Pokémon don’t need to grow up with players

On the surface, 2022 is an epic year for Pokémon. The most recent entries, Legendary Pokémon: Arceus and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, for the first time in franchise history to adopt an open world design. In these games, coaches can more or less adventure around the world at will. Gone are the days of being sent through linear routes one after another — trainers and their Pokémon are truly released into the world of Game Freak.

Despite this leap in game design, when looking back at this year in Pokémon, what strikes me is how much the series is largely the same. For a longtime fan, 2022 is the year Game Freak solidifies its dedication to 25-year-old gameplay. This strict adherence to form both tests how much I enjoy the series and sheds light on the real reasons I keep playing it. These games have taught me that even major updates to the game’s design don’t change the underlying formula — and so I need to appreciate its essence. Fortunately, there is still much to love.

My first memories of playing are memories of being stuck. The first Pokémon game I ever played was Silver Pokémon. At the time, I couldn’t read, so I spent a lot of time running around aimlessly. I vividly remember two trainers fighting and blocking a path going north at the beginning of the adventure. To get them moving, I just had to talk to my mom, but I didn’t know it. Instead, I squirmed around in my confined space and talked to people until the path finally opened up.

An image of Pokémon Silver.  It shows a top-down view of a town in pixel art style.

Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo

From then on, my journey continued to be filled with obstacles such as a strange tree in the forest or a Gym Leader whose Miltank could heal himself. For each challenge or obstacle, I put all my energy into solving that single problem and keep going until I overcame it and hit another problem. I love Pokémon, but when I was playing it growing up, Pokémon was never a completely fun game. Even from those early days, games felt less suspenseful and more like a constant focus on me.

Beginner coach with games like Pokémon Scarlet and Violet would never have to deal with these kinds of hurdles, at least not in the way that I had to. The idea of ​​a single Sudowoodo blocking the story entirely seems ridiculous. In scarlet and Violet, linear routes have been replaced by vast plains, deserts, and rolling hills. Koraidon, a red dragon with huge flared fur, allows me to control it as it gallops. At the start of the game we were asked to go to the school, but there’s no reason why you can’t do a little tour around the area.

In 2022, Pokémon has improved a lot. The games introduced important quality of life changes, such as experience points shared across your entire team (a controversial feature at first) and the removal of Hidden Moves — so you don’t have to dedicate an entire Pokémon to your team and its moving locations just to pass by. And now with the open world, you can even easily avoid unwanted wild Pokémon, which can add a lot of time to activities like walking through caves. scarlet and Violet have one of the best stories in any Pokémon game I’ve played, and they even let you choose between three different challenges. So if that one boss is giving you trouble, you can try beating another boss. I can confidently say that there’s never been a better time to learn about Pokémon — that is, if you can ignore the glitch.

Image of a Pokémon trainer surfing on Koraidon in Pokémon Scarlet.

Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo

And yet, despite these major changes, I can’t help but bump into the very same old railings that guided me when I was 5. Sure enough, a tree won’t stand in the way and the entire game progression , but you still need to upgrade your mount to be able to do things like swim, surf, jump extremely high, or expand the slopes. You can venture too far north and be obscured by a smiling Chansey strolling along a flower bed. It is possible to start the game only to realize that you really can’t fight the Ice-style gym leader you’re obsessed with, because the level of each gym doesn’t scale and is too difficult to challenge right from the start. head.

The simple truth is that creating Pokémon in the open world doesn’t really change Pokémon that much. Game Freak remains committed to a 25-year-old gaming system that resembles what runs on the Game Boy at its core. Sure, we can picnic with Pokémon and hang out with our friends now, but a lot of Pokémon players are still focused on sharpening and catching Pokémon as well as checking the boxes on the list to find Pokémon. captured and calculate how effective a move is.

Due to the formulaic nature of the main games, this is the first year I’ve completely questioned whether I really like Pokémon or whether I’m playing them out of professional and social obligations. I owe Pokémon a lot for my career as a journalist and my home life; it’s been the main game my family has played since I was 5. This year I started to explore other options. I delight in the vast lands of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and really struggled with the thought that I didn’t love Pokémon anymore.

