Video games are art. Also, video games love to reward player accomplishments with concept pieces that supply a snapshot into the project's development cycle. Lara uncovering a meaningless trinket adds nothing to the overall Tomb Raiding experience; on the other hand, unlocking a painting showcasing Shadow of the Tomb Raider's protagonist partly submerged in a flooded Peruvian Jungle is stunning enough to serve as a desktop (or console) wallpaper.
Collectibles arrive in various shapes and sizes, as publishers constantly seek new and exciting ways to induce customers to spend a little bit extra. As the industry steadily moves towards a primarily digital market, sculptures and awesome cases are beginning to give way to launch-day DLC and early access. Anthem Legion of Dawn Edition's standout inclusion is a digital copy of the soundtrack, although the supplementary items and packs are presumably the chief motivator to pay the additional $20. Launching with approximately 500 different versions, Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Medusa, Spartan, and Pantheon Editions include neat collectibles such as figurines, steel books, and a 64-page art book. The latter tends to determine whether the special edition is considered a success or a waste of money.
Art books offer a glimpse behind the curtain and are especially valuable for aspiring artists. Putting aside those publishers who attempt to pass glorified 20-page booklets as complete works, the best of the best can even be more valuable than the game itself! Here is our official ranking of the 25 best video game art books!
25 The Game Console: A Photographic History From Atari To Xbox
What better place to start than an art book documenting every major console release across the last five decades? The Game Console: A Photographic History From Atari To Xbox may mention the Atari 2600 in its title, but the book jumps back further than the device often incorrectly cited as the first console. While it was nowhere near as successful as its successor, 1972's Magnavox Odyssey is recognized as gaming's original commercial home system.
Evan Amos' book contains photographs of various stripped apart systems, including the likes of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. As art books typically prioritize games over systems, The Game Console: A Photographic History From Atari To Xbox is quite unique.
24 The Art Of BioShock Infinite
"Guys, BioShock: Infinite is one ugly game" is a phrase nobody has ever uttered. Also published by Dark Horse Books, The Art of BioShock: Infinite takes readers on a majestic tour of the shooter's central hub, Columbia. Ken Levine - the creative director behind 2007's BioShock and 2013's sequel - contributes an introduction detailing the process behind Irrational Games' project.
The art pieces are quite mesmerizing, particularly the ones centering around the city and weapons. One specific chapter concentrates on the propaganda scattered throughout Columbia. This is a really cool addition that highlights an essential aspect of BioShock: Infinite's world building.
23 Super Mario Encyclopedia: The Official Guide To The First 30 Years
Such a list would not be complete without gaming's official mustache scoring an appearance at one point or another. Released in 2018 as a belated celebration of Super Mario's 30-year anniversary, Dark Horse's encyclopedia is a tad more information heavy than most of this list's other entries; nonetheless, Nintendo crams as many characters, levels, and items as possible in this collection's 256 pages.
Is there one coin in Super Mario World that continues to elude you? The Super Mario Encyclopedia likely holds the answer! Super Mario 3D World is the final entry covered in the book, so Super Mario Odyssey fans should try this one out.
22 The Art Of Blizzard Entertainment
When it comes to art books, Blizzard wrote the book. Terrible puns aside, the acclaimed studio has yet to release an underwhelming album. The Art of Blizzard Entertainment collects artwork from Starcraft, Diablo, and World of Warcraft. Due to covering a wide berth of licenses rather than sticking to a specific field, this book is a great place to start for those seeking to dip their toes into this subgenre of collectibles.
Clocking in at over 350 pages, The Art of Blizzard Entertainment holds a staggering variety of intricate sketches based on arguably the studio's three most popular series. For those interested in only one property, Blizzard has published multiple books dedicated to a single universe.
21 The Art Of Metal Gear Solid I-IV
Ready to be impressed? Dark Horse pressed 800 pages into this exhaustive exhibition of Hideo Kojima's iconic stealth series. With the exception of Metal Gear Solid V, which had yet to be released at the time, The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV essentially collects every piece of concept art associated with the franchise. As hyperbolic of a statement as this may seem, we are not exaggerating.
