I love Pokemon, I really do. It’s the first series I remember getting into and like most kids of that era, it was an obsession. All the games, all the cards, all the merch…..great times. Pokemon is typically known as a video game series and has been rooted in the handheld ecosystems for quite some time. With well over 100 games in the series, people are starting to get sick of the mainline games and their repetitive formula. As the most profitable IP of all time, by a long margin, Nintendo and Game Freak haven’t felt the drive to push forward. 2019’s Switch releases, Sword and Shield started to show some changes to the formula but didn’t quite do enough to sate fans interests. Nintendo has announced Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which seems to take these newer concepts and expand on them, this is exciting for fans but something tells me this title will be more of a demo of what the studio has in mind, rather than a groundbreaking title. So, after that lengthy introduction, let us examine what Game Freak needs to fix to inject new blood into the series.
The first pitfall of the series is the story. Game Freak have upped their game in recent years, but even then, the stories have been too amateur. Outside of the plot, there’s never anything to grab your attention and secondary dialogue is terribly written. The premise of playing as a lone 10-year-old travelling the world needs to go, it’s silly. My idea would be to have a prologue segment where you start as a 10-year-old at a Pokemon Academy, where you’re introduced to mechanics and the cast. This would end with you graduating and receiving your starter as a teen.
At this point, you could find out that one of your buddies has joined Team Bad Guy and you venture forth in order to find them and get them to come back to the good side. Team Bad Guy have a simple goal, kidnap Pokemon and sell them. See, the Pokemon games try too hard to have an evil team who are out for world domination or whatever and it feels forced. With my simple change, you can have a story to get invested in. It doesn’t have to be dark or anything, it can be suitable for the target audience and still be gripping. The use of dialogue choices and a Persona-like Social Link system would really elevate the story further.
Moving onto gameplay and as far as the pool of Pokemon and general combat, nothing really needs changing. There’s plenty of Pokemon to choose from and the rock paper scissors combat only needs a few little tweaks. I like how Sword and Shield mixed linear routes with open areas and that concept should return, but there need to be new elements. First off, NPC trainers need to have a bit of life in them and move around more, maybe trying to catch Pokemon themselves. These trainers need to have a variety of abilities. A young trainer is likely to have less experience, but a veteran should have tougher Pokemon and use more complex strategies. These routes and areas should have Pokemon interact with each other and have special events and side-quests.
One thing that always bugs me is the scale of towns and cities. Four houses isn’t a town! These areas need to be expanded massively, I’m not saying they have to be explorable, but they should feel full. Instead of having important NPC’s like the Move Tutor easily accessible, make them part of a quest-line, have the Pokemon Fan Club be a long-form quest, where you build a relationship with your Pokemon. All these things can be introduced organically like in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Things like customisation and building a secret base will root players in the world and aid in the feeling of adventure. Gym leaders also need a big switch up. Instead of using one type of Pokemon, they should follow a theme, be it weather/sound/desert island etc. They should have multiple teams for different levels and be the toughest fights in the game. Perhaps my most controversial take is, no catching of Legendaries/Mythicals. These should be highly important quests and you should get them as summons as a reward. Let’s be honest, why would Mewtwo be catchable? Once you become Champion, you should defend your title and be given tough post-game quests. A Mythical fire Pokemon is about to set off a volcano, GO!
There are a few other simple changes like multiple difficulties and save files that are trainer specific, to avoid cheating, which would be very welcome. The crux of the change is the spirit of adventure, which the series has lacked for too long now. With a cast of interesting characters, an engaging but grounded story, proper cutscenes with either voice acting or the Zelda approach of mumbling, and a sense of mystery, there is a rock-solid base for a great game. All of these changes can easily be implemented whilst keeping in line with the family-friendly atmosphere the series sticks to. I think Game Freak know they need to change and the upcoming Legends seems to be a very positive step in that direction.