One of the first videogames I played was Pokémon Silver when I was six years old. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a very smart six-year-old and so I wasn’t able to get very far in it at the time. Fast forward a few years and I was finally able to beat it, or at least the first half of the game. Red wasn’t until much later. Of course during that time I played a fair number of the other installments in the series. More so than any other Nintendo property I might add. I didn’t even know that Italian plumber duo existed until my age hit double digits. And even then it still took me another year to figure out the name of the green one. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that back in the day, I was a Pokémon aficionado. However, in recent years, I have been more
tepig tepid when playing the latest installments. It’s not like they are bad games. However, I feel as though the formula has run a bit stale and I would like to make a few suggestions on how to improve the formula. Of course, there is no reason to listen to a random guy on the internet right now, but hear me out. I think that what is really needed to shake up the formula, is to open up the world of Pokémon.
Now I do want to make it clear that having an open world is not necessarily what I am referring to with my previous statement. Sure, it would be pretty cool to see Pokémon roaming about like they do in the wild area in the most recent installment of the series. I do not believe this is a new idea to anyone who has played these games over the years. However, that would probably take a lot of work to establish and would probably have to be done in installments. Especially considering we have around 900 Pokémon without counting the different forms some of them have now. I am not saying that this should not become a reality, but I figure it probably will not happen until they run out of ideas for new Pokémon. Considering some of the newest ones though, it is clear that they are pretty much fine with anything. So, let us shelve this idea for now and talk about other ways to open things up. Let’s start with the most important aspect to address: battling.
Battling is probably the most important part of the Pokémon series with the sole contender being looting around in NPC trash bins for potions. I kid of course. That is just what I like to do when barging into their homes uninvited. Besides, you have to really be trying to run out of money to the point when you desperately have to search trash bins for items. But anyway, back to battling. Now without battling, there is obviously no game as you cannot proceed without higher level Pokémon and the only way to do that is by battling. Battling has evolved a lot since the first game with implementations such as an experience bar, double battles, and even different types. However, in the past few games there has always been a new battle technique that is immediately thrown out in the next game for something new. These one-off techniques are presumably resting at the bottom of an NPC trash bin. That’s right! I am making that joke relevant to the topic so I can keep it in. If you don’t like it, fair enough. But it stays in, because I am stubborn like that. Now leaving aside where these new battle ideas go after they are abandoned, it should be clear to anyone who has been playing previous games in the series that they have been following this formula as of late. There is a new technique that boosts the power of a Pokémon in battle, but it never seen in subsequent games. It doesn’t really add to the battle system, but is more of an extra trump card for you to use. It does make the battle system interesting enough, but I feel it only delays the main problem of the need to redesign the battle system.
Now you are probably thinking that this task is just as difficult as doing an open world game, but I don’t think that is true. Otherwise I wouldn’t have brought this up in the first place. For more on what I mean, let’s look at some of the spinoff games for a moment. One series I definitely have to bring up is the Poképark spin-offs. These games while not perfect showed a much more interesting, if not simplified way of interacting with different Pokémon. The most interesting part about the game is that you don’t have to battle in order to befriend certain Pokémon. You can play tag with them, hide and seek, or even do platforming challenges. Now I am not saying that all of these things should be incorporated into the main Pokémon games. However, I feel like having challenges like racing against other Pokémon could be pretty interesting to see in one of the main games. Even the battling was more interesting due to the fact that it was dynamic and I felt in control. Sure the things I could in battle were pretty limited, but at least when if I had a disadvantage in strength my chances were not zero. However, this would only really work best in a spin-off setting. The point is that there are a lot of ideas in the spin-off games that I think could enhance the main entries.
Another spin-off series I would like to draw people’s attention to is the Pokémon Ranger series. I’ll be perfectly honest when I say that I have no idea how you could incorporate the battle system into the main series, but there has got to be more we can do with this idea. For instance, I think it would be interesting to have a game where you try to be the best ranger that ever was. Instead of fighting gyms, you need to resolve different conflicts in the region. If we can’t have that, maybe we could partner with them for a mission in the game. They could be so much more than a trainer to fight. Going back to the Poképark games, if we are against having those ways of capturing Pokémon work for a trainer, then we could have that be the way Pokémon rangers can bond with Pokémon. Can you tell I want another Pokémon Ranger game? No? Well let me make it clear. I WANT ANOTHER ONE! Look I get that it is not the same as the mainstream games, but being a Pokémon ranger could give use to ability to just summon and befriend Pokémon to solve environmental problems without having to force the Pokémon your raising to learn a move that you will never use in an actual battle (except maybe surf). Just saying. I feel like that would be a great team up.
