Innovation should not be a surprise for a series. Rather, it should be expected to see change in a long-standing series.
There are tons of games nowadays that exist as either sequels or remakes to old or long-standing franchises. The “God of War” series is now 16 years old, encapsulating Kratos’ reign from being just another demigod to literally ending the entire world.
That obviously didn’t stick when they made the sequel to the entire franchise called “God of War” (certainly not confusing), and thus setting the world on fire once more with its amazing characters and immaculate graphics. However, what didn’t really remain with the new “God of War” was the gameplay style and scale of the conflict. While Kratos was still hilariously powerful, he spent all of his time in this place controlling his anger and strength to set a good example for Atreaus, Krato’s son. He didn’t want to constantly hulk out and arbitrarily kill everyone he saw like he used to. Due to this massive change in attitude to structure and design, the gameplay was far more intimate and the game was third-person instead of the pulled-away camera of the series. Instead of committing mass deicide like the good old days, Kratos spent nearly all of his time trying not to kill anyone who he thought wasn’t a threat and even tried to mediate peace with those who were, in fact, incredibly dangerous.
That’s innovation in motion — a completely different feel, yet just as celebrated, if not more, than the previous games in the series. The new “God of War” is a shining pedestal and a celebration to change and its positive effects on a game. The fresh feel of the game revitalized interest in the franchise and now the series is getting another game in the same style as the last.
More often than not however, innovation is an incredibly difficult thing for developers to make appealing to their more hardcore audience.
Pokémon’s main formula has not changed in literal decades. Countless jokes about the lack of change in the series has led to stagnation in the games, as well as major criticism for things that they merely claim are true. With hardly any change to the series, there is always a debate about the validity and the value of the new games due to how formulaic and greedy the yearly installment affair feels. Every new generation of Pokémon leads to yet another argument to the lack of quality in the Pokémon and how the originals were better. Their attempts to innovate have hardly stuck as well and have often come off to the fanbase as gimmicks.
Mega-evolutions were a technical final evolution beyond the standard ways of evolving a Pokémon that many in the community greatly appreciated as it…was completely removed in later games, which led to the next big thing which is Dynamaxing, which can be used on all Pokémon and… Doesn’t seem to be in the newer games coming out. Oftentimes, that is when you hear older players of the games stating how boring the combat is now due to how long they’ve been doing it with little to no change. Yet, somehow, there is a spin-off Pokémon game that tons of people are excited for. Unlike the usual gameplay, it is taking on an open-world approach with more grounded engagements and a unique setting. Additionally, they are adding a fundamentally interesting and universal mechanic that both enhances the experience and feels like it could be in future games due to its simplicity. All of this is exactly what the fans wanted. Innovation. They expected it throughout the generations, yet received next to nothing. Now that they are finally getting something fresh and exciting there is a palpable energy to the communication regarding the series.
That is what innovation can bring, regardless of what fans may feel about a game and its mechanics. An interesting take or game-changing experiences can inspire older players to try out the new version of a game. That benefits both parties. Players get something new and developers are given the opportunity to work on something unique.
We can’t, however, talk about innovation in games without mentioning the greatest laughingstock of gaming when it comes to fresh ideas.
Fifa, whatever year, is just as bland a game as its title. There are tons of jokes at the expense of Fifa’s gameplay due to the repetitive and rigid nature of these games. The only innovations from year to year in these games are what they cut out of the core experience to sell to players instead.
While I do specifically ridicule Fifa here, it is pretty consistent throughout the entire industry that innovation and realistic sports games don’t often mix in the best ways.
A very recent example is “eFootball” by Konami.
While Konami is best known for insidiously killing all of their best works and splaying the bodies of their once acclaimed masterpieces on worthless gambling machines, they are also known for their soccer game “Pro Evolution Soccer” (whatever year). However, recently they moved it over into a free to play model with all of the worst trappings of the games industry. It’s on early access despite coming from a multi-million dollar company and not some random dude (though the bug team might be just that), it will be getting loot boxes that you can preorder and all the athletes look like they’re candles slowly melting under the hot sun.
That groundbreaking innovation in the world of “eFootball” obviously didn’t enchant the minds of the public with whatever the hell Konami expected out of launching something so early. Like telling someone you’re going to make them an omelet and then chucking an egg, tomato and a live pig at their face and asking how they felt about the meal after doing so. The unfinished product left a lot to be desired by the public leaving an overwhelmingly negative score on Steam with thousands of reviews.
Konami’s flaw is not making video games, but how it tests patience and gullibility with their lack of understanding that innovation means to improve a franchise. They don’t put a gun to the series’ head and force it to dig its own shallow grave before dooming it to the pachinko hell.
Innovation is the lifeblood of a series and oftentimes a lack of good innovation is the death of a franchise.