What’s the most powerful texture-mapping technology in the world?
The most powerful texture-mapping technology is the player’s imagination. If you can spark their imagination and get them to buy in, then it won’t matter how limited the rendering technology of your characters is. The player will treat them as if they were real.
The cardinal example is Aeris from Final Fantasy VII. Aeris was represented onscreen by a simple model (I’d be surprised if it were over 300 polys) and was textured in a simple manner.
And yet, when she died, fans wept.
Square took the next logical step in Final Fantasy VIII. In that game, whenever a new character is introduced, we are treated to a beautiful full-motion video of that character (typically doing something supercool). We, the players, then “map” that first impression of the character onto the limited models Square used in the actual gameplay.
By the same token, Bioware gets professional voice actors to record some dialog for each of the main characters in its RPGs. When the player meets a new character, the first few exchanges with them will have speech, so that the player now knows what the character sounds like and can hear the character in their heads even when speech isn’t provided. It’s a very effective technique.
Of course, if you don’t have one of the best computer animation groups in the industry and you can’t afford quality voice actors, you might be able to achieve the same effect with just a great plot and well-written characters.