My relationship with Pokémon has always been one of equal parts joy and frustration. As a child of the 90s, obviously a lot of my early gaming memories revolve around Nintendo’s virtual cockfighting simulator, and in the last few years it has drawn me back in. I enjoyed my playthroughs of the Gen VI titles, and plan on getting Sun and Moon, especially since they’re making cool changes like a more transparent battle interface, regional variants of Pokémon, and finally ditching the “Collect Eight Badges and Become Pokémon Master” main quest.
That said, replaying the classic formula through the eyes of a modern JRPG fan has brought a ridiculous amount of frustration. Pokémon (and Nintendo in general) is notoriously set in its ways, but the following are things that are inexcusable after 20 years of urging us to catch ‘em all. In honor of the upcoming Generation VII, here are 7 ways that Pokémon still needs to get with the times.
Make HMs Less Stupid
Note: It has been brought to my attention after the time of this writing that the new “PokeRide” system being implemented in Sun and Moon is very likely meant to be a replacement for HMs. However, until GameFreak specifically says they are removing HMs from the game, I still feel these points are worth making. – Grant
HMs are the bane of every Pokémon player’s existence. If you have never gotten frustrated trying to manage your HMs, you are either a liar or perfectly okay with your Pokémon being loaded down with terrible moves.
A quick note for the uninitiated: each Pokémon only knows four attacks. TMs teach Pokémon new battle techniques, while HMs teach them moves that can be used both in and out of battle, like the ability to cut large trees or fly as a means of fast travel. Once an HM is taught it cannot be overwritten. That’s 25% of your Pokémon’s combat utility that has now been replaced by the ability to cut down a tree.
Moreover, several of the HMs are just plain stupid field abilities. “Strength” gives a Pokémon the ability to move large boulders, something that obviously couldn’t be achieved by any of their other strength-based moves. “Rock Smash” has a Pokémon hit a rock really, really hard. By the Hoenn games we had accumulated Surf, Dive, and Waterfall, meaning if you want to be able to get around in the water, you need to either have redundant typing in your party or waste 75% of your Water-type’s combat potential.
The designers are obviously aware of how stupid of a setup this is, since every game almost immediately gives you an “HM Whore” – a Pokémon that can learn most of the HMs necessary to proceed even if it doesn’t make any sense.
There are so many solutions to this problem that I can only assume GameFreak hasn’t done anything about it through sheer sadism.
- Every Pokémon could have one or two separate “HM Slots” that can allow a Pokémon to have field utility without sacrificing battle efficiency.
- HM moves could be replaced later on in the game with items that serve the same purpose (like OR/AS’s Eon Flute replacing Fly) so you don’t have to go pull a weasel out of a magic computer because a tree is in your way.
- The HMs that are clearly stupid could be removed because they are so, so stupid.
- HM moves could be revamped to actually be good in combat so I don’t feel like I’m wasting a combat slot on them.
- HMs could just be overwritable, since there is not and has never been any reason for them to be permanent.
Trying to navigate a modern Pokémon game with HMs is like ordering a pizza over the phone. You know it was perfectly normal ten years ago, but there is at least one incredibly obvious better way to be doing this and you’re wasting your effort.
Make It Easier To Manage Moves In General
The four move cap has always struck me as limiting, especially since the number of useful moves in the game only expands as more and more games come out. My Sceptile already knows Double Chop (a Dragon move I can leverage when I pop my Mega Evolution), Leaf Blade (reliable Grass damage), Mega Drain (healing for long battles), and Cut (ugh). Where am I supposed to make room for other useful attacks like Solar Beam or Frenzy Plant? Moreover, where am I supposed to make space for the buffing and debuffing attacks that evidently people actually use since they keep making more of them?
Why not make it so Mega Evolving opens up two more attack slots, so it can be more than just an attack boost, but an advanced strategy that opens up once you activate it? Why not make things like Move Relearning more accessible instead of making me track down a random item to make it happen? I could come up with a third example but oh, wait. Somebody already solved this one.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a great game in many ways, chief among them being that it was the Pokémon action/RPG Nintendo will never make. You were a wizard who captured, trained, and evolved Familiars, which you then sent into battle. Those familiars could only know four special moves at a time.