Translated into English while preserving the original Japanese handwriting, The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV is split into two chapters: Studio and Gallery Works. The former contains black and white sketches that cover the entire spectrum of Metal Gear Solid's universe, while the latter injects a touch of color to the mix.
20 The Sky: The Art Of Final Fantasy
Originally published as three separate books, The Sky: The Art Of Final Fantasy is a 640-page boxed set highlighting Yoshitaka Amano's artwork from the first ten games in the series. Digicube sold this set in 2001 for approximately $600 and included an extra fourth book containing interviews with Amano and additional sketches. This version is near impossible to purchase for anything resembling a reasonable price; luckily, Dark Horse published an alternative in 2013.
Unlike other art books, The Sky is not interested in detailing any lore or even supplying names for all the inserted characters. Consequently, The Sky will be of most interest to enthusiastic artists wishing to learn from one of the industry's greats.
19 The Legend Of Zelda Encyclopedia
If asked to nominate an ideal gift for fans of Nintendo's legendary property, The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia Deluxe Edition would have to take the prize. The final entry in The Goddess Collection trilogy - which also includes Hyrule Historia - Dark Horse's encyclopedia comes wrapped in gold foil and covers thirty years of the franchise's history.
While hardly lacking in data pertaining to the hundreds of weapons, items, and enemies featured throughout The Legend of Zelda's entire run, the pages prioritize visuals over passages of texts. Now, in all fairness, Hyrule Historia and Create A Champion explore their specific topics to a deeper degree than the encyclopedia; however, the latter offers something for everyone.
18 The World Of The Witcher: Video Game Compendium
Prior to proceeding any further, please note the above photo is of The World of the Witcher's hard to find limited edition boxed set. The normal version is the book without any of the bells and whistles, although CD Projekt RED's compendium is anything but ordinary!
Echoing the trilogy's clever storytelling, The World of the Witcher is told from the perspective of five in-universe characters, including Geralt and Yennefer. Depending on the fictional person's expertise, their chapter concentrates on a distinct aspect of life on The Continent. The Witcher's fully realized world is gloriously illustrated in the ultimate companion piece to the series.
17 Art Of Atari
With the exception of perhaps Nintendo, Atari is gaming's most important company. The publisher's relevance has declined considerably over the last three decades, but Atari changed the scene during the '70s and '80s. As the first project to collect and preserve the company's illustrations, Art of Atari encompasses nearly half-a-century of gaming culture.
Combining history, never before seen art pieces, and a healthy dose of nostalgia; Art of Atari is a museum exhibition available for the public to purchase. While the technology of the era could not quite do justice to many of the illustrations featured in this book, Art of Atari is a testament to the industry's ambition and imagination.
16 The Art Of Dead Space
Along with breathtaking paintings, art books tend to be peppered with tidbits of information and lore associated with the universe. In certain cases, these collectibles contain data absent from the main game, therefore the only way to receive a full picture is to do some additional reading. Players may be too preoccupied with surviving another encounter with the Necromorphs to dedicate too much attention to Dead Space's environments and enemy designs, but that hardly means a ton of effort was not put into these components.
The Art of Dead Space spreads more than 300 images over nearly 200 pages, while also providing cool insight into the universe's characters and social constructs.
15 The Art Of Destiny, Volume 1 Or 2
Destiny infamously launched with a lack of content, primarily due to Bungie's frustrating decision to eliminate anything resembling a story and limiting the lore to Grimoire cards. Despite all the justified criticisms, even the most ardent of haters could not help admit that Destiny's worlds were rather pretty. The Art of Destiny distills gorgeous visuals into a series of detailed images that contain more personality than the game's launch version.
Bungie's eye to detail is impressive and both volumes illustrate the diverse sources used as inspiration to craft Destiny's array of planets. Fans and critics are equally likely to find something to enjoy.
14 The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild - Creating A Champion
Nintendo knows a thing or two about art books and, when it comes to The Legend of Zelda, the publisher seldom delivers anything but brilliance. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild instantly established the Nintendo Switch as a must own console; unsurprisingly, the open-world RPG's art book is a delight!
