Video game concept artists work hard to deliver unique characters, environments, costumes, weapons, and visuals for every new game. RPGs tend to have the most unique requirements for concept art and no company does RPGs better than Square-Enix.
The two game development companies of Square and Enix have been creating games since the 1980s. They merged in 2003 and have since built an empire of unique titles and long-lasting game series.
Concept artists can learn a lot by studying production art and applying similar techniques to their own work. And the best place to find production art is game art books.
This gallery focuses solely on Square-Enix art books that feature the best concept art. If you’re into RPGs or just really appreciate the Square-Enix style then these artbooks will prove invaluable on your bookshelf.
Final Fantasy Ultimanias
You can’t talk about Square-Enix games without referencing Final Fantasy. This series has over 60 different titles including sequels, spinoffs, and remakes. It is by far the largest RPG series in the world and the artwork is produced by a very talented team of artists.
I always recommend checking out the Final Fantasy Ultimanias because they have so much rare production art that cannot be found elsewhere. However all these books are published in Japanese so you won’t be able to read any interviews without knowing the language.
If you’re only interested in concept art then go with the 25th anniversary ultimanias. Square-Enix published three different volumes as compendiums between all the Final Fantasy games.
These 25th anniversary artbooks were released to celebrate the history of the entire Final Fantasy series. I’m truly amazed at how much concept art is squished into these books, each totaling 300+ pages long.
You get concept art for basically everything including characters, creatures, props, weapons, vehicles and environments. But these compendium books only have so much artwork for each game. You can actually find more artwork for each game if you buy the individual ultimanias, but this approach would be much more expensive.
For example searching for all Final Fantasy X Ultimanias yields over 6 different books. There are three books for FFX, two books for FFX-2, and a new ultimania for the FFX HD release.
Every ultimania contains different pieces of concept art for different aspects of the title. Each Final Fantasy game has varying numbers of ultimanias, some much more than others.
If you’re interested in a very specific Final Fantasy game then try to find copies of the individual ultimanias. But the 25th anniversary artbooks are truly incredible and for the price you get a lot of official concept art.
One of the newer game series from Square-Enix that has seen lots of success is Bravely Default. The series has its own Bravely Default artbook with 250 pages of concept art from the game.
Most of the designs focus on character concepts with sketches, poses, and costume designs for different characters in the game. But there is a bunch of other concept art for creatures, props, and environments too.
Ultimately this book has everything you could ask for in a concept art compendium. There’s so much to pick up and it’s all in that traditional Square-Enix art style.
A sequel titled Bravely Second was released and has a similar art book full of incredible concept art.
If you’re a fan of the series then both books are well worth adding to your bookshelf. The games are also fun to play, but aspiring concept artists will learn more studying these books than playing the games.
In early 2002 Squaresoft partnered with Disney to release Kingdom Hearts. The game started out slow but rapidly grew an audience of loyal followers who fell in love with the characters, the worlds, and the storyline.
Years later Squaresoft has merged to Square-Enix but the Kingdom Hearts series is still going strong. There are many different Kingdom Hearts Ultimanias just like the FF artbooks. These ultimanias have so much rare artwork that you’d be sitting pretty to own even one of them.
And if you are going for just one I’d recommend picking up Shiro Amano: The Artwork of Kingdom Hearts. This artbook spans the entirety of Amano’s work on the series with postcards, promo art, and lots of concept art.
It may not have everything you’re looking for but it is the best art book to grab if you’re only getting one. But you might go with an ultimania if you’re only interested in a single game from the series.
For example the Revised Edition KH Ultimania has 600+ pages with a huge collection of concept art from the first game. The book is in Japanese so English speakers won’t be able to read anything. But the artwork is incredible and there’s so much to go around.
There is one other big KH artbook that I recommend which is a combo of all the games. It has so much rare concept art and pre-production art, but it’s also completely in Japanese(big surprise).
But if you’re a genuine fan of Kingdom Hearts you really can’t go wrong with any of their artbook.
The very first Tactics Ogre game was released for Super Nintendo in 1995 to a Japanese audience of RPG fanatics. Today it’s a lesser-known title in Square-Enix’s lineup, but still commands a dedicated fanbase.
Back in 2011 the team released Tactics Ogre Art Works Book. It’s a hardcover collection of beautiful concept art with 230 pages of characters, props, and environments from the games.
This particular art book is one of the only examples I’ve found with detailed concept art from the Tactics Ogre series. There are many strategy guides but they usually have promo art rather than concept art.
For a tactical RPG title there’s a lot to say about the depth of concept art used in Tactics Ogre. The art department gave so much effort to the game’s design, and this book is perfect for anyone who wants to study these designs or mimic the style in their own work.
