When Genshin Impact, the wildly popular action RPG from miHoYo, was first announced, the game’s exploration-focused gameplay and brightly-colored, semi-cel shaded visuals had a not-exactly-subtle similarity to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Now that Genshin Impact has been released, there are a lot more shared aspects between the two games: the massive scale of the world, environmental puzzles that aren’t telegraphed on the world map, and an abundance of climbing, to name a few. However, in its combat, Genshin Impact isn’t ripping off The Legend of Zelda. Instead, it has evolved the element-based, type-advantage focused, battle system of Pokémon — and Nintendo should absolutely steal it.
Nintendo’s Pokémon franchise isn’t exactly in trouble at the moment — not financially, anyway. The latest installments in the main series, Pokémon Sword and Shield, moved massive numbers, and DLC add-ons are still building on the experience. It’s as much of a cultural juggernaut as ever, moving tons of merchandise sales and somehow pulling off a successful video game movie adaptation in Detective Pikachu. However, in the eyes of fans, the franchise is in dire need of a refresh.
Ever since the original release of Pokémon Red and Blue, the gameplay has remained roughly the same. You and your opponents, be they wild pokémon or rival trainers, take turns choosing attacks to lower enemy HP, alter stats or inflict long-lasting effects, until one side faints. Each pokémon also has an elemental type, which determines what other types they are super-effective and weak to, like a twenty-sided version of rock-paper-scissors. While some games have included extra gimmicks like two-on-two fights, Mega Evolutions or Z-moves, the basic bones remain the same: two ‘mons enter, stare each other down, and politely trade moves until one falls over.
Pokémon has definitely taken its share of risks and spun off into new game styles before — some of them even quite good — but the central games, the ones that introduce new regions, gym leaders, factions and generations of ‘mons, always stick to the same formula. Other Nintendo franchises have grown and changed (or, if you can forgive the pun, evolved): The Legend of Zelda tore itself down to rebuild the masterful Breath of the Wild, and Mario’s 3D adventures have always reinvented everything that came before ever since Super Mario Sunshine strapped a water-gun to Mario’s back. Even though other Nintendo franchises’ attempts to reinvent themselves weren’t as successful, like Starfox, Metroid, or Paper Mario, there still remains a spirit of trying something different — except for Pokémon.
The action of Genshin Impact, as mentioned, has a lot already in common with Pokémon. In addition to working with different types of magic (fire beaters ice, ice freezes water, wind makes fans flames and makes fire damage more powerful, etc.), you also have to swap out between your small group of fighters — here, magical anime children instead of Pokémon’s friendly animals that could kill you.
Genshin Impact also has a ‘gotta catch em all’ ethos regarding its characters, though sadly they’re only accessible through random draws with sparse in-game currency (that’s available for purchase in exchange for real world currency, of course). Each fancy-looking character has different weapons, moves, and magic types, meaning that you have a lot of leeway in tailoring your team of 4 to your preferred play style and strategy— just like in Pokémon.
The exploration element of Genshin, while similar to Breath of the Wild and other open-world games, would also elevate a Pokémon game. So much of Pokémon is already about exploration in theory. In those games, you are a kid preparing to embark on a life-changing adventure as you journey into the big, broad, mysterious world and travel from town to town in search of glory, friendship, and magic dogs that might be your world’s deities.
Entering a new town, even in the old 2D pokémon games, is always an exciting experience. Stumbling into intimidating caves of Mt. Moon, the grandeur of Gold and Silver’s Goldenrod City or the amusement park/colosseum of Sword and Shield’s Wyndon is a breathtaking moment of discovery — one that would be even more indelible in a proper open-world experience. You’re meant to be exploring a vibrant, strange world full of strange and wonderful life, so being able to explore more would make sense.
Obviously designing a game is a complex endeavor, full of endless hurdles and roadblocks, and we aren’t trying to say making an open-world, 3D, real-time action version of Pokémon would be easy. What we are saying is Genshin Impact is giving a pretty comprehensive blueprint of what it might look like.
Now there are definitely aspects of Genshin Impact that should not make their way into Pokémon, namely the microtransactions and locking characters behind time-exclusive events (which, actually, Pokémon has a history of doing with limited releases of rare creatures, going back to Mew in Red and Blue — something both franchises would be kind to leave behind). But beyond all that, the two games share a lot of common DNA, so if Nintendo is looking to freshen up their monster-catching simulator, they could do a lot worse than pulling inspiration from Genshin Impact.
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