You have just explained a missing piece that puzzled me about the HD art. I knew I’d have a bias towards the old, one which is normally only worn down by exposure to the new. The mythologizing of the “good old days” is pretty typical, and I’m aware of a conservative streak in myself (as in opposed to change, not so much politics) . So when I didn’t really care much for the new art, I wasn’t surprised, and decided to just give it time.
I just took a look back, and ug, much of the old stuff isn’t anywhere near as nice as I remembered, so that makes sense. But one thing in particular stuck out when I first switched up, which was the characters in the cutscenes. Sure enough, I look back to the first sequence, and Azra really does have something a bit special in the old art! What happened? I think we’ve got the same effect in play - the old, flat, bright primary colors, and the wildly exaggerated expressions, meant that I feel Azra’s emotions bleeding out of the screen. In the newer and “better” looking art, there is just that little bit extra going on, and something got a little lost.
With acclamation, it really isn’t significant factor - I’ve gotten used to the new look even for that. (For the rare occasion I’m not skipping past it in a speed run.) And I’m sure this is riding the edge where different people will react differently to the two versions - you’ve got most of those same shortcuts/tricks in play still. Something about the extra hair and texturing crossed a small threshold for me and took a step into the “too busy” camp even as it got more realistic.
I suspect it is part of what gave this game it’s legs honestly. I rarely put a conscious value on art, and not much even on story - I claim 'tis all about gameplay and mechanics. But I know the story grabbed me, more than once. I’m also starting to think the art fed that too by skirting the uncanny valley entirely and going anime style communication. Still put the absolutely stunning gameplay depth/complexity/balance as the #1 for me though - I 'beat" the game with the 100% hero mode, and am still learning about it as I support the speed runs and log a few of my own. Getting that sort of lightning to strike twice still seams nigh on impossible to me - but hitting all the other points like art and story are sure to make a very good sequel, even if it misses the magic.