Back in myyy dayyy there were only 151 Poketmin!Team Rocket were the best villains and the starters didn’t look like garbage and mootoo is the coolest pokemon and ash never paid for misty’s bike in the amine and Porygon is too a pokemon, I don’t even know what digimon are and also-
Sorry you had to read that, I’m trying to channel out all of my nostalgia so I can write fairly about this new Pokemon game coming out, Pokemon Sun and Moon. One of the most recurring themes to these kinds of articles are that Pokemon fans can have some of the thickest nostalgia glasses of all time, and I am no exception to that claim. Like most people that write these kinds of things, I too grew up with a Gameboy and played the original Red and Blue games to the point that I can still name off the original 151 roster by heart. And of course I also watched the anime that aired alongside the game which only further seated the addiction to the series for my impressionable young mind. However, I like to tell myself that I am able to move with the times, and accept the modern twists on original classics so I’ve always kept an eye on the direction of the Pokemon series over the years. (I heard you can rollerskate in the X&Y games? That’s radical!)
But to prove a point, imagine if Pokemon Go had launched with X&Y’s roster instead of Red and Blue? People would have lost their minds! It wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it was and I’m quite sure the entirety of the internet would collapse onto itself. But why? Why is there such a hardcore dedication to the original games, when the Pokemon of that age were just as questionable as the current age of Pokemon?
For me, it was the simple fact that I had grown up. When I got older, I found that I couldn’t make the same suspension of disbelief for the absurdities the new Pokemon games presented even though the same absurdities existed in the older games. A lot of people forget that Pokemon is first and foremost a game for children. I mean for god’s sake the whole trading thing was just a ploy to get kids to talk to other kids! They didn’t care whether you were trying to min/max your team’s effectiveness or be the best that there ever was–the Pokemon’s system as a whole is malleable because it is built for kids, not because game devs are falling out of touch with reality.
And I mean think about it, most of the older games had you relying solely on having type advantage and grinding levels as the best way to win. The only difference was that those games took longer because they were built with a slower engine and created the same amount of labor new Pokemon gamers go through. Picked Charmander as your starter? Well you dumb kid now you gotta go sit in a bush and raise a Pidgey or something until it can fight Brock’s Onix. Having a good time fighting the Gym leaders of the Silver and Gold games? Well now the fourth gym leader is a ghost type. Good luck having a dark type move to counter that, go sit in a bush and raise your starter until he literally one hits the Gym leaders Gengar or you’re in for a bad time.
Now this isn’t bad game design, these trials were of course challenging you to find your own creative way to be a Pokemon master but the cool thing about that was that you could approach the problem from many different angles, making no two Pokemon adventures the same. But wait, what’s this new feature of Pokemon Sun and Moon?
At a glance this suggested Island trial feature seems like a new way to improve how Trainers explore this new world of Pokemon but actually, its going to make it a lot more scripted. Think about it, there is only one way to pick up four of the same item and while the Totem battles will come with a mini-boss level of adversity, because its thrown into the same segments of other parts of the island, its very unlikely that you’ll have a different Pokemon than someone else playing the game will. In older Pokemon games, sure you couldn’t go to the last continent before beating a certain gym, but you had free reign to move back and forth between the places you had unlocked, as well as getting to go a little farther in the game if you cleared the story-line portion of that gym, without taking on the gym. The difference is that one game doesn’t hold your hand while the other does. One game is open-world, and another is level based.
This is where I believe the road splits between old players and new players of Pokemon. Because Pokemon games of yesterday were made by small teams and meant for a smaller audience they were able to take much more liberties in what they expect of a player, but now that the series is popular it has to take account for people who are new to the series or dare I say it…casuals!? It certainly seems that way with all the free things you get during your adventure. At one point of the newer X and Y games, the gym leader literally gives you his Lucario! There was also a part of the Omeaga Ruby series that let you pick one of the Johto and Unova starters–and then there was the fact that the other legendaries of other games appeared through Portals that were laid out in the overworld map. With all these free things added to these games it seems like going into a secret cave to find a Mewtwo is now a formality at best.
There is also an enhanced focus on story-line that furthers the gap between trainers of old and new. The way Omega Ruby and Sapphire handled Latios and Latias are my prime examples of this phenomena. In the new games as you progress through the game, Latios and Latias are treated as both tutorials for using the new Soar feature (which as a stand alone feature is amazing) and also shove in your forced relationship with Steven as an attempt to add drama when you face him as the final gym leader. You got either Latios or Latias for free and the other was given to Steven. But in the older games you had to literally track them down on the map to get a chance to catch them and it also segued nicely into the trials to capture Regirock, Regice, and Registeel. I could tell that this was a nuance taken from newer games that would make certain players feel that much more like a legend, however for me, it felt more like I was on a Pokemon Ruby themed amusement ride then some kind of great trainer.
With all this said though, one of the things most of the nostalgia glass wearing loyalists forget is that the newer games also focus on end game content, instead of just ditching you when you beat the Elite Four. Now there are things like the Battle Mansion and the fact that you can battle other Trainers across the internet that create a whole new level of difficulty that you’d never have really experienced in Red and Blue. With each game there are more reasons to keep playing even after you’ve completed the main story line that give each story much more value. Yes, exploring Kanto after beating Gold and Silver’s main story-line was a nice treat, it was nothing you had not seen before and is something I believe the newer Pokemon games attempt to address.
In short “meh meh, older games were harder these gosh dern kids have it too easy.” I think the new Pokemon game looks interesting, but I believe the best chance it has to reach both old and new players is to stop all the hand-holding story line and game mechanics that make casuals feel like a legend and instead allow for each trainer to make their own story. For too long the game developers have sacrificed Pokemon as means of a tutorial rather than an actual adventure and the only way to bring it back is to really let people explore these beautiful worlds at their own pace. Yes it is a game for children, but if a game only appeals to the mind-span of a literal ten year old, I can’t imagine it doing well as the internationally praised icon the series has come to be.