I'm posting this about two weeks after Tears of the Kingdom was released. I assume 99% of people who would be interested in anything on this site are playing it. This has been on my hard drive for too long and I need to either post it or delete it. Posting it when no one is looking is meeting halfway. Besides, playing Tears of the Kingdom reminded me of this semi-article. The main theme here is asset reuse in games.
This is one of the laziest articles I've put together. I took screenshots of games I was already playing and did some reverse image searches. That's hardly difficult work. It's appropriate that this is lazy because it's about a developer (I otherwise admire) doing something lazy.
I'm also filing it under the "retro gaming" category because I'm too lazy to create a "games that weren't yet retro when I wrote about them" category. This site has been around for over 20 years so maybe you're looking at this in another 20 years anyway. Eventually that category will be correct.
When I first played Trails of Cold Steel III there was something bugging me. Many locations in the game have paintings in the background. They look nice and add a little atmosphere. Something about the paintings in this game felt very familiar. They could have been in the previous two games, a lot of assets are reused across them. They take place in the same world, naturally decorative art from Trails of Cold Steel I&II would appear in the later games.
It wasn't until Trails of Cold Steel IV when an extremely obvious observation clicked. These paintings also appeared in Tokyo Xanadu.
Painting in Trails of Cold Steel III
Painting in Trails of Cold Steel IV
Painting in Tokyo Xanadu
That one is The Drawing Lesson by Jan Steen: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Steen_-_The_Drawing_Lesson_-_83.PB.388_-_J._Paul_Getty_Museum.jpg - this was one of the easiest to find.
Tokyo Xanadu is a game I'll probably do a separate piece about. It's a Trails/Ys hybrid set in a Persona-like environment. I think it's pretty good. Maybe it's something only weird Falcom fans enjoy.
There's one thing about it for sure - it doesn't take place in the same world as Trails of Cold Steel. Maybe a future game will connect them in some spacetime warpy way.
You know what other series doesn't occur in the same world as either of these games? Ys.
OK, Trails of Cold Steel and Ys are both games that exist in the world of Tokyo Xanadu. They aren't all games set in the same world. I hope that makes sense. Tokyo Xanadu is set in 2015 in a city where electronics stores only sell Falcom games. I'm sure there are some fringe theories connecting the Ys and Trails series since they contain references to each other. I wouldn't buy any of them. It's much simpler to say that Falcom enjoys fan service references.
Ys VIII is a contemporary of Tokyo Xanadu and Trails of Cold Steel III. Like Tokyo Xanadu it started as a Vita game and was later upgraded to PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. It's set on an uninhabited cursed island. Fine art isn't something you stumble across. Ys IX takes place in what I would describe as 19th century France. It has paintings, the same paintings as those previous games.
Painting in Trails of Cold Steel IV
Painting in Tokyo Xanadu
Painting in Ys IX
This time it's Interior of St. Peter's by Giovanni Paolo Panini: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giovanni_Paolo_Panini_-_Interior_of_St._Peter%27s,_Rome.jpg - the colors have been severely flushed but there's enough detail to make a match.
Alright, so Falcom is reusing paintings. Is that lazy? Duh. Is it bad? I don't think so. If a game is good I don't care if the developer re-hashes things. Nintendo could have made 20 games in the original Legend of Zelda engine, but with different maps, and I would own them all. I'm finishing this article while taking a very short break from Tears of the Kingdom. Now there's a game with asset reuse. It's unreasonable to think a developer would start from scratch with every new game. It would be downright stupid of them actually. Falcom has averaged one original 40-100 hour RPG every year since 2003. Go ahead and look that up, I'll wait. That's an incredible amount of content over a 20 year span. No offense to Square-Enix but they'd be up to Final Fantasy XL if they kept that pace.
I don't care that these paintings keep being reused. I'm just curious where they all came from. I suspect they're all paintings old enough to be in the public domain. Let's see what I can track down...
