The Nintendo Switch release of Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield marks the beginning of the eighth generation of Pokemon games. The original games released way back in 1996 for the Game Boy, and every few years since then we’ve seen steady releases of new games in the franchise. With each new game came new monsters to love and collect, new gym battles to overcome, new nefarious teams to thwart, and that same charm of battling and collecting the titular Pokemon.
While I completely understand fans’ reactions to Game Freak, the company that develops the series, making changes to this formula, I wonder what the series could be if some changes are made. Rather than talk about what is “missing” from these newest games in the series, I want to look at what could be. What the Pokemon games might be able to do if they can break from the chains of nostalgia and actually make something new. Let’s take a look at the changes Pokemon can make in the future to really take the series into an exciting new direction!
You are the Leader of Your Own Gym
This is actually a major change I wished would happen years ago, and I still think it would be absolutely amazing. Instead of venturing out and collecting every Pokemon and battling to be the league’s best (which you could totally still do if you wanted!), you’ll also have trainers stop by your gym to battle you. The trainers can get progressively stronger as the game goes on. And, since this is a Pokemon game, you can award your gym badge by meeting some other criteria.
The only real caveat here is losing a battle in a Pokemon game isn’t easy. I feel like I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve lost to any AI controlled opponent in any of the Pokemon games I’ve played over the years. We as players have grown accustomed to simply overpowering and winning every fight. Maybe now it’s time to have some trainers come in and actually give us a formidable challenge. That could lead to the players actually wanting to train their team, to improve their gym, and to really get connected with the Pokemon they have.
Lastly, I feel like the later Pokemon games have been implementing gameplay outside of battling and collecting. Petting your pocket monsters, taking them to get their photos taken (I feel like that was a thing in one of those games?), and giving them accessories are just a few examples. The gym leader idea lends itself well to this already established mechanics of gameplay outside of battling. And finally, I think it would just be sweet to be a gym leader.
Make Each Pokemon Captured Feel Significant
Hear me out on this one: One of the selling points of the Pokemon franchise has been “Catching ’em all”. With the release of Pokemon Sword and Shield there are nearly 900 different Pokemon. That’s an absolute behemoth of a number! And I know they aren’t all available in every game, and you have to import them from other games to actually catch them all (And yes, this will be the first game you physically cannot get them all in one game).
So with that many creatures to collect, it makes the joys of finding and battling and truly finding a companion in the Pokemon you collect diminish.
What if each Pokemon battle in the wild was just that: a real battle. Instead of making Pidgey an easy first catch, make it a tough fight that you’ll need to actually work toward to get the chance to catch Pidgey. I feel like this change will emulate the feeling of the game world itself: there are countless trainers who talk about their love and passion with their favorite Pokemon, only for you to stroll by and absolutely decimate their world with your super powerful team that probably has all of their Pokemon, but better. Also, this could help explain why there are trainers that only have one Pokemon, or one type of Pokemon: They’re good at catching those specific types!
Really the change here I am thinking is taking away the huge emphasis on catching a lot of different Pokemon, and replacing it with catching a great amount of Pokemon, but making each of those catches feel important and rewarding.
Real World Regional Specific Pokemon
This one comes up as pure circumstance of where we stand today. The mobile release of Pokemon Go added the idea that there are some Pokemon that can only be caught at specific locations in the real world. For example, I believe here in North America my regional specific Pokemon is Tauros.
What if that gameplay change was added to a future mainline Pokemon game? The game itself could include several hundred Pokemon that can be caught anywhere, but there can be a few dozen that are only available in North America, Asian, Africa, and all over the world! The Nintendo Switch makes taking your game with you while you travel incredibly easy. This also allows for you as the player to really feel like an actual trainer, taking their team to a new area and finding new Pokemon!
Why not take that idea a step further, and have the Pokemon in the game interact with the world. Maybe a flying type like Wingull would only be available in coastal areas, but for a few months it “migrates” to other parts of the world too. Or there could be events, like in Pokemon Go, that bring out specific Pokemon. Maybe a lot of sightings for Pikachu’s have been reported, making them appear more frequently in the game. There’s a lot of possibility here.
To help aid with this, an upgraded trading system can be implemented too. A lot of us are not lucky enough to be able to travel, so getting those Pokemon shouldn’t be off limits. A new world trade option can be made, incentivizing trainers to catch and trade those region exclusive Pokemon. This could be a pretty huge change, but after 20 years of very similar gameplay, it might be just what the series needs to draw in even more players.
The Pokemon MMO
The biggest shot in the dark here is to make a Pokemon MMO. To be honest if this ever did happen it likely wouldn’t be part of the mainline Pokemon series. Just think of what it could be though!
A huge world to explore with all kinds of Pokemon to find and battle. Trainers spread across the land ready to engage in battle, trade, and conversation. Real world players dropping in with their teams to also work toward becoming the very best in the land. A shift to catching a training a few Pokemon instead of catching them all. Some evil doers in the world just to add a sense of urgency to your actions. And a ton of research from all the Pokemon Professors scattered around the world.
The PvP elements for this type of game almost create themselves. Trainers can engage in friendly battles with one another at any time. The local gyms can be taken over and defended by in game groups (like guilds and the teams in Pokemon Go). The Elite 4 and Pokemon League Champion can be actual players who have risen high enough in rank to be just that awesome. The list could go on.
The Pokemon games are already pretty grind-heavy, so I suppose adding an even more tedious grind to the series might not be all that good. But regardless, just the idea of millions of trainers jumping online together to populate a world like that of the Pokemon anime or manga sounds absolutely amazing.
It All Starts with Sword and Shield
And all of these changes can start now with the release of Sword and Shield. The removal of features that many fans have enjoyed over the years totally sucks, don’t get me wrong. But if the precedent is changed and players are no longer expecting to find all 900+ Pokemon in their game, the developers can start to do some new things with these games.
Instead of playing the same game over and over again, some changes can make each game, each generation of Pokemon feel special. Outside of seeing some sweet new Pokemon, it would be just as awesome to have a great story to watch unfold. Or a cool mechanic be introduced. Or even a neat game-specific gimmick (like the Gym Leader one listed above). With the developers no longer being tied down by the nostalgia of fan expectation, they can actually create a video game they want to make.
I want to end by stating I don’t think there is anything wrong with Pokemon games. The formula clearly works, and I will be the first to say I really enjoy playing Pokemon. The series will likely make minor changes here and there, but nothing as significant as those listed here. And Game Freak doesn’t even have to: they have an extremely popular franchise with a massive fan base. While that presents its own set of challenges, it also gives a bit of comfort knowing that as a gamer my favorite characters and series will go strong for years.
What are your thoughts on Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield? I for sure want to play, but I might have to be holding off on buying the game until after Christmas. I look forward to seeing what others enjoy most about this new game!