I can’t help but think that Pokémon has a Final Fantasy 7 remake moment. The game reimagines the classic 1997 turn-based RPG and helps unravel a decades-old story by focusing on a single piece of the original. It examines ethical and moral questions, modernizes its attitude towards gender, and even eliminates the turn-based combat system. But Final Fantasy is also aimed at a more mature audience, for whom radical re-creations can be more tolerable. I’m not at all interested in saying we need “adult Pokémon” because I’d rather wrestle with the reality of the series than speculate on how I want it to be. maybe it is in. And that’s why, maybe like AshI considered whether it was time to retire and move on to something else.

Screenshot of the landscape in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.  There were steep hills, trees, a river, and a road that seemed to lead to a castle town in the distance.

Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Polygon

Game Freak’s reluctance to repeat the main series in a more meaningful way could stem from any number of reasons. Maybe it’s because of the limited development time – the company released two different Pokémon games on the console in a year. Maybe that’s because no matter how many bugs the game has and how much criticism it gets, the series continues to sell well. scarlet and VioletEg, sold 10 million copies worldwide in just 72 hours. Or maybe the good fan argument is right, and some of us need to accept that the series is aimed at kids and not just adults.

And while turning the main series into an open-world game didn’t revolutionize gameplay, Game Freak did provide a lifeline for players like me this year in the form of a spin-off. Legendary Pokémon: Arceus. Arceus also has a more open world format (technically, you unlock the world one area at a time). But it also changes the overall approach to catching monsters in what is perhaps the most meaningful way in franchise history. Instead of repeating the details, I will quote the year-end introduction I wrote Legend: Arceus and why it’s one of our top games:

When starting any Pokémon game, or even in the movies, we are always learning about the Pokémon world. We are told that these powerful beings live alongside humans as partners and compete with each other in battles that further strengthen the bond between Pokémon and trainer. Legend: Arceus completely different from this concept by taking place in a historical period in the universe where Pokémon have not yet mingled with the general population and where the average person is afraid of Pokémon. We, the players, have time travel from the future, and we must be one of the first bridges between the frightened townsfolk and the monsters lurking beyond their fences. .

Legend: Arceus didn’t stop at presenting a philosophically interesting world that upsets our previous ideas about how we think about Pokémon. It’s also more fun to play. It combines light stealth mechanics with the feel of a third-person shooter, in which trainers throw Poké Balls at unsuspecting Pokémon to capture them. The game resembles Game Freak’s first real attempt at modernizing its monster-catching mechanics. The mechanics behind seeing, catching, and fighting Pokémon come together and smooth the lines between fighting gameplay and everything else.

Trainers become the center of battle in a whole new way, as we battle Pokémon by throwing random items at them. Imagine the glee when I realized that I, the trainer, would fight a ferocious bear in battle as I jumped around and dodged in a battle that could be described as excruciating. gentle like Soul War. This gameplay looks like a step up for older audiences who grew up with Pokémon but are ready to try something new.

But for me, it’s not really the Pokémon system that is the heart of the series. Pokémon itself is the reason I started playing and why I still find joy in it.

a pokemon trainer in pokemon legends: arceus crouched between all of their pokemon as they chat

Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Polygon

Criticism aside, scarlet and Violet don’t forget that the monsters still control the game. Whether it’s kneeling to look your partner straight in the eye or admiring the bond we form with our starter Pokémon in scarlet and VioletEach of these games maintains fun and charm through the creatures themselves.

I want to laugh and laugh again at the ridiculous details of the new generation. I love that Dunsparce finally got an evolution and it’s just called Dudunsparce! I am extremely interested in the ongoing war between Tinkaton and Corviknight. I love setting up a picnic only to find that my partners have two modes: full zoom or just oversleep. I think it’s funny that they can’t seem to stand still and take selfies with me either.

i still have problems with the whole premise about “collecting” creatures as we have to develop a relationship with them, but to me, details around Pokémon it was they who supported this entire franchise to grow, even as I struggled with years of slow and sluggish turn-based combat. In 2022, everything and nothing changes in Pokémon. I still love these creatures, and that’s what keeps me coming back — even if the franchise can leave you feeling stuck in the past, despite its best efforts.


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