Obligatory disclaimers first: I am not an art expert or even novice, this is probably missing some paintings, it does not (but may later) include Trails into Reverie. I assume the next games in the Trails series are still a few years off of a US release so don't expect to see them here. Maybe when they're localized in like 2026 I'll add them.
First one up is Landscape in Suffolk by Thomas Gainsborough: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Gainsborough_-_Landscape_in_Suffolk_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
There were many paintings that kind of looked like this. The cloud and tree patterns match, as does the red dress.
It's a little difficult to make out in Trails of Cold Steel III.
However, it's very obvious in Tokyo Xanadu. Once this was matched it was easy to see the shapes in the other two examples.
Here it is just casually on the floor in Ys IX.
Bacchanalian Scene by Clemente Spera and Alessandro Magnasco: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Magnasco,_Alessandro_and_Spera,_Clemente_-_Bacchanalian_Scene_-_1710s.PNG
There are again many paintings that look very similar. This one matched based on the two statues at the top of the buildings.
Here it is in the art gallery in Tokyo Xanadu.
The nearby coffee shop has a reproduction, or maybe this is the original like in another JRPG.
The lighting is bad but here it is in Ys IX.
Next is a two for one...
Ancient Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giovanni_Paolo_Panini_%E2%80%93_Ancient_Rome.jpg
Modern Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giovanni_Paolo_Pannini_-_Picture_Gallery_with_Views_of_Modern_Rome_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
These are similar paintings and the colors are really mangled in these games.
This example from Trails of Cold Steel III is a really poor version of this painting. The original is so much more colorful.
Both of these are in the art gallery in Tokyo Xanadu.
Dresden by Moonlight by Johan Christian Dahl : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johan_Christian_Dahl_-_Dresden_by_Moonlight_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
This painting is very sad to me. It was painted in 1845, at the tail end of the industrial revolution. The moonlight over the old city skyline is being drowned out by smoke. I feel that must have been a purposeful choice. I don't know jack about art interpretation but I can't see it another way.
It's again dark in Trails of Cold Steel III but the skyline and river are unmistakable.
It's easier to make out in Cold Steel IV.
Tokyo Xanadu has the clearest version. The colors aren't too far off the original.
The Maas at Dordrecht by Aelbert Cuyp: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aelbert_Cuyp_-_The_Maas_at_Dordrecht_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
This was tough to match because it was cropped. The water and birds are missing but the remaining parts are a solid match.
The version in Trails of Cold Steel III is a bit too dark.
It's in better lighting in the next game, making it easier to match to the original.
Souvenir de Mortefontaine by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Souvenir_de_Mortefontaine_-_Jean-Baptiste_Camille_Corot_-_Mus%C3%A9e_du_Louvre_Peintures_MI_692_bis.jpg
The palette change completely rearranges the theme of this painting. The original looks like a family picking fruit or flowers. The Falcom rendering resembles a wasteland.
It's another art gallery piece in Tokyo Xanadu.
In Ys IX it's only recognizable because of the tree shape.
Azalea Garden by Yoshida Hiroshi: https://ukiyo-e.org/image/jaodb/Yoshida_Hiroshi-No_Series-Azalea_Garden-00041048-071130-F06
This only appears in one game that I can tell. It's from 1935 making it one of the newer pieces. If it was created in the US it wouldn't yet be public domain under our goofy rules.
Again in the art gallery, although a different theme than the majority of pieces there.
Rapids by Yoshida Hiroshi: https://ukiyo-e.org/image/jaodb/Yoshida_Hiroshi-No_Series-Rapids-00035817-100105-F06
Yeah, I found this by assuming they used more than one painting from this artist. I didn't think I'd find a match for this painting when I first saw it because it looks like a thousand others.
It's cropped quite a bit though.
Spain Pays Homage to Religion and to the Church by Corrado Giaquinto: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corrado_Giaquinto_-_Spain_Pays_Homage_to_Religion_and_to_the_Church,_1759.jpg
This strikes me as a very religious piece of art to include. It's the kind of thing Nintendo would have scrubbed in the 1980s-1990s. It's scaled down to where the religious symbols are unrecognizable though.