Art of Thief
The 2014 video game Thief was published by Square-Enix following a long line of Thief video games. This isn’t an RPG of any kind, but rather a stealth/adventure game where you accomplish tasks through furtive maneuvers.
The same year as the 2014 game was released we got The Art of Thief. It’s a hardcover art book featuring 192 pages of concept art from the game. The limited edition copy is a bit pricier but also a valuable collector’s item.
Finding a copy can be difficult but this shouldn’t dissuade you from grabbing a copy—especially if you’re a fan of the Thief game series.
You get concept art for all the characters, props, puzzles, weapons, loot, and the city environments. There’s also a large section dedicated to storyboard work plus featured interviews with the creators.
Dragon Quest Monster Encyclopedia
Every RPG gamer has likely heard of Dragon Quest(or Dragon Warrior in America). It’s a popular RPG that rose in popularity around the same time of Final Fantasy.
It has a very similar history and the game’s 25th anniversary had a Dragon Quest creature illustration book published in celebration. This is a typical Japanese oversized art book that covers every single creature from the Dragon Quest video game series.
You will never find a larger compilation of monster artwork for any Square-Enix RPG that’s larger than this book. It’s just shy of 500 pages and has stats+artwork on every monster in the game.
Unfortunately the entire book is published in Japanese with no English option. So as a reference guide it’s completely useless to English audiences.
But the artwork is truly incredible and it’s a worthy collector’s item for any Dragon Quest fan.
There is another small Dragon Quest art book for much cheaper, but it’s mostly full of comics & illustrations from the game artists.
Chrono Trigger Ultimania
Chrono Trigger is a true blue classic RPG for the Super Nintendo. This game has seen a few sequels and the Chrono Trigger Ultimania is a beautiful guide to the entire game world.
It’s full of illustrations, storyboards, characters and environments made by Square-Enix concept artists. This ultimania is a classic game art megabook with 600 pages of artwork and strategies.
Since this is a Japan exclusive you won’t find it anywhere in English. And finding a brand new copy is almost impossible.
But if you’re OK with a decent used copy there are tons of options out there. You’ll find illustrations and concept sketches from a completely different era of RPG game design.
If you want something a little more current(and cheaper) then check out the Chrono Trigger NDS Bible. This does have some artwork but it’s also a Japan-only item so the content is useless to folks who can’t read Japanese. Thankfully it also has lots of pretty pictures that are perfect for concept art inspiration.
Square-Enix’s Star Ocean series has a long history of brilliant games with exceptional artbooks. Unfortunately none have ever been released in America, but you can find many of these artbooks online.
In fact there are quite a few Star Ocean art books with different publications for different games. The Star Ocean Illustration Collection is perhaps the most useful for concept artists.
These books are the same as most other Square-Enix books: beautiful for the art but useless as a reference guide(unless you know Japanese). Since all of these games were created in Japan it’s no surprise that the Japanese audience gets the best merchandise.
With the power of the Internet now everyone around the world can own these great Star Ocean artbooks. Specifically the newest Star Ocean 5 artbook which can be tricky to hunt down.
If you’re looking for English media check out the Star Ocean 5 Collector’s Edition Guide published by Prima Games. It’s mostly a walkthrough for the game but it does have some promo artwork littered throughout the pages.
I Am Setsuna
The newest Square-Enix game in this article is Project Setsuna/I Am Setsuna. It’s a Japanese RPG published by Square-Enix in mid-2016.
Believe it or not this game already has a brilliant artbook out for release to the public. Of course it’s a Japan-only product but it has some of the most beautiful concept art you’ll ever see.
The game itself is a top-down strategy game with RPG elements. Gameplay is very unique and it shows how much game developers are moving in different directions.
At this time of writing this article the book has been titled “Project Ikenie Yuki I Am Setsuna Game Art Book”. This is a loose translation from Japanese, and since it’s so new the price is higher than most other artbooks.
But this also means there are plenty of copies to go around.
Artwork features characters, props, costumes, vehicles, and all the typical concept artwork you’d expect from a Square-Enix AAA title.
But the best part of this book is the environment art. It has such a unique style and I Am Setsuna proves that it’s a brilliant modern RPG with its roots in classic RPG concept art.
If you’re interested in any of these games then definitely check out how many different art books have been published. Since most are in Japanese it can be tough searching, but all that rare concept art is worth the effort.
And if you’re a Square-Enix lover then you’ll be satisfied with any of these artbooks.
If you’re hoping to become a professional concept artist then it helps to study other work from AAA titles. It doesn’t get much bigger than Square-Enix, so pick up whatever game artbooks interest you the most and strive towards that level of quality in your own work.