The Future of Pokémon

April 20, 2010

The much awaited 5th generation of the mainline Pokemon games has been announced. Pokemon Black and White will be released in Japan this autumn, and probably following a global release schedule somthing similar to what Heart Gold and Soul Silver did. Of course a “new generation” of Pokemon games at this point is almost laughable. Most Pokemon fans have long since sunk into a feeling of doing the same old stuff they’ve been doing for over a decade now. Nintendo promises an extensive overhaul for these new games, but aside from a shift to primarily 3D perspective while wandering the overworld we haven’t seen anything terribly new. Here is my list of things I’d like to see to really improve the Pokemon experience.

1. No More Random Encounters

This is easily the biggest thing. Way back in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, random encounters were the only way game designers had to insert common cannon-fodder battles into a game. These days, much progress has been made in most every other RPG series to eliminate this tedious and annoying remnant of a bygone era, except Pokemon. I am so sick of just wanting to pass through a patch of grass to get somewhere and having to watch a long battle setup animation before I can run and move on. Often I go just a couple more steps and again, I’m challenged by a level 5 Pidgey or some other pointless shit. The best way is to have the enemies represented on screen somehow, giving you at least a chance to skillfully avoid them — or perhaps ambush them for a combat advantage. So how could the traditional Pokemon gameplay be preserved while implementing something like this? Well, just indicate to us where the Pokemon are using some generic means without revealing which Pokemon it is until the battle begins. In Pokemon’s omnipresent patches of tall grass, they could be represented as rustling squares of grass moving around. Perhaps an aggressive Pokemon chases you while a more reclusive one requires you to pursue it. In caverns, a similar effect could be achieved with a generic shadow on the ground, maybe along the lines of Zelda II’s generic badguy silhouettes.

2. No More HM Moves

HM moves have up to this point been an obnoxious but necessary part of Pokemon gameplay. Obstacles exist on the map as a means of limiting your access until you have made certain achievements, ensuring you get a proper gradual increase of challenges and go through the game’s story in its prescribed order. This is true of most any RPG, and in Pokemon this manifests as HM moves. Gaining gym badges allows you to use HM moves to overcome obstacles. The problem is the HM moves exist as moves known by your Pokemon. If your Pokemon leveled up in the field, and it allowed you to overwrite an HM move with a newly learned one, you could become stuck and unable to proceed or even turn back the way you came, breaking your game. So, you just can’t remove HM moves except at one prescribed place in the game. This was bad enough at first when there were only 5 HM moves, now we have 8. That means, at best, you would need two Pokemon with you who know nothing but HM moves in order to have full access to the map. That’s insane, especially considering most HM moves are mediocre to crappy and thus little use in battle, especially late in the game. This whole system needs to be reexamined. Maybe HMs become hold items that allow you to use an ability only on the overworld map. Maybe we just dump the idea altogether and use some other more story-related method of limiting your access the way a Final Fantasy game would. We need to do something though, because it’s getting out of hand.

3. Liven Up the Battles

Stills of Pokemon B/W have shown that we can still expect 2D Pokemon sprites staring each other down, though they seem to sit on a 3D battlefield. It’s more than a little odd looking. Anyway, since Pokemon Stadium-style 3D models are evidently still a dream, can we at least get some more motion into those battle sprites? We already have a short intro animation when the Pokemon switches in, how about a defeat animation for when they faint? Even better, how about some generic attack animations like opening their mouth or swiping with their claws that could be paired with appropriate attacks? Just, something. I’m tired of watching big static sprites twitch at each other.

4. Change Up the Story

Gyms and Pokemon leagues and a sidestory involving an evil team. Four times we’ve seen the same thing, and two of those have been remade. Enough. It was fine the first time, maybe the second, but this is getting ridiculous. Is this really the only story Pokemon can tell? I’d hate to think Nintendo and Game Freak are so uncreative. What if it was just a simple shift? Instead of the gym challenges being the main focus, what if it was the fight against Team Whatever? Instead of challenging gym leaders, we could be taking on the Team’s generals. Instead of collecting badges, we could be collecting items we need to thwart their plan and trigger the final showdown against their own version of an Elite Four. Those items we collect could even tie into my second point about having a way to not need HM moves. This change doesn’t even affect the core Pokemon gameplay that much, but it would at least feel a bit new.

5. New Types

The last new elemental types added were Dark and Steel back on the original Gold and Silver. I was still in high school when those games came out, and as little as I like to think about it that was a pretty long time ago now. Adding new types would really serve to shake up the stale Pokemon battle environment, and allow for some new and innovative Pokemon again. As for what those types would be, we already got a Dark type, how about a Light type? Seems pretty obvious to me.