Along with a reasonable price, owners can look forward to over 300 pages of sketches, illustrations, and written sections devoted to Hyrule's history. Takumi Wada, the franchise's main illustrator since Skyward Sword, contributed dozens of drawings to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild--Creating a Champion.
13 Mega Man X: Official Complete Works
Spread over 152 pages, Mega Man X: Official Complete Works pays homage to Capcom's storied and extensive franchise. As implied by the title, the focus is squarely on the Rockman X series rather than the original run of games. Considering Mega Man X spawned eight official sequels and multiple collections, it is safe to say Capcom has more than enough resources at its disposal to fill a couple of art books.
Besides the standard inclusions like box art and sketches, Mega Man X: Official Complete Works features a fair few rare pieces of which only the most passionate fans are likely to recognize.
12 The Art Of The Last Of Us
Published as a joint effort between Naughty Dogs and Dark Horse Comics, The Art of The Last of Us is a meticulously put together project worthy of being associated with the multi-award winning horror game. Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth languishing somewhere in the middle between a devasted hellscape and an almost utopian paradise, The Last of Us' seasonal vistas provide the game's artists with ample opportunity to craft diverse and identifiable environments for Joel and Ellie to explore.
While the landscapes alone justify picking up this book, The Art of The Last of Us' character and monster designs are undoubtedly the collection's highlights.
11 Halo: The Great Journey - The Art Of Building Worlds
Taking into account Destiny's fantastic art books, it should come as no surprise Bungie's most revered franchise birthed its own memorable illustrations. Published in 2011, Halo: The Great Journey: The Art of Building Worlds' 400 pages cover from 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved all the way to 2011's enhanced port of the same game. The art book does not only show love to Bungie's revered trilogy, as Halo Wars also receives a decent amount of attention.
A decade's worth of content condensed into a collector's item that celebrates the history of Microsoft's flagship license. The Art Of Building Worlds is just as epic as the title suggests!
10 NieR: Automata World Guide
NieR: Automata is a culmination of Yoko Taro's weirdly fascinating career as a game director and writer. Drakengard and Nier's emotional narratives are held back by clunky gameplay, budget visuals, and more stuttering than Fallout 76. NieR: Automata fixes many of these issues by sprinkling a touch of PlatinumGames over a hack-and-slash adventure.
Considering Dark Horse and Square Enix plan to publish an English version of NieR: Automata World Guide later this year, it may seem premature to already rank this book as one of the best of all time. Despite an inability to understand Japanese, the art book's illustrations reduce the language barrier to a minor annoyance. NieR: Automata World Guide is THAT beautiful.
9 The Art Of The Mass Effect Universe
Published as a companion piece to Mass Effect 3, Dark Horse and BioWare's book c0vers the space opera's original trilogy. Mass Effect: Andromeda has its own art book. Even though this album does not contain any real surprises, electing to focus on concept art and creator commentary, Mass Effect's various worlds demand to be explored.
The Normandy's crew members serve as the cornerstones of BioWare's trilogy, and The Art of the Mass Effect Universe knows better than to neglect Liara T'Soni and Garrus Vakarian. If someone played a role in the story, they probably have a page dedicated to them!
8 The Legend Of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
Fond of time traveling and spin-offs with barely a passing connection to each other, The Legend of Zelda's timeline was a point of contention among fans for a great many adventures. In 2011, Nintendo finally chose to set the record straight and published Hyrule Historia, an official record detailing the accurate chronology for the events throughout the franchise.
Hyrule Historia is split into three sections, with the final portion devoting itself solely to art pieces accumulated during The Legend of Zelda's 25 years. This section contains drawings that had yet to be released to the public.
7 The Art Of Darksiders II
Famed comic book writer Joe Madureira handled the art and story for the first two Darksiders. At the time, Madureira was primarily known for Uncanny X-Men, Battle Chasers, and Ultimates 3. Nowadays, he is also recognized for making the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem pretty darn cool!
