Yabbut everything is derivative.
That's why its easy for me to walk up off of the street and look at five pieces of concept art and a screenshot and say "this looks like a mix of Anime and Disney with just a dash of Heavy Metal Comics" or "this looks like the Little Mermaid (in one of those kickass motorcycle exoskeleton thingies from Robotech) Meets the Bionicles."
I know that artists like to think they're unique (and hide their influences by choosing influences that they think nobody else has noticed) and all that but sometimes that gets in their own way, instead of working with the things they're influenced by and increasing their appreciation and understanding of the materials they're working with, to become more powerful, they might start fighting against it all, like a little kid who wants independence from his parents just for the sake of independence or something.
Y'know, that's why the guy that is obviously drawing something that we all know is "this and that" is always like, "no its not! I hate this and that stuff!" or whatever heh.
Where he could be all like, "yah dude, I love that show, y'know what was really cool about it?" or something, and then he'd be drawing on all the powers of the forces he's working with, and standing on the shoulders of giants, insteada fighting with 'em.
Think about how you can get Tarantino to talk about the shit he likes, and he pulls you right into it, and because he can explain his appreciation and understanding of the things he likes better than the next guy, 'cause he knows more about 'em, and 'cause he ain't shy of the way he loves certain things, you end up becoming a fan of the things he likes, too.
I think the "style" of the art of a game world doesn't matter so much, I mean, I have a blast playing those Lego Star Wars games with my brother's kids, and Legos don't turn me on (I was always too poor to have Legos when I was a kid so I'm not one of you Lego Guys heh).
And as a gamer, I'm perfectly happy with WoW's disney-like cartoony graphics, and I've seen some Clash of the Titans shorelines in WoW with ruins sticking up out of the sand and the sun on the water that were better than anything I've ever seen like that in any other game (or anything else that I can think of besides games, actually).
Its all in what you do with it, y'know.
Of course, there's a part of me that might not want to run around and be a part of your world if I don't like the people that I think you are trying to attract.
And there's the way you might overpower me with your style like a dude wearing too much cologne, insteada trying to make sure that it doesn't totally get in the way of a fun game, for the people who don't get or don't care what its all about, 'cause you ain't explained why they should.
There's a subtle war there that you need to fight, 'cause there's always a part of you that wants to really show off your stuff to the people who like the same stuff as you, 'cause those are the only opinions that really matter, the non-ignorant opinions, which would make you way too extreme for the folks who haven't seen nothing like it before.
That's where the derivative thing can really help you, 'cause if you ain't a stickler for stylizing the shit out of everything, to make it different from everything else, you can add elements that provide something like an evolutionary map to where you went to, y'know, a trail of bread crumbs, bits and pieces of stuff and hat tips that show your appreciation for things, like the way that all the awesome Ralph McQuarrie spaceships were really old-looking in Star Wars to make it all seem "realer," and the hopeful future governed-by-intelligence stuff from Star Trek, and the dude who did the artwork for Warhammer 40,000, and that tank robot from Ghost in the Shell, and the kickass motorcycles from Akira, and that swirling peach blossom (or whatever the hell that was) fight from House of Flying Daggers (or whatever the hell it is that I'm thinking of heh), and whatever else you were influenced by, and that'll work like signposts to help people follow you to some new place you want them to go to, lined with more familiar things that'll make the people who share your appreciation for all those different things feel more at home.
Which allows you to weld them and all their appreciations for all those different things together and get them on your side.
Sorry this is winding off the track pretty crazy but I really don't really have enough information to do anything that isn't super meta and overly general (which is good for folks who don't give a crap about games or a specific game anyways).
And I definitely ain't got anything to say about the IP thingie 'cause I ain't really seen anything that isn't super vague and generic on that end, IP thingies are all about the details, even more than the "style" dealie, I mean, when you consider something like Iron Man, you are looking at something that has become almost completely style-independent over the years, you can have Batman done in fifty different styles (the Dark Knight, Tim Burton's, Adam West's, etc.) and its still Batman.
And then you got all the rip-offs of Batman over all the years to think about too heh.
And all the things that Batman was rip-offed from ahaha.