When Nintendo announced the Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire remakes, I went into some depth about my hopes for Secret Bases—customizable nooks that could be visited by other players. So far, it seems that Game Freak has been listening.
Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire dramatically expand on the original functionality of the Secret Bases for what sounds like a combination of a personalized Pokémon Gym and Pokémon Black 2 & White 2's Join Avenue. In addition to putting in dolls, trophies, and furniture, it will be possible to create a maze with traps in addition to special Pokémon battle rules. Anyone who visits will also become a "Secret Pal"—an AI avatar who can fight in a battle, unlock special decorations, or help eggs hatch faster.
Mostly, it's the personalized Pokémon Gym aspect of the Secret Bases that really grabs my attention. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I've long been banging the drum for a Pokémon that puts you in the shoes of gym leader rather than an aspiring champion. I've always felt that it could be a mix of Pokémon and Animal Crossing; you take over a decrepit gym, pick a theme, and steadily level it up by defeating challengers. Between battles, you would be able to explore the area around town, meet the residents, and take on various sidequests.
In that way, Game Freak would not only have a chance to shake up the established formula a bit, but to explore another aspect of Pokémon's setting. Gym leaders have long been established as civic leaders—master trainers who are one part sheriff, one part city council president, and one part mascot. There are some really interesting gameplay possibilities in casting players as gym leaders, which is why it's been a little frustrating over the years to see Game Freak stubbornly sticking to the same old formula for each game. Even a spinoff would be nice.
There are some really interesting gameplay possibilities in casting players as gym leaders, which is why it's been a little frustrating over the years to see Game Freak stubbornly sticking to the same old formula for each game.
In Ruby & Sapphire's Secret Bases though, Game Freak fulfills at least a tiny part of that dream. True, I don't get to do all of the things that I just listed, but just the ability to build up a gym and post it online is a step in the right direction. Going forward, I would love for them to continue building up the concept for future generations, possibly as a form of post-game content in which the protagonist retires to an island somewhere and starts up their own gym, sort of like Blue in Pokémon Gold & Silver.
Wishful thinking aside, it's really nice to have Secret Bases back in Pokémon. They were a pretty great feature in Ruby & Sapphire; but for whatever reason, they largely disappeared in the later games. Oh sure, you could excavate a cave in Diamond & Pearl, or decorate a house in Platinum, but it wasn't the same. There weren't a lot of items to choose from, and you couldn't really display your various trophies. With trainer customization finally (finally!) making its debut in Pokémon X & Y, Secret Bases were definitely ripe for a comeback.
Apart from the fact that it's fun to decorate a secret space in the game world, they play nicely into Pokémon established strengths as a social game, which have only gotten stronger over the years. The original Secret Bases were pretty advanced for their day, but they were held back by Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald's lack of Internet connectivity. You could get visitors, but without a link cable to swap data with, it was pretty tough to populate a game. Thanks to StreetPassing and QR Codes, that's no longer an issue, so Secret Bases should really be able to come into their own.
So that's one part of my predictions for Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby that has come true. Now I'm really curious to see what Game Freak does with the Battle Frontier, which I also expect to see in these remakes (if it's not there I will be really surprised and quite disappointed). Maybe online leaderboards? Maybe they'll find a way to integrate online tournaments? Maybe we'll even get the Pokémon World Tournament back and we'll get to fight Brock and Claire in glorious 3D.
Whatever the case, the Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire remakes are shaping up nicely. When they're out later this year, I'll be first in line to pick them up.