In an interview with Forbes magazine, Madureira explained that his background in comics complimented Darksiders’ “stylized realism.” While the games’ graphics are quite effective, Madureira’s art needs to be seen to be appreciated! Both books are equally awesome, but personal preference for the sequel just gives the edge to The Art of Darksiders II.
6 The Art Of Oddworld Inhabitants
Lorne Lanning forged a grotesque universe characterized by a twisted sense of humor and endless potential for expansion. At the moment, there are five mainline Oddworld games, although 2014's New 'n' Tasty is a remake of Abe's Oddysee. Regardless of whether addressing the iconic 2D entries or 2005's unexpectedly awesome first-person shooter, Oddworld embodies excellence.
The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants covers the license's first decade, although Stranger's Wrath is represented by some early concept art. The book's cover is a work of beauty in its own right, while the content references concepts that failed to last until the definitive versions of their respective games. The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants is a comprehensive guide to a dark world.
5 The Eyes Of Bayonetta 2
Frankly, this entire list could consist solely of books dedicated to Platinum Games. While the studio's storylines tend to be convoluted to the point of nonsensical, the universes themselves are fascinating. Vanquish, God Hand, and MadWorld's novel aesthetics help set them apart from their contemporaries.
Bayonetta's titular witch is the living embodiment of style and confidence. Such a glamorous protagonist deserves to be immortalized in all of her glory, and The Eyes of Bayonetta accomplish that and more. The first game's art book is great but considerably more expensive than the sequel's companion piece. Both are stunning!
4 Valkyria Chronicles: Design Archive
A new paperback copy of Valkyria Chronicles: Design Archive will set you back nearly $300. At this price, the book is a steal! Set in an alternate reality during a period comparable to World War II, Sega's tactical-RPG impressed critics but initially struggled to ship enough copies to justify porting the second and third entries to home consoles.
Matching the game's unique and elaborate visual design, Valkyria Chronicles: Design Archive comprises 400 pages of military-themed sketches and illustrations. The artwork is unequivocally impeccable, while the sections dedicated to the story and Europa's history add flavor to an already rich world. Pricey as it may be, Valkyria Chronicles: Design Archive is still an easy recommendation.
3 The Art Of Borderlands 2
If Brady Games attempted to incorporate the entire spectrum of guns available in Gearbox's open-world shooter, The Art of Borderlands 2 would have ended up approximately 2000 pages long. Wisely, the publisher elected to pay more attention to the characters and Pandora's locations than the hundreds of different pistols. Do not fret, the art book still contains enough guns to outfit an army!
Besides the stunning photographs, The Art of Borderlands 2 is packed with brief passages recounting the thought process behind the FPS' aesthetic. Borderlands 2 ranks among the greatest shooters of all time and the same can be said about its art book.
2 Breath Of Fire: Official Complete Works
Published in 1993 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Breath of Fire serves as Capcom's singular attempt to produce a traditional turn-based JRPG capable of competing against the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Over the next decade, Breath of Fire spawned four well-received sequels, but 2002's Dragon Quarter essentially brought the franchise to a close.
Breath of Fire: Official Complete Works is a pricey and rare item, a fact that works against the collection. Assembling artwork from all five games, fans are likely to get a kick out of the amassed paintings and commentary. Considering the games tend to also be rather expensive, it only makes sense the art book costs an arm and a leg!
1 Ōkami Official Complete Works
Clearly, art books are pretty awesome. However, most can only be fully appreciated by someone with a passing knowledge of the game. Ōkami Official Complete Works is the one exception. Never played Clover Studio's action-adventure masterpiece? No problem. Not particularly fond of Japanese titles? Not an issue. Have never touched a controller in your life? Do not sweat it.
Ōkami's cel-shaded graphics are reminiscent of water colored paintings. Ōkami Official Complete Works could have consisted of nothing but gameplay screenshots and the book would have nevertheless ranked on this list. It goes without saying, but Ōkami Official Complete Works accomplishes far more than the bare minimum. There are the usual sections devoted to characters and storyboards, but the standout chapter features an array of paintings created by an in-game artist named Issun.
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