citadel over City 17 is as gorgeous as it is dangerous.
Meet the Medic from Team Fortress 2 also counts. Yeah, it's cartoonish, but who says it has to be realistic to be awesome?
Why not the whole of Team Fortress 2? Valve set out to create a game with the visual flair midcentury illustration and boy did they get it right. The stylization works in the game's favor and makes sure it's not going to age poorly.
Also, the Game ModBlack Mesa is just... incredible in its visuals. Examples include Surface Tension and (what little we've seen of) Xen.
Actually it seems a lot of Valve games seem to fall under this, due their source engine having a distinct visual flair.
Barring that, the fact that late 1940's LA is recreated with a great of accuracy is nothing short of impressive. Not to mention other details like store signs, window displays, cars and period accurate clothing. It's really hard to deny that this is a very, very pretty game.
Another Rockstar effort, Red Dead Redemption, also stands out as visually stunning. The western desert setting generally justifies the Real Is Brown approach... and when the game isn't brown and gritty, like in the snowy, mountainous forest area of Tall Trees, it's colorful, bright, and beautiful. The deserts manage to be gorgeous, too, especially when the player is riding into the sunset, and the city of Blackwater is absolutely lovely to look at. Go onto the ferry dock and watch the sun rise over Blackwater some time in the game. It's absolutely stunning.
The Donkey Kong Country trilogy. The original game was one of the first console games (it had already been done in arcades) to feature pre-rendered graphics: something that even Nintendo thought was impossible on the Super NES. In-game graphics have ultimately improved over the years, but when it first came out it was something most people hadn't seen before in a console game.
Fast-forward by fifteen-or-so years. How do you replicate that "oh-this-game-has-the-best-graphics-ever"-esque feeling, considering that by now there's a well-established rivalry in this mediumnote Have you read the other examples above, in this folder, right?? How about taking an already beautifully-looking third game in a trilogy and using three times as many polygons?
If you really want Visual Effects of Awesome, look no further than Stargate (the sequel to Defender; no relation to the movie), specifically when you use the level warp trick (by flying through a stargate with a certain number of rescued Earthlings). It's truly a sight to behold (and this was 1981; one year after the original came out).
Midway released an arcade game called "Kozmik Krooz'r" in the early 1980's. It featured a realistic looking, rotating "flying saucer" that actually wasn't part of the game itself. It was just a prop that was reflected in a mirror. Nonetheless it was considered groudbreaking for the time.
Laserdisc games are considered to be a subversion, since they're more like interactive movies than true games (e.g., Dragon's Lair, etc). On the other hand, other games tried to invoke this trope by giving more interactivity (e.g., Cobra Command). However, this usually meant creating actual game graphics to overlay onto the video.
Brain Dead 13 actually defies the whole laserdisc genre with the end of this game, combined with Scenery Porn: The confrontation scene with Neurosis has only small lights lined up in a row that light up the total blackness in the room, and it's all in Conspicuous CG (except for the characters, of course). Add a bit of the Gratuitous Disco Sequence with More Dakkafrom Fritz that lights up the scenery, and the whole thing is just awesome indeed. Whoever thought up a final confrontation to be a whole disco that takes place entirely in the dark should be very proud of themselves, like something that only Quentin Tarantino would think up.
Also, most of the resurrection scenes, such as floor panel lights that make Lance reappear if he dies during the dark disco sequence; the lightning bolts that bring him back if he dies during Moose's sequence; and the "flames of rebirth" that reform Lance's body if he dies in haunted rooms. These are just awesome indeed.
F-Zero X and F-Zero GX: X isn't very detailed, but it never drops the framerate. GX looks wonderful, and also never drops the framerate. Why is that awesome? Because the games move at a really damn fast pace.
Conduit 2. The first level takes place on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. If you look down, you can see waves. Not still water with vague ripples on them, actual waves. Most PS3 and 360 games don't even have that, and the developers pulled it off on a Wii.
Many of the things in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Next time you play, go look at the trophies for the playable characters or the assist trophies and look at how detailed the skin, clothes, etc are-Peach's dress has several layers to it that make it seem like something from the real world, Ness' backpack, hat and t-shirt have real visible seams in them, denim jeans and overalls has seams, buttons, etc. to look like real articles of clothing, the Ice Climbers hoods have very well-rendered fur, Dedede, who normally just has a weird sash underneath his coat, was given a kimono, and Link's, well, everything. Character designs aside, many of the final smashes-particularly Triforce Slash, Great Aether, PK Starstorm, and Lucario's Aura Laser-look REALLY great. Some people will only turn Smash Balls on to see those final smashes.