The thing they did that Pokémon should mimic was that those four moves were chosen from a larger pool of moves that the creature learned as it leveled up. Out of battle you can swap which four moves are usable.
This would make it easier for players to try out new moves, switch up their movesets to accommodate the Gym leader they are about to fight, and generally take the stress off of “Should Charizard forget a move so he can learn Flamethrower?”
The answer is yes. I would like to forget Rock Smash. We all would like to forget Rock Smash.
Stop Hiding The Game Mechanics From Me
Pokémon has a long, storied history of not telling players how it works. The fact that attacks of the same type as your Pokémon gives you a 50% attack boost is relegated to a completely missable NPC. The power of your Pokémon is entirely determined by (until recently) invisible numbers called EVs and IVs. Don’t even get me started on the Type Chart.
One of the most interesting and exciting changes coming to Sun and Moon is the fact that the game will now show you whether or not a move will be effective when you are choosing it, so you don’t find yourself having to remember how a Psychic attack will affect a Dark/Flying type. (Apparently Dark is immune to Psychic, for some reason.)
This is just one small step on the long road called “the right direction”. Give me a little symbol (and an in-game tutorial that informs me of it) when an attack will give me Same Type Attack Bonus. When the game tells me “Internet Commenter Trent is about to send in Breloom, would you like to switch Pokémon?” it shouldn’t assume I know or remember what type a Breloom is; if you have encountered a Pokémon before, it’s typing should appear on the screen when asking if you want to switch. Moreover, there should be an accessible Type Chart in the game.
Seriously, there is no in-game Type Chart. The PokeGear has spots for me to listen to fake radio shows and feed my Tentacruel pastries, but no Type Chart. I have to go to Google every time I try to make a decision about my team. That’s like if Overwatch jumbled up all the characters on the select screen and then never told you what role they play. Wait, is Hanzo super-effective against Genji, or was it the other way around?
Fix Status Effects. Just…..Fix Them
Look, I don’t need to write anything big and long here. We’ve all gotten Confused or Paralyzed while playing Pokémon. It instantly drains all the fun out of the game, mostly because there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to when it will take effect. I once literally completely an entire playthrough of Pokémon Blue without a Pokémon hurting itself in confusion even once, and then there are times they’ll do it four times in a row.
Show me the percent chance that it’ll happen, make it for a set number of turns (which can be waited out in a Pokeball), or even better, remove those status effects that are only there to frustrate players.
I am playing this game to have fun, not to watch my Lucario slowly punch himself to death.
Do More With Double Battles
Nothing makes my face light up when playing a Pokémon game like getting to play a Double Battle. The 2v2 dynamic of support and exploiting weaknesses is genuinely thrilling, and makes the game so much more enjoyable and mentally engaging. Normal battles generally play out as switching Pokémon to counter the trainer’s next play, then one-shotting it with a type-appropriate move, repeat. Having four Pokémon to keep track of on the battlefield makes it a little more tense and requires me to consider more at once, so when I win one of those fights I feel like I actually earned it.
Unfortunately, double battles are essentially the forgotten middle child of Pokémon features. In the later games whenever you run into pair of trainers looking for a double battle, they each only have one Pokémon, usually of the same or similar types. The fight is over in thirty seconds, tops.
So, I’m gonna say it: all battles should be double battles. There, that’s out there now. Think about it. Doesn’t that sound nice? Doesn’t that sound like a lot of fun? It would open the door for more utility of support moves, allowing you to buff or debuff two Pokémon at once, or restore health to your partner Pokémon when they’re in critical condition. How about a move that augments the partner Pokémon’s move to make it hit both targets? Or a move that swaps the targets of the opposing team’s attacks? There are lots of fun tactical situations that could bring. Still let wild Pokémon encounters be one on one so they don’t break capturing balance, but those “Hoard Battles” (that happen, like, twice? Do more with those, too.) could be 2v5.
