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Pokemon means a lot of things to different people. For those of us who broke into the RPG genre playing Pokemon, we're always looking for more. Perhaps it's time for a change.
The Pokemon franchise has been going strong for close to 15 years, and in that time, has never dipped in popularity — despite the fact that the intellectual property was marked as nothing more than a shiny marketing ploy. From the fires of the first Pokemon titles, consumers have seen card games, television shows, toys of various sizes, and even pocket-monster-shaped food.
I wholeheartedly believe that the franchise is due for some changes in order to stay fresh and survive.
In 1997, I had my first experience with Pokemon. Having no money, nor a Game Boy to speak of, I took the non-traditional route of pirating Pokemon Blue. Keep in mind that this was a time when emulators were almost considered a pipe dream.
The emulator ran poorly. My vastly underpowered Compaq made funny noises as I played. I should also mention that the game was still in its original Kanji, forcing Past Will to write down and memorize the symbols for basic things like "Yes," "No," and "Pikachu, shut up and use something other than quick attack."
What? I should forget Solar Beam in order to teach Leech Seed?
The experience was magical and unlike any game I had ever played before.
Since that initial foray into Pokemon on the NO$GBA emulator, I have experienced the thrill of "catching them all"… or at least as many as I could before growing tired of tossing spheres at Zubats many times over. I have visited the different regions of the Pokemon world with new eyes, each time wondering what new and exciting creatures will jump out from the bushes next.
This cycle has begun again recently with the release of Pokemon Black/White: Version 2, the first true sequel to be released in the long-running Nintendo franchise. Some worried that this title would be nothing more than a rehash. But I've found that publisher The Pokemon Company has made a sharp and consistent gaming experience that sums up the very best that monster catching has to currently offer.
The operative word is currently. As much as I love the Pokemon franchise in its ball-tossing, monster-catching, obvious moral-spewing glory, I think gamers as a whole are ready for some fresh ingredients in the Pokemon gumbo.
I have four changes in mind for the Pokemon franchise that I feel are necessary, if not mandatory, expectations for future releases.
#4: Time to forget hidden machines
One of the most novel features of the Pokemon franchise is that the monsters you recruit for your adventure aren't just voiceless soldiers. They have clearly designated personalities and features. These features are what draw players to certain Pokemon and is one of the biggest reasons for the success of the franchise. This led to the idea of Hidden Machines (or HMs).
HMs were an out-of-combat mechanic that allowed you to teach specific moves to specific Pokemon in order to manipulate the outside world. Need a shrub cut down that is blocking your path? Teach your Scyther the HM "Cut," and you're good to go. Feel the need to hop on the back of an oversized mammaloid — that could crush you to death just by rolling over — and sail across the blue ocean? Teach that lazy ass Snorlax to "Surf!"
I don't see this ending well.
The idea that I was using my Pokemon to fly around the game world or light up a dark cave was a great idea and sold the concept of your companions being partners and not just minions.
The problem? HMs have become cumbersome and more of a barrier than a help. HMs cannot be overwritten by teaching a Pokemon a new move like other machine-taught moves, thus requiring the player to go to a special NPC in order to "forget" the HM.
Additionally, the player is required to either assign HMs to their most important Pokemon or keep around a "mule" whose only purpose in its sad existence is to know "Cut," "Flash," "Dig," and "Whirlpool."
The poor bastard.
I elect that it's time to blend HMs into the additional abilities that each individual Pokemon already possess. Have a water-type Pokemon? Once you obtain a specific badge, you're ready to "Surf" your ass off. Have a ground Pokemon handy? Just go to the summary menu and dig out of that never-ending hole of random battles and Rattattas.
I think we can all agree that taking up one of those six precious party spots for, what I can only imagine, is the saddest, most over-worked Pokemon of all time, is very much a good thing.
#3: End game, cometh
Pokemon Silver/Gold was the first Pokemon title to play with the concept of "the game after the game." Previously, once a player completed the initial eight gym-leader battles and defeated the Elite 4, the game was over, save for completing your PokeDex. Silver/Gold changed the formula with a completely new region and eight more gym leaders whose Pokemon required destruction at your hands.
I loved the concept, and bit by bit, each subsequent title has toyed with the idea. In the age of downloadable content, I think it's time for The Pokemon Company to take a page out of titles like World of Warcraft and consider end-game, downloadable patch updates that are purely for game content.
There has to be more than this in life!
I would love to spend more time with my party of Pokemon, whom I have raised and battled with through an entire storyline. Considering how expansive and, dare I say, grown up, the likes of the anime and manga have become, taking things a step further with new content updates would be refreshing.
Especially if it means I get more time with my level 80 Wobbufett.
#2: Time for the story to evolve
As I have matured into an adult, my eyes roll over in the back of my head every time I see an NPC tell my character about growing strong, strengthening my relationship with my Pokemon, and blah blah blah.
These characters live in a vibrant, fully functioning world. Isn't it time to treat them as such?
I believe the appropriate response to this is, "lulwut?"
Yesterday, my fiancé and I were both playing Black/White Version 2, and she noticed garages within the game with cars inside of them. This seems like a novel concept when applied to the Pokemon games. Why not use the story to explore the various aspects of the world around the characters?
After all, not everyone is a trainer. Some people just happen to live in this universe. In some cases, PokeDex entries have pointed out that various Pokemon are used as food sources. What would a real established government for a country have to say about Pokemon?
Uh … maybe not THAT adult.
The recent storyline developments in Black/White and its sequel are a great start. The tale delves into the idea of the bond between creature and human. It asks harder and darker questions than any of the previous games have dared to explore. Are Pokemon slaves to their masters? Do their personalities change over time? Is there no such thing as a bad Pokemon, but only a bad trainer?
These are concepts that I would like to see taken further. Considering that the fans who grew up with Pokemon have grown into adulthood, it would be a unique chance to see how a more mature version of the game would resonate with fans.
#1: I need consoling
Pokemon is ready to move to the console. No tap dancing around the issue, here. Fans have salivated over a true-to-form console version of the Pokemon franchise since the series first came out and have received nothing but glorified arena-battle games.
Some would say that removing Pokemon from the grab-and-go, portable medium would ruin the concept and take the whimsy out of the franchise.
I think otherwise. The console possibilities are endless, and the sales numbers would be astounding.
Considering the technical advances that Nintendo has lavished on the franchise, I salivate at the idea of this being done on a larger scale. If anything, I feel an appropriate measure would be to reverse the trend Nintendo has placed themselves in: Release a fully fleshed-out Pokemon game on console, then release a battle-arena-focused title for the portable device that can transfer Pokemon to and from each game.
I'd also point out that if a Pokemon MMO were ever created, I would immediately buy whatever console was required and for any price that was demanded. I know I'm not the only one, and I feel it goes without saying.
Sigh … but a dream …
Pokemon has gone from a cherished childhood game to a franchise that still delights and surprises me to this day. As a 14-year-old playing Pokemon on a Game Boy, enjoying the card game, and watching the television show, I would never have dreamed that I'd retain interest after all these years.
Yet, here I am at age 27, screaming about how Ultra Balls never seem to work and my inability to find a decent water-type Pokemon. I guess some things never change. Hopefully, the Pokemon franchise will.