By now, we’re all well familiar with Pokemon Go. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying this landmark title has changed the way many people play on their phones and revolutionized the concept of catching and collecting the iconic critters. Yet while Go introduces many players to the concept of augmented reality and offers a novel game experience, the mainline series of Pokemon games has remained oddly stagnant for years.
Not much has changed in the world of Pokemon since Red and Green hit back in Japan, 1996. We’ve seen graphical updates, new creatures, and a variety of supplementary features, but the core gameplay remains very much the same. After 20 years, the basic gameplay has grown familiar - you still pick a starter Pokemon from the same pool of three elements, build a team of six, battle others using a set of four moves in turn-based combat, use the same recycled special “HM”s to fly around or cut down trees, defeat eight gym leaders, and ultimately go up against the final elite four and a champion. The stories and environments may change, but for one of the most popular video game series ever made, is this inability to advance acceptable?
For comparison’s sake we can look at a similar classic Japanese role-playing game series, Final Fantasy. Initially debuting in 1987, Final Fantasy has evolved through multiple styles and gameplay systems, from turn based, to real-time battles, to whatever FFXIII was. Coincidentally, including Pokemon’s remakes and “definitive editions” (games like Yellow and Crystal) both series now total fifteen mainline games. However, the difference in progression from both series’ original releases and upcoming respective games is stark.
Will the series’ charms always be enough to support its fanbase without real, deep innovation? Despite the changes that Pokemon X and Y were supposed to bring with the move to 3D, many players including myself still felt that this wasn’t enough, and the franchise may be unwilling to ever move passed its roots. Not as though most of the millions of Poke-fans out there aren’t happy enough with the yearly installations, but how many more iterations can this recycled gameplay loop last into the future, especially now that Pokemon Go has delivered a more unique experience?
Fortunately, it does seem that Nintendo is at least attempting to deviate from traditions with the forthcoming Pokemon Sun and Moon, as evident from the latest trailer depicting several changes in formula. The video portrays what may be a replacement to the classic gym leader progression, with new trials and even exploration quests to proceed onward to the game’s four island locales. Even the tired HM system may be given an overhaul, with rideable Pokemon to traverse normally blocked off terrain. It’s a small start, but it’s a nice foot forward in any case. Only time will tell when this new generation drops on November 16 if these and any additional changes are enough to prove Pokemon still has a place in modern gaming.
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