In Tokyo Xanadu it's super dark and looks like a promo poster.
It's also dark in Ys IX but easier to match to the original now.
Battle of Clavijo by Corrado Giaquinto: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Clavijo_by_Giaquinto.jpg
Another case where the same artist is used twice. I wouldn't have matched this without first browsing other works from the last one. It is seriously cropped and did not turn up in a reverse image search.
This is how it originally looks in Ys IX.
This is a color enhanced version that makes it easy to identify.
Arcadian Landscape by Jan van Huysum: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SA_25174-Arcadisch_landschap.jpg
This was not an obvious match at first. It's very downscaled which is a shame because the original is really nice. I'm not a big art guy (obviously) but this is the painting I spent the most time looking at. There is a lot of detail in it.
I saw this once in Trails of Cold Steel III but it's probably elsewhere. The colors have been enhanced.
View Of Kostverloren Castle On The Amstel by Jacob Isaaksz: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/view-of-kostverloren-castle-on-the-amstel-oil-on-canvas-jacob-isaaksz-or-isaacksz-van-ruisdael.html
I might be wrong on this one. The placement and shape of the trees is what I'm going off.
Here it is in Trails of Cold Steel IV.
There were several paintings I couldn't track down. I might try again in the future. For now I'm giving up.
This appears in Ys IX and is a nice reference to the original game. I suspect it's a small part of a larger painting. The colors are enhanced but it's not helpful.
This might appear in other games too. There were many similar images but not an exact match.
Castle with fountain
This had way too many potential matches and none of them were really all that close. Stuff like photos of Disneyland came back.
This is from Trails of Cold Steel III. Again there were too many potential matches.
Depsite the outfit and hair, this is from Trails of Cold Steel IV.
Castle with wall
This appears like once in Trails of Cold Steel III. I tried fixing the colors but that didn't help.
This screenshot is from Trails of Cold Steel IV but I think it appears elsewhere. Again there are too many matches and none that are obviously it.
This looks nice and matches about a dozen similar paintings.
This looks like a cave. The style resembles the other works by Hiroshi Yoshida but I couldn't find a match.
Way too grainy
I'm sure this is something but good luck figuring it out.
Peasant house interior
I'm calling this "peasant house interior" because the search results turned up many paintings with names like that, none of them were a match though.
Here it is in the art gallery.
It appears again in Ys IX.
This one looks like an image that has been resized a few times. Like it was scaled down to something smaller, maybe for one of the PlayStation Portable era games then that version was resized larger.
Here it is in Trails of Cold Steel III.
Again in part IV, still not identifiable.
This is another one that's too common to get a match.
I feel like is maybe a small part of a larger painting.
This looks like a town with a riverfront along the bottom. It's too dark to do anything with it. I thought maybe it was another piece by Johan Christian Dahl but couldn't find a match.
Yet another case where there are many very similar images that match.
This matched a lot of photographs that are similar but definitely not the same.
I suspect it's actually a painting despite these matches and how much it looks like a photograph.
This one frustrated me because I thought it would be easy to find. It was the first one I looked for and I nearly gave up on this idea because of it. Maybe I should have gone with that gut reaction...
Here it is in Trails of Cold Steel III.
It appears again in Ys IX.
This is the best I could do with the colors. I think this must be part of a larger painting.
I don't even know if calling this a watercolor is accurate. This is from Trails of Cold Steel III, no clue what it is. It looks nice though.
Various paintings in Tokyo Xanadu
Let's wrap this up with a few paintings in Tokyo Xanadu I couldn't track down. They are probably all from Hiroshi Yoshida. The bottom left one looks a lot like Kagurazaka Street after a Night Rain (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kagurazaka_Street_after_a_Night_Rain_(5759570482).jpg), if so it's a small piece of it.
Alright, so this article was probably a bad idea. That's why it's good I'm publishing it when nobody will care. Maybe I'll go back and add the later games but no promises.