Also, the cutscenes from "The Subspace Emissary," especially "The Great Invasion." The Subspace Gunship is pretty darn detailed.
The Subspace Gunship is so detailed, that the game actually lags when you zoom in on the trophy of it!
Baten Kaitos. Good lord. The stunning pink and purple clouds of Diadem, the vibrant trees and lush jungles of Anuenue, the hallucinatory beauty of Mira and the Trail of Souls...everything in that game is gorgeous.
Then Origins came out two years later and topped it. The scenery mostly looks the same, but the character models are infinitely better, especially the battle animations. Pull off something like The Apotheosis or Crimson Skytooth and tell me it doesn't look amazing.
How about the spiritual predecessor, Chrono Cross? Sure, the PS1 graphics haven't aged that well, but it still looked fantastic back in the day.
DJMAX Technika. An arcade game running at 720p, it has some of the most stunning musicvideos to grace the Rhythm Game genre. All while the gameplay runs at 60 frames per second, no less.
When Street Fighter III first came out, many reviews insulted the sprite graphics; 3D models were becoming the norm. Indeed, a still shot of the game looks pretty mediocre by today's standards with the limited technology making it very pixelated. However, a still image misses the most important thing about Street Fighter III's graphics: The movement. Most sprite-based fighting games have very choppy movement because easy individual frame requires a ton of work, so only the ending post and start-up are given frames. Street Fighter III has tons of sprites for each character, more than any other fighting game at the time. This made all the movements and actions of the game, including ones as simple as breathing, incredibly smooth and complete looking, to the point that some retroactively consider its spritework the best in any fighting game. The sheer effort put into making all those sprites deserves a round of applause alone.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 3D. Even if you don't play in 3D, it is absolutely jaw-dropping. The moment when you walk out of Link's house into Kokiri Forest is truly jaw-dropping and magical. The Water Temple is so beautiful, it's hard to hate it. The pan-over of the Temple of Time when you first enter it must be seen to be believed. And then you put it into 3D....
Heck, the 3DS as a whole. Did anyone really think Nintendo would pull it off when it was announced? The augmented reality games are especially incredible.
The original Nintendo 64 version of Ocarina of Time is no less impressive. There's a reason why the game runs at just 20 FPS on stock hardware - the polygon counts are quite large for a Nintendo 64 game, and areas like Hyrule Field were so hardware-intensive that Nintendo thought it could never get the game to run at all. There are also some subtle but impressive effects. For instance, the fishing rod has real-time physics applied to it, and the mirrors in the Spirit Temple exhibit real-time shadowing (not the cheap cones of light that Link has as shadows).
The Super Copy Abilities and the backgrounds in Kirby's Return to Dream Land.
And the level in Dangerous Dinner where Kirby is dodging miniature stars.
How about the Skyarrow Bridge? At first, the game's just been typical Pokemon fare and settings - small towns, forests, rivers, etc. Then, you go across this huge bridge, with trucks and boats and other things going underneath it, and the camera swooping around to show it all off, and finally you see Castelia City looming on the far side.
It seems to have become a new tradition in the Pokemon series, from Black and White onwards, to give each Legendary mascot of the game a breathtaking 3D intro. Special mention goes to when you summon Reshiram/Zekrom for the first time and are given an awesome display of their power on the environment, and in HG/SS when Lugia or Ho-Oh swoops out of the sky to face you. Even more incredible at night.
The Man-At-Legs in Pikmin 2. Similar to the Subspace Gunship example from above, in the Piklopedia the game will LAG if you get it moving. And the Piklopedia won't even show the thing firing its gun, which must be seen. It's incredible and yet grotesque at the same time.
Pick a CyberConnect2 game from the Playstation Two era onwards: Any of them will qualify, especially after CyberConnect2 formed the studio Sensible Art Innovation, which they used not only for movie making, but utilizing it as part of their current console generation cutscene maker. With the power of the unreal Engine, Asura's Wrath by CyberConnect2 takes the engine to it's limits to get really awesome visuals. Here's an example.
When you really look at it, Yoshi's Island really is a beautiful game. There's typically several layers of foreground and background, all of them hand drawn. Not to mention the fact that it really stretched the SNES's capabilities, often using Mode 7 in many different ways.
The Super FX chip certainly helped. While Yoshi's Island did have some Super FX-powered polygon graphics (the pause and game over screens, a paper effect for when the characters get flattened, and the occasional spinning platform come to mind), the chip was used mostly for rotating and scaling sprites.
