This article started life as an especially more mundane list. One in which I listed my favourite gyms throughout Pokemon History. As I struggled to stay awake under the sheer uninterestingness of what I was writing. I had a vision, or maybe it was a dream. One of Pokemon in an entirely new light.
It got my brain going, and before I knew it, my post looking back at the game’s history was scrapped and replaced by something looking toward to the future.
For years now, I’ve wanted Nintendo to take a more adventurous approach to their mainline Pokemon franchise. While children are always going to their primary audience, what with the immeasurable mountains of plush toys and lunch boxes they sell. The franchise has been around for a long time now, almost 20 years. Many of the series’ biggest fans are fast approaching their 30s, if they’re not there already.
In my wildest dreams, I has always hoped that Nintendo would make a new, main line, Pokemon game aimed towards this fan base. Pokemon has always been a deceptively complex series. The mechanics and gameplay seem simple on the surface but there are deep layers of complexity and variety to the games many players never delve into.
So why not take a step out of the well-worn comfort zone and try something entirely new. Sun and Moon came close to doing that, changing some of the fundamental beats of the game that had been present since the franchise began. But at the same time, it felt stale in the ways that actually mattered. As much as I love the franchise, it really needs shaking up.
With a new Pokemon game on the horizon, and with Pokemon Let’s go coming out later this year, a game that feels like a (I don’t want to say dumbed down, but) dumbed down version of the base game for a younger audience, or one rediscovering the series thanks to Pokemon Go. Then maybe the “main” game will be more of a departure from the formula, something more ambitious as the series finds its way onto a much more powerful platform in the Switch.
In my wild imaginings, I came up with some idea of what a new Pokemon game could be that changes some fundamental part of itself while still making use of the core concept of the game in which you capture, train and battle Pokemon you encounter in the wild.
These are wild divergences the series could take to move away from its doggedly rigid formula and expand the Pokemon series into something grander than it already is.
First, let’s touch upon an easy one:
A game that contains every region
This is the standard request people have been making of the series since the days of Ruby and Sapphire. This would be a game that encapsulates all of the regions introduced so far. Gyms, characters and stories from the games of the past all crammed into a single adventure. The ability to start in Kanto, before jetting off to Kalos for the next leg of your adventure. Or anywhere else you fancied.
While the progression of the game of this sort might be tricky, the actual thing to take away from this, what we’d like to see is a larger scope.
There has always been something restrictive about the Pokemon games, while you’re given a lot of freedom in certain aspects of the game, when it comes to traveling around the game world, it’s always felt pretty restrictive. Giving players access to a wider and less structured world would be a huge change for the series.
For the sake of comparison, look at the changes to the Zelda series that came with the Breath of the Wild. Nintendo created a huge sandbox for one of their most iconic characters to wander around in at the player’s leisure. This kind of approach to a Pokemon game would be amazing.
It might be something that can’t happen with changing the fundamental core of the game itself, bit it’s somthing I’d love to see the main series evolve into in the future.
A game with a period setting
This is one is a deviant artist’s dream. The Pokemon games have all taken places in a modern, mostly utopian setting with some semi-futuristic elements. Why not just go and mix that up entirely. Make a game set in an entirely different time period and setting within the Pokemon universe.
The pirates and powdered wigs of the 18th century, maybe a 1930s steampunk setting, see what a feudal japan setting is like with Pokemon in it. Hell, why not go in the other direction and explore a science fiction epic, going into space and visiting new planets and how that’s different when Pokemon are a factor.
There is actually already a game that touches upon this idea by the name of Pokemon Conquest. It’s not a game I ever actually played myself, So I’m not going to pretend I know what the thing is about, but it takes the iconic creatures of the series and plops them into an entirely different era in which the focus is something more important than child collecting gym badges.
The point I’m driving at here is that I would like to see the Pokemon franchise make moves to break away from its comfort zone when it comes to its storytelling. While there have been some great stories told within the framework of these games, they’re always restricted by that same narrative framework. Slaves to their own tropes and reoccurring story beats.
Even the trials from Sun and Moon were direct analogues to the gyms from the games that came before, as much as people wanted to believe they were anything different.
The idea of telling a story using the mechanics of the main franchise outside of the norm has been done before too. Pokemon Colosseum told an entirely different story while still being a classic Pokemon game. I’d love to see games in the future making this same approach.
A High Fantasy Setting
This is the idea that acted as the catalyst for this entire post. While I was thinking about Gyms in Pokemon, my mind continued to flutter towards the new Dragon Quest game. A title that is very much on my “to play” list.It’s a very traditional, sweeping story told in JRPG from, Dragon Quest is a type of game that isn’t as popular as it used to be. And in my daydreaming about it, the streams of consciousness between it and Pokemon started to become crossed. I found myself thinking of what the classic JRPG stories of my youth would have been life if they had Pokemon with them.
The Golden Suns, the older Final Fantasy’s and the Chrono Triggers. These open world games with sweeping narratives of heroes, kings, princesses and wizards, imagine these games in which Pokemon are your main action input.
Dragon Quest has been hot in my mind for the past few weeks. The old school style of wide open, epic JRPG. It’s somthing I’d love to see Pokemon tackle. A literal open world as opposed to the very rigidly enclosed one of the main games. Imagine playing a game in which you need to defeat an evil necromancer, bent on destroying the kingdom and you need to defeat him using your Pokemon.Let’s be honest dragon Quest is almost Pokemon anyway. Why not make that final transition.
Turning tropes upside down
You can set your watch by how predictable a Pokemon game is. The framework, the story, the beats and tropes. You know you’re going to play as a child/young person, taking their first Pokemon from a professor, venturing out into a world and collecting symbols in order to challenge the country’s best trainers. Beating up a criminal/terrorist organisation along the way.
What if, A Pokemon game still existed within those conventions, but you played a different role in the story. Maybe you are the Pokemon Professor. Travelling the region to research your particular area of study, collecting Pokemon along the way to give to the aspiring trainers as their starters. Giving you new metrics by with to base achievement.
Or maybe you’re a cop, infiltrating Team Rocket, maintaining your cover as a grunt, while also trying to expose them. Only to be outdone by some do-gooding ten year old.
Or maybe you’re a journalist, on the ground in a war torn country, trying to expose a corrupt government while seeing what a war looks like when Pokemon are a thing.
Obviously, a lot of these stories are heavier and more complex than, what is essentially a children’s game, is going to approach. But as I stated at the top of this post. Pokemon fans span a swash of all ages. Would it be so bad if they made a game that catered to the older fans who have followed the game since it started.
There are so many stories that could be told within this framework that don’t just end with you challenging the elite four and becoming champion. Obviously, some of these examples are pretty outlandish. But really, I want the Pokemon franchise to grow and evolve, like Zelda has before it.
I am eager to see what the new Pokemon game is going to be on the Switch after Let’s go.Even if none of my suggestions here find a way into the game itself, I just hope that Game Freak and Nintendo are ambitious in the scope of their game, the depth of their storytelling and just break away from that tired blueprint that the games have adhered to since 1999.