Pokémon games have been around for more than 20 years, but they hasn’t changed a lot. We still only have one save file, one evil organization set on taking over the world, and hundreds of pocket monsters begging to be caught. Don’t we deserve something a bit more evolved?
Pokémon Sun and Moon have the potential to reinvent the franchise by making some small changes. Things like reintroducing your rival from the original installments, adding additional side quests, and including a more engaging story would improve the pokémon experience tremendously.
While I’m still going to be picking up Pokémon Sun and Moon on November 18th no matter what, I hope Game Freak has considered shaking things up a bit.
More Challenge Through Better Rivals
A trademark of every pokémon adventure is occasional run-ins with your rival (often aptly named “butthead” or “douche”). This rivalry was more than just a competition. It put a fire under player’s butts to not only catch a wide variety of pokémon, but also to improve them in order to be able to perform better in battles. In recent entries, rivals have been replaced with friends who add more needless cutscenes rather than challenge you to be a better trainer.
While battles with your rival in Pokémon Red, Blue, Silver, and Gold may not have been a difficult challenge, at least they were a challenge. In Pokémon X and Y, you have a group of four friends who support you on your journey by stopping you on many occasions with tidbits of information on where to go next and a mobile pokécenter to freshen your team up.
The problem is that Pokémon is easy enough as it is. We don’t need mobile Pokémon Centers healing our team when the trail gets tough. We need rivals that push us to be better and drive us to our goal more than any positive encouragement could.
Challenging your rival wasn’t only about becoming a stronger trainer – it was about growing as a person. In the beginning, your friendly neighborhood butthead is an impatient jerk who’s out to be better than you in everything. But, by the end, he understands that being the best isn’t the most important thing in the world.
And he didn’t learn that overnight. He learned that by losing to you, the player, over and over. Because every time he challenged you to a fight, he lost. After he lost, he promised himself to train harder for the next time he saw you. We witnessed our rival grow over the course of the game. He started caring about his pokémon instead of seeing them as a tool with which to achieve his goals. At the end of Pokemon Gold and Silver we see our rival’s Golbat has evolved into a Crobat, which means he’s maxed out its happiness.
A rival isn’t just about motivation, it’s about learning what it means to grow up.
More Side Quests and Battles
Everyone knows that a pokémon journey consists of taking on eight gyms, the Elite Four, and then the champion. We know that’s likely to not change in Sun and Moon, although it would be cool if it did. There should be much more to explore in the Alola region.
In previous games, once the new champion is crowned and the lights dim, there isn’t much left to do outside a few special missions like the Delta Episode in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
Gyms should reopen with stronger teams and more puzzles to solve. NPCs throughout the region should have quests that lead you to discover special mega stones or rare pokémon. These quests shouldn’t be mindless filler. They need to include characters with actual stories that make you think.
Maybe you’ll need to bring a steel-type pokémon to a construction site in the middle of the forest to help lift a pile of beams that broke out of a crane’s harness, or you might have to deliver a package to the top floor of a Silph Company-esque business and battle all of the employees on the way up.
The possibilities are endless. There really isn’t an excuse not to fill the Alola region with fun and engaging side quests that reward you for exploring and experimenting with pokémon that you otherwise might have ignored.
A Deeper Story
I have single handedly taken down 10 nefarious organizations all hell-bent on gaining power by exploiting pokémon for their special abilities. And I’ve been told that I’m the chosen one to save the world 10 times after those same nefarious groups put said world in jeopardy. I think it’s time for something new.
Pokémon Black and White brushed the surface of more mature themes by focusing on how the relationship between pokémon and their trainers can be problematic. Team Plasma’s goal was to free all pokémon from their trainers, claiming people were problems in the lives of pokémon.
The introduction of extremely powerful creatures into the world creates thousands of possibilities for interesting storytelling. Have humans used Charizards, Arcanines, or Houndooms on the frontlines of war? Have scientists considered using Gyarados, Blastoise, and Feraligatr to venture into the deep sea? We could even explore the way pokémon react with the world in everyday life – emergency services, transportation, and every other possibility that isn’t battling, fashion, or breeding.
Pokémon is doing something right. Time and time again it’s one of Nintendo and The Pokémon Company’s best-selling games (especially with the recent Pokémon GO craze). But even one of the most nostalgic franchises of all time can’t sustain success without adapting. There is a certain nostalgic charm to going on the same adventure each time you receive a new starter from the unusually familiar professor in an incredibly small town.
But there’s also a lot of novelty in exploring the unknown and getting lost in a journey that you didn’t see coming.