So a while ago I wrote a blog about how I thought Pokemon should improve. It mainly focused on how I thought GameFreak should have a story focused more on discovery; for example you could be a young trainer whose parents are part of an expeditionary force to a new region where you discover an ancient/primitive culture and have more of a discovery element. Now I think this is quite like the first Mass Effect where Commander Shepard is very much the vehicle for the player as they are learning a lot of information for the first time, and this aspect in Pokemon would work the same way.
Having completed Pokemon Sun in about 40 hours (probably more like 30 if you count the hours I wasn’t having the 2DS open while doing something else) I have thoughts.
First off, GameFreak have improved on the general formula a lot. You play as a young person from Kanto who arrives in the Alola Region and you get greeted by the Pokemon Professor who suggests you learn about your new “home” by doing the Trial Challenge, beating the Kahunas of each Island and raising some Pokemon. If you break it down its still familiar but it works as a relatively fresh, new approach.
GameFreak REALLY need to dial it down with the tutorials thought because for about 2 hours or so it’s a little too cut-scene heavy, or at least it interrupts you to tell you about features that anyone who has played a Pokemon game before is already pretty familiar with. I think an option as to whether you’d played one of the games before would fix this and wouldn’t take much time.
The game is relatively linear but each Island tends to loop around a few times which makes it interesting as you might find a path blocked so you go “this” way, then eventually you come back and its clear. Kanto and most other regions have done this slight criss-crossing pattern and it works well but it does make me wonder about a non linear Pokemon game.
Of course the problem would be balancing but to be honest I would have little/no problem with a Pokemon game where it still had the current balancing (A city has a trainer with Level 20 pokemon, a Route to the North is Level 22, a route to the east is 30 etc) but just have NO ROADBLOCKS. It can be really infuriating when an NPC says “I’m sorry, I want to explore this area thoroughly” and you aren’t allowed to continue.
With the elimination of HMs (a godsend) and the use of rental Pokemon GameFreak could actually do this really well. For instance imagine if in a Gen 8 Pokemon you explore an Island and discover a Mountain. You can go through some tunnels but can’t climb some surfaces because you lack Rock Climb or maybe can’t move a giant boulder because you lack Strength, or a river has overflown and flooded a Route so you would need Surf to cross. These are in a sense roadblocks but in my mind it could allow GameFreak to take a leaf out of Castlevania or Metroid (Metroidvania) and allow you to go back to previous locations and and discover more because of a power-up or ability.
You could choose to go down a different Route and the level of the Pokemon might mean you don’t stand a chance, but the option is there and maybe you break through and reach a new settlement/town/city.
Also GameFreak need to majorly improve the presentation. The animations in Su/Mo are serviceable for the 3DS and since Pokemon Stars will be on the Nintendo Switch there might be hope but basically they need to improve animations and cutscenes. Cutscenes make use of more dynamic camera angles but they still feel fairly rigid, like GameFreak have only just started using them and haven’t really done intricate cut-scenes before.
The animations also hurt the story telling as a dramatic moment can happen and a character’s face will be non-plussed or rigid and its kinda laughable.
Ultimatley, Su/Mo are big steps in the right direction but I hope with Pokemon Stars or the 8th Generation that GameFreak do not stop with iterating and innovating on features and improve the series even more.