The most common criticism of the Pokémon franchise is its lack of innovation. From one generation to another, the series adds new Pokémon, better graphics, and slight tweaks to the battle system, but that’s normally about it. Nothing about the initial unveiling of Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby appeared to change that. After all, it was right on schedule. (The past two games, Black 2 and White 2, and X and Y, were also released in October.)
That changed yesterday.
Yesterday, it was announced that the secret base from Ruby and Sapphire is returning in the remakes with all kinds of new features. The revamped secret base is bringing something to the table that the entire franchise has been sorely lacking:
The series has never done much to mix up the formula, but the secret base is going to allow players to basically create their own gyms. This idea is interesting enough on its own, but it becomes even more interesting with the inclusion of streetpass and QR codes. These new additions will allow people to enter your secret base and vice versa. This is going to give the already long game endless replayability. Even after you beat the eight gyms, you still could have millions left to play. The new and improved secret base could be what the series needs to take the next step forward.
The original secret base was one of the new features in the original Ruby and Sapphire games. While it was a nice idea in theory, very few people actually used it. It was more of a decorative distraction than an essential component of the game. The new, revitalized secret base looks to change that. While its ambitions are lofty, that’s just the kind of aim the franchise needs to take. In my opinion, the franchise has taken a few steps back in the past couple of years.
Beginning with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the franchise started to get just a tad stale. The fourth generation of Pokémon was good in its own right, but it lacked the same creativity as its preceding generations. With Pokémon Black and White, that changed. While the core gameplay remained in tact, the story took a mature direction. Instead of being about saving the world or stopping Team Rocket, the story focuses on Team Plasma’s attempts to eradicate Pokémon from their trainers. Everyone who has ever played a Pokémon game has wondered at some point, “Why do they make the pokémon fight each other?” Instead of dodging this question, Black and White tackles it head on with a story that features intriguing moral dilemmas, deep character development, and a remarkable conclusion. The first pair of games in Pokémon’s fifth generation innovated the story and the series as a whole in a way that has not been matched by any other game in the series.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 initially appeared to signal a new day for the franchise, but as a “great” review for it said, “Pokémon White 2 fails to do what sequels are meant to do: properly continue the narrative.” Instead of taking another step into a story-focused future, Black 2 and White 2 blundered the advancements of its predecessor.
To kick off the sixth generation of Pokémon, Pokémon X and Y updated the franchise’s, long-used 2D graphical style with a new, fresh look. Unfortunately, that’s about where the innovation stops. X and Y is an easier, less-challenging game that caters to the franchise’s younger audience and leaves older players wanting more. The story is also the worst the series has ever seen by a landslide. X and Y was not a bad game, but it was the continuation of underwhelming Pokémon games.
Despite the franchise’s missteps in recent years, the announcement of the secret base alone gives hope that the franchise will find its footing again. Creating and designing your own gym could easily become Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby’s most compelling feature. Granted, there are quite a few ways this could go wrong. If there are not a satisfactory number of ways to design the gym’s puzzles, the secret base will fail to differentiate itself from a normal wifi battle. On the other hand, if Game Freak delivers a creative new way to play a classic game, Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby might be able to attract an even greater audience do to one wonderful thing:
Innovation does not necessarily lead to a better game, but it often leads to a more exciting experience. Innovation does not necessarily guarantee greater sales, but it often leads to an increased level of interest. Innovation does not necessarily have the solution to Pokémon’s recent struggles, but it may after all.
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