Xenoblade Chronicles, despite the system that it's on, pulls off huge environments with plenty of wildlife with dizzying attention to detail, with fantastic draw distance near unprecedented for the Wii. The game also pulls off the same open-ended structure that several games on the system lacked, even with some of Nintendo's own games!
No love for the X-Universe series? As an example: This game is a spaceflight game that models everything from miniscule scout ships to monstrous destroyers and stations, each of which is meticulously modeled to the last panel. And you can look at all of it. From any angle. While floating about equally beautiful planets, ranging from earth-like Argon Prime, to the ocean world of Nishala, the Boron home planet.
The graphics may not be the best (though this was done on purpose), but stand on top of a mountain in Minecraft, look out at the landscape, and tell me it isn't absolutely gorgeous.
Valkyria Chronicles looks and feels likes a World War II-inspired anime saga with very beautiful sketchbook-style flare...until you realize that everything you see is entirely rendered in-game and that you're actually playing it.
The Dawn of War games are some of the best looking PC Strategy games around, especially the sequel and its expansions. Down to the amazing detail on the unit models themselves, crafted to closely resemble their tabletop model counterparts to an exquisite degree and the incredibly good looking particle effects and Scenery Gorn. And let's not forget those beautiful cutscenes like the Exterminatus of Typhon Primaris and the Opening cutscene to both the original and the sequel.
Wipeout is not only racing, but also this trope pushed Up to Eleven. Even in the first two games, there were some EPIC visual effects for that era: in the first Wipeout, the visual effects of every weapon were incredible, and it was a 1994 GAME. 2097, with the racetracks Gare D'Europa and Spilskinanke which have sudden and blinding flashes which can distract you, and the Quake weapon which makes the road up ahead shaking like crazy, this is an high quality Fifth Gen videogame visual effect porn.
HD and 2048 push this trope even further than 2097 did with the Zone mode, in which the track and scenery become very simple with one shade of a certain or multiple colors, and the billboards and the road become also music equalizers! How cool is that?!?
Also, ALL OF THE INTRO CLIPS OF EVERY GAME fall into this trope. Just watch for example the intro for Pulse. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.
If we weren't so busy being scared out of our wits, we'd appreciate the foggy beauty of the Silent Hill series. The first three games pushed the graphical limits of whatever console they were. Special mention goes to Silent Hill 3, where the animations where on par with current gen consoles.
No love for the Metal Gear series? If there's anything Konami does best, creating impressive graphics may certainly be it. Thanks to Kojima's meticulous eye for detail, these games still look good despite their age. The HD remastering of MGS2, MGS3, and Peace Walker, give new appreciation for the visuals in these games. MGS3 really pushed the limits of the PS2, and its HD remastered version can give some games from this generation a run for their money.
Then there's Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain, which hasn't even been released yet, and shames the developers who say that there's little to no more room for graphical improvement after this gen (it's slated to be released for the 360 and PS3 in addition to Xbox One and PS4). Take a look for yourself.
No matter how much Hype Backlash their games can suffer from, Square Enix are masters of FMV...particularly in the Final Fantasy series. Some of their cut scenes are so beautiful that you can almost forget you're playing a video game. The Art Evolution with each progressive game means that by the time Final Fantasy XIII came out, the gameplay was almost as beautiful as the cut scenes.
Xexex had gorgeous rendered graphics and pulled off other amazing graphical feats such as warping and zooming back in 1991. The graphics were so ahead of their time, it was impossible to port this game to the Sega Genesis or the Super Nintendo Entertainment System without a severe downgrade.
Super Mario RPG. Probably the pinnacle of graphical achievement on the SNES, it puts Donkey Kong Country to shame with its digitized environments, creating a very convincing pseudo-3D world with detailed environments and character designs.
The four (or three, counting Sonic 3 & Knuckles as one game) GenesisSonic games had astoundingly well-drawn sprites that look great even into the HD era. Some even had a pseudo-3D effect to them, like the trees in the Green Hill Zone or the indentations in the checkered soil. It was even more impressive that the Sega Genesis was able to draw these complex sprites very quickly, showing off the console's power.
Batman: Arkham Asylum had a really amazing, gritty, realistic style (if you weren't using Detective Mode).
Everything from Alice: Madness Returns. The facial expressions, Alice's dresses, the fighting motions...hysteria mode.
Bayonetta has some of the most stunning and beautiful environments and locations ever seen in a video game, especially on the Xbox 360 version.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed did an excellent job at recreating locations from classic Sega games in beautiful HD. You know the developers did a great job when one of the original developers of Skies of Arcadia cried tears of joy when seeing how well-made the Skies of Arcadia racetrack is.