Do games need to be innovative to be good?

So recently I’ve started playing Soul Hackers 2 from ATLUS and it’s been a pretty good time so far! I tend to really enjoy ATLUS and their RPGs like Persona and Shin Megami Tensei so I was pretty confident I’d have fun with Soul Hackers as well. It’s a pretty standard ATLUS RPG though. Great art design, good music, likable main characters, and fun combat focused on the usual ATLUS demons. It hasn’t been anything too special or game changing so far but I’ve still been having plenty of fun. And that got me thinking about games that tend to play it safe and don’t really try to reinvent the wheel. Games that play to their strength and know exactly what they want to be and don’t try to do anything drastic and whether or not that’s a good thing. I guess what I’m asking is, does a game need to be innovative to be good? Let’s talk about it!

Now I feel like most people’s gut reaction to that question would be ‘yes’. For a game to be good it must be innovative, it must try and set itself apart from other games and do something new. I know that was my first thought when thinking about this question! But digging a little deeper got me thinking that I may be wrong… I suppose the reason why me and other people would answer ‘yes’ is because we tend to think about the worst case scenario, which is if every game tried to play it safe gaming wouldn’t progress and we wouldn’t have a lot of the amazing games we have now. We wouldn’t have games like Minecraft, Metal Gear, or Dark Souls. Gaming would be at a stand still just doing the same thing over and over again because, in theory, we know that it will always result in a good game if we just keep doing what we know works. But that is the most extreme situation. In reality, there really isn’t anything wrong with some games just playing it safe and trying to be a good experience without trying to do anything groundbreaking.

I talked about this many months ago already with a post dedicated to it, but the Uncharted series is one of the best examples of this. The Uncharted series has always been a series of extremely solid and fun games. All of the mainline entries are a blast to play through and are always easy to pick up and play. They are great games to just sit back and relax with. But at the same time I can’t think of anything that any of the games do that I would call innovative. They are all linear, third person cover based shooters, with big bombastic set pieces and action scenes. From just that description alone I could be talking about quite a few games. Especially in the Xbox 360/PS3 generation which was dominated by first person military shooters and third person cover based shooters. Despite that though, the games are not only beloved by fans but they sell well too. It’s one of the series that helped the PlayStation 3 out of it’s slow start as a console! So, taking all that into consideration, can you really call Uncharted a bad series based solely on it not being innovative?

Now, you could try and argue that the series would still be great if they did actually try and innovate with each entry but I would have to disagree there too. I think one of Uncharted‘s greatest strengths is that it knows exactly what it wants to be and it does it well. I’ve always thought of the series as fun action films. They don’t do anything particularly groundbreaking or inventive, and because of that you know what you’ll be getting with one. You’ll be getting a very fun and action packed experience that’s easy to just sit back and enjoy for awhile without really thinking about it! Just like most fun action films, right? Pretty recently I finally got around to playing the Uncharted 4 spin off game Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and when I say that the game is really just more of Uncharted 4 I don’t mean that in a negative way. Quite the opposite, in fact. I knew I would have a good time with the game right off the bat. I knew I would enjoy the writing and characters, as well as the puzzles and shoot out sections. While nothing really surprised me or blew me away, I still had a great time with it and would highly recommend it to anyone else that is a fan of the series.

Originally when I started thinking about this topic, I thought that a game that plays it safe and doesn’t try to be innovative was kind of like taking the easy way out when it came to developing a game. For awhile I’ve said that Uncharted is a series that doesn’t try anything very innovative to play things safe so they knew the series would be successful. But I no longer think that’s the case! By not adding anything very innovative or groundbreaking, Uncharted is basically relying on it’s established features to try and make something great. As I was saying before, the description of ‘linear, third person cover based shooter, with big bombastic set pieces and action scenes’ could describe a large number of games. So if you make a game that falls under all those categories, you can at least be confident that other games like that have done well. But let’s think about this from another perspective. Because so many games can be described like that, that not only proves that those kinds of games are popular it also means that if you were to make another game like that, you would have lots of competition. You have to be really confident in your game to think that is can shine among such a crowded market. So playing it safe in this sense is very much a double edged sword. While you would be making a game in a style you know is successful, you also have to be sure you can make a game good enough that it’ll stand out among the rest.

This is why it’s really hard to write off a game just because it doesn’t try to do anything groundbreaking. A game that knows what it wants to be and plays to it’s strengths is not a lazy game by default. Now are there some games that are rather lazy for just trying to follow trends in the hope of having the same success as other games? Of course! It happens almost every time a particular game is popular. Just look at Battle Royal games. After the genre started exploding it felt like every week a new game that was basically just a copy of Fortnite or PUBG was announced. Even big game series like Call of Duty and Battlefield started adding Battle Royal modes. When something does well there will always be imitators. But that doesn’t mean all games that hop into a popular genre are lazy for doing so. Going back to Soul Hackers 2, the game doesn’t really do much all too different from other RPGs released by ATLUS. However, it manages to stand out among all those games because of the things it does well but still aren’t technically exclusive to Soul Hackers 2. Things like the characters and the writing for them. These aspects are done so well that it’s very easy to recommend Soul Hackers 2 based on them despite the fact that the game really doesn’t do anything new or too interesting with it’s actual game play. If anything, it makes the game easier to recommend to those that already like RPGs similar to it. In that sense, Soul Hackers 2 playing it safe is actually a good thing!

So, to loop things back around, let’s ask the question again. Do games need to be innovative to be good? I’d say the answer is… No. Well, actually, kind of? Ugh. Sadly, despite all the thinking that went into it, I can’t find one clear answer to the question. Can trend chasing games that don’t try to do anything innovate be nothing but hollow cash grabs? Yes. But can they all be very solid and fun experiences even if they probably won’t be the most memorable? Also yes. I suppose the conclusion I came to in all this is that you can’t write off a game simply because it doesn’t try to be innovative. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just that! Which again, isn’t the best answer to the question, sadly. So now I’m left lost on how exactly I should be ending this post… I guess I’ll just say go play Soul Hackers 2 since it’s a really fun game with super enjoyable characters despite it’s lack of innovation? …Yeah, let’s go with that!

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Are there any games you really enjoy that aren’t very innovative? Do you disagree with me and believe that games need to be innovative to be good? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on WordPress or on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on new posts. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss sometime, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated, even just viewing this post, so thanks again for stopping by.

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