How To Improve Pokemon

This is sort of in response to Alex’s blog entries about how he thinks Pokemon could or should be improved. These can be found here.

I won’t talk about the history of Pokemon much, or at all, but I think it should be noted that the series was created by Satoshi Tajiri, who loved exploring and collecting bugs when he was younger. I think then maybe my possible idea for a new Pokemon game is quite radical compared to the cookie-cutter nature of the series but I still think it fits.

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An example of a battle in the Pokemon X and Y games.

As Pokemon X and Y moved the mainline games in the series to 3D Graphics I feel as if GameFreak should continue with this. I love high resolution pixel artwork but if GameFreak and Nintendo are going to insist on keeping Pokemon mainline games on handheld devices because GameFreak view working on two platforms (IE 3DS and Nintendo NX etc) as twice the work, they might as well improve on what they’ve got now. I feel as if the art style of Pokemon X and Y work well for Pokemon as it is vaguely reminiscent of the anime and isn’t terribly detailed, but looks colorful and charming. Pokemon should not look like it was drawn by Mike Mignola.

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Hellboy by Mike Mignola.

The Pokemon games are never really going to be immersive in the same way that something like Grand Theft Auto might be immersive to some people due to the sheer detail in the environments, so I feel like GameFreak should double down on what works for them and stick with it. Over the years I have probably played every generation of Pokemon, whether through a handheld or on an emulator and I’m not exactly sure what my favorite games in the series are, but much like Alex, one of my sticking points with the latest Pokemon games are their difficulty.

On one level they are really easy. I’m not saying mash one button to win, but the AI rarely punish you in battles and I think a system like Forza’s DriveAVATAR AI could be an inspiration for GameFreak. In Forza the game’s AI mimics aspects of your driving and drivers you race against online so the game always has a sense of changing and evolving AI rather than “Ok, I’m up against a red car so I know what it’s going to do…forever”. In Pokemon I think it’d be quite interesting if the game detected that the player was very aggressive, going after weaknesses and stepped up to match your aggressiveness.

I feel like the levels of the Gym Leaders (who act like bosses) and the Elite Four have sort of see-sawed a bit in Pokemon. In Gen 1 the Elite Four were in the mid to high 50s and the Champion in low to mid 60s. In Gen 2 you got to the Elite for and they were low 40s and the Champion in mid 40s. The problem with this is that I feel you should arrive at the Elite Four, the end of the game for some people, with your Pokemon fully evolved…and GameFreak have made Pokemon evolve later on  so in Black and White if you want a Volcarona I think it only evolves in the mid 60s while the Elite Four are in the high 40s, low 50s.

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Volcarona is a badass Fire/Bug Pokemon.

I also feel like perhaps there could be an added element to the…types of Pokemon. For instance if you use a water attack on a Pokemon, they become wet, which amplifies Electric damage but neuters Fire and further Water damage…but the game is already  based on Rock, Paper, Scissors but this could be an interesting addition to the game. Maybe GameFreak could add a raft of these “mutation” options when you start the game and players can pick and choose. They won’t, because it has felt for about 20 years like they’ve taken the path of least resistance other than to dick over Dragonite and Dragon Pokemon with Fairies but oh well.

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Dragonite. One of the least intimidating Pokemon but still my 2nd Favorite.

I think another problem Pokemon tends to have is the navigation for the world since despite the games getting “bigger” or “more detailed” not much has changed. Up until X and Y you still moved in one of four directions and even though X and Y introduced 3D movement the world design and navigation didn’t really change too much other than in ways that are akin to someone who just discovered how to make 3D shots. I would be quite interested to let GameFreak enable the player to ride their Pokemon. Drag your mind out of the gutter, I mean since in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire you can control your Pokemon when flying it could be interesting to have you Pokemon act as Mounts and they could jump over gaps, or climb up cliff-sides and the like.

It would give an added element to the exploration in the games as certain Pokemon who are too heavy, like Wailord – who supposedly weighs half a ton and is 47 feet tall, would become important to catch or find as maybe only they could reach certain areas. It’d be unrealistic for any developer to do this to all seven trillion Pokemon but say a fifty Pokemon that were needed to get into certain areas, or maybe areas that needed a Fire-type or something similar. It’s food for thought at least.

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Wailord. He’s really, really big.

As for the story in Pokemon games…I’m not really sure I’d change too much out of it. I would hope GameFreak allow your friends in game to be more than caricatures and plot devices as even in X and Y they really didn’t get much character development. One character loved dancing, another character had a thinly veiled pseudo-crush on your and another was typically bookish. The closest the series came was Team Plasma, N and Ghetsis in Pokemon Black and White, but even then they dove into melodramatic dialogue that pontificated in a slightly juvenile way about hopes and dreams, love and friendship and freaks without hearts.

I appreciate that the target audience for Pokemon are kids and the wider audience is people who have grown up with them and it’s not that I want there to be a dark and gritty Pokemon game (see my comments earlier) but it’s that GameFreak don’t seem to have grown up. You could argue that Black and White’s story about freeing Pokemon for their trainers could be an allegory for racism and slavery but…come on. This is GameFreak, they still want the games to be slightly twee and it’s not like Nintendo would let a kid’s game try to deal with those issues.

To help the sense of exploration it’d be quite interesting if you were part of a team discovering a new region and the story throughout the game was just you uncovering the mysteries of the region and helping to set up eight towns or cities for people to live in, all the while taking down some slightly throwaway bad guy. Then the post-game could be you actually taking on this new region’s Gym Leaders and Elite Four/Champion so that you got there with Pokemon at a high level, almost ensuring a high level of difficulty. It would be fun, and a change, I think.

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Ghetsis, a character who has all the depth of a Bond Villain by  the end of the game.

I’ve already talked a little about the battle system by ways of difficulty and AI…I suppose all that’s left to ramble about is the end game, or post-game of Pokemon. Some games have had a decent chunk of things to do, be it story or Battle Frontiers where you fight the game where the AI actually has a purpose in battle beyond being the video-game equivalent of Dug from Pixar’s Up. These things should be expanded upon, and I feel like GameFreak should stop introducing a feature just for a game and then removing it. Alex remarked that they said they removed the fashion from X and Y for future games because it was to do with the region being based on France.

OH COME ON GAMEFREAK. Your franchise is global, your audience is global, treat them like it. With Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon it sounds as if the series may get a tiny bit more cosmic with the next installment. It probably won’t, but the Pokemon equivalent of Dune could be glorious. I will probably still be there Day 1 because for any grievances, at the end of the day, Pokemon might not be everything you want it to be, but having played Pokemon Red when I was five or six years old…it’ll always be something I need.

Also Mewtwo is forever cool.

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Mewtwo, the best legendary Pokemon. Obviously.

Summary: I think Pokemon should change itself so that you are part of a team exploring a new region, so there isn’t much signposting and things are open to exploration. The story of the game shouldn’t be a prepubescent child learning to value friendship with mutated animals but could be about a literal journey of discovery, maybe with the trademark evil Team X thrown in as a group who want to exploit the new region for resources and the like. It’d give GameFreak easier real-world topics to cover and talk about rather than a pseudo-racism allegory. Then the post-game could be the traditional Pokemon.  You’ve helped establish the new regions and Gym Leaders have been drafted in, as well as an Elite Four based upon people you helped out and choices you made throughout your journey…