Even though I say all of this, I recognize the fact that the battle system is the core of the Pokémon universe. I also understand that it would be quite difficult to shake up the battle system to such a degree. However, changing the mechanics isn’t the only way to change how battling works. You see, the additions of the new battle mechanics in recent games have served as a way to make battles more challenging. After all, the only things you need to be aware of in battle are types advantages and level differences. These one-off gimmicks just take the battle system a step further. However, the strategy still remains pretty basic. So, wouldn’t it be good to look at what we can do to make battles require more thought. I get that this series has a younger audience, but I feel as though there are ways to make things more interesting. for example, imagine if the gyms you would face did not focus on one specific type of Pokémon. What if the gyms had something like a variety of Pokémon taken from the area that they are in and show to have the best chance at fighting them you would need to know about all the Pokémon in the area and not just one type. Or what if instead of having a broader focus at gyms, we could instead shift their focus so that the gym’s Pokémon were well trained in a particular area. So one gym could have a bunch of Pokémon that focused on attacking quickly as so you might want to bring Pokémon with good defensive capabilities. Another could be a gym that has Pokémon who are tanky and store up power as the battle goes on, so you decide to bring Pokémon who have high attack power. Also, it always felt weird that the elite four had specific type focuses as well, so maybe in this case they could be all-rounders who lean in a certain direction, and the champion would have a good grasp on everything. Again, not sure how this could work, but it would be pretty cool don’t you think?
Now, battling is not the only way to make things more open. It just happens to be the most direct way. However, there all other ways to interact with the world other than just battling that are already implemented into the game. The thing is that while some of them are at least useful for getting rare items or Pokémon, some of them are just there to use if you feel like it. For instance, remember contests? They were an interesting little distraction, but they served almost no purpose in any of the games they were in. You did get a rival at least when they fleshed things out in Pokémon Omega Ruby/ Alpha Sapphire, but it was never in any way required. Now I think that not having required activities is fine, but they would help contribute to world-building if done properly. Like what if you had to go undercover at a contest to stop [insert bad group here] from making away with the winner of the contest. Or maybe you had to find where your Pokémon have disappeared to after leaving them with the breeder. Or maybe they could have it where you needed to take part in competitions for catching Pokémon in order to drive the plot forward. I think we can all agree that the plot is pretty weak in the main games. I’ll be honest when I say I have not played a lot of the more recent title, but I doubt anything has changed. So why not try to flesh out the world with a more interesting story. If I remember correctly, I can’t think of a story in a main series game, with maybe the exception of Pokémon Black/White, that was in anyway fleshed out. At this point, is it too much to ask for a story that is more than just go to gym, get badge and somehow destroy criminal organization as a sideshow during our travels. Even when world ending events transpire, at soon as we take care of it, everything goes back to normal and most NPCs don’t even seem to care.
Look, I am not saying that the games are not fun as is. I just want to address the fact that eventually there may come a time where this series will stretch itself too thin, if it hasn’t already. Competitive battling has become increasingly easier as the years have gone on. First there was EV training, then there was IV training and the huge buff to the experience share, and now you can even change a Pokémon’s inherent nature. The thing is, there will come a point where you cannot add on anything else to refine a turn-based combat system any further. So at that point, maybe when we have 2,000 Pokémon, we can at least try to see if we can make the regions we have explored feel like more than just a slog of one battle after another. Let’s face it, battling is really only interesting competitively. The main games are way easier than they used to be ten years ago, but yet it feels like nothing was done to compensate for it. Now that just feels like a bit of a waste. I threw out these ideas because I wanted to raise this question. Is it a good idea for the Pokémon series to keep developing this way? Or will we eventually lose the sense of accomplishment that comes with being a Pokémon Master? The way I see it, sooner or later, this series will need to evolve. Alright, I’m done. Thanks for hearing me out.