Focus On The Interesting Parts Of The Story
In the Kanto and Johto games, you fight Team Rocket, an organization that bred a genetically engineered Super Pokémon in the hopes of using him as a weapon to subjugate the world. In the Hoenn games, you stop a group of eco-terrorists who want to turn the world into either a giant ocean or a barren wasteland by releasing an ancient Pokémon whose second coming is a dark harbinger for the end of humanity as we know it. In the Kalos games, you stop a crazed scientist with exceptionally gravity-defying hair from using a powerful monolith to murder every human being on the planet.
So after I’ve done those things and saved billions of people, why do I care about collecting my last few badges and challenging the Elite Four? “Hey, kid, you just saved literally the entire planet from forces of nature unlike the world has ever seen, but to become Pokémon Champion you’re still gonna have to learn Waterfall.”
The stakes in Pokémon games are always completely backwards, and it’s just bad story-telling. Why not have it that you’re tailing Team WhateverRidiculousNameTheyComeUpWith for a lot of the game, but they don’t make their final move until after you’ve beaten the Elite Four? You defeat them, are ready to fight the champion, and then oh no! TeamBananaIceCream bursts in, kidnaps the Champion because he/she has whatever plot device they need for their master plan (remember when they just wanted Pikachu?) and it’s up to you to go save them. Now you take your Pokémon and storm their base, with the Elite Four and Gym Leaders also pitching in to help.
Imagine the run-up to the 1000 Heartless War from Kingdom Hearts II, except instead of Cloud and Leon you’re teaming up with the Gym Leaders you had to defeat to get where you are now, and now they’re regarding you as equals instead of just another challenger. X and Y established that they purposely use weaker Pokémon to be level-appropriate to challengers, so why can’t we then see them pull out the super powerful Pokémon that they keep in their back pocket for just such an occasion?
I understand that the heart of Pokémon has always been about cultivating friendships and understanding one another through forcing enslaved animals to beat each other into unconsciousness, but the final battle could still be a friendly duel with the Champion. After saving him/her, sending TeamBraveWasActuallyAPrettyOkayMovie to jail, and resting up your Pokémon, you challenge the Champion to one last duel for the title of Pokémon Master. If directed properly, it could actually be pretty powerful, but even if it falls flat on the emotional end, it could at least give me a reason to care after I’ve swam through an ocean of lava and caught whatever Groudon is supposed to be.
Is he some kind of…Earthquake Mole?
Introduce Difficulty Levels
As I said at the beginning of this, I recently played Pokémon Y and Omega Ruby. I really enjoyed the addition of EXP Share to make it less of a grindfest, reusable TMs, and the advent of easier Wonder Trading. They greatly increased my enjoyment with the game and made some of the more tedious aspects of the formula much less so.
However, I got through both games without ever losing a single battle. That’s not even “I’m an RPG gamer so I leveled up and optimized like all get-out”. The depth of my training regimen was to move from plot point to plot point as quickly as possible, fighting whatever trainers I encountered along the way, and making sure I had a diverse group of types on my team.
The quality of life improvements added to Generation VI were not taken into account when balancing the game, and as a result they are some of the easiest games I have ever played. Admittedly OR/AS less so (although I still never lost a fight, I got close once or twice), but playing them was nonetheless more like going through the motions and less like actually using my brain to outwit the game.
Now, I’m not saying “make game harder, scrubs gotta git gud” because I think there’s something to say for letting the game be more accessible to younger players who might not be able to wrap their heads around the strategy involved in building a team and using them effectively in battle. But the game should definitely include multiple difficulty levels to accommodate trainers who want to have a slightly more challenging experience.
Why not introduce difficulty levels for “Elite Trainers” that adjusts enemy trainers to have larger teams with higher levels, as well as taking into account things like Poison in the field? Then have “Pokémon Master” mode that is really brutal, for people who actually play competitively and want something that will challenge them.
Part of the beauty of Pokémon (as highlighted recently by the phenomenon of Pokémon GO) is how universal it is. Everyone of our generation can come together with their love of Pokémon, so why hasn’t GameFreak made their game more accessible to a wide variety of gamers, especially the original fan who have grown up and desire a more challenging experience? I for one can say that these changes would make me more excited than ever to go on a new Pokémon adventure.
What do you think of these changes? Are there other nitpicks about Pokémon that I missed? Comment below and tell me which HM you hate the most!