I haven't played a Pokémon game to completion since Gold came out in 2000. 19 years of Pokémon games have been released since, and with each new generation I try to get back in and find myself bouncing off of them, feeling like I've wasted the money and time I put into them. I've learned from my mistakes, and don't plan on getting Pokémon Sword and Shield, but the lack of changes in the games even as what is supposed to be "The Big One," the first mainline Console Pokémon, fails to engage me, has made me think about what my ideal Pokémon game would be. That's what this post is about. What would it take to bring me back? I'm no game developer by any means, so please take these ideas with a grain of salt. I'm sure they'd need to be balanced to some extent and most probably aren't possible. But I think if even a few of these ideas got implemented, I'd be a lot more excited for a new Pokémon game.
Note: I'll be using a lot of Gen 1 Pokémon as examples because they're the only ones I remember...sorry, heh.)
Wanna Catch 'Em All
When it comes down to it, Pokémon is a game about catching. The entire premise of the series stems from the creator's love for finding and collecting bugs in the Japanese countryside. As the series has progressed, however, it feels like that focus has been lost. Development is almost entirely spent on changing a battle system that is, in my opinion, perfected. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that Mega Evolutions were the last thing that needed to be added to Pokémon's combat, and that the only thing worth doing at this point is adding more of those, as well as new moves and balancing move-sets overall. I've never understood this focus on battling development — unless you play competitively, you'll hardly ever feel the need to master the constantly changing mechanics (unless you got a harder Pokémon game...but we'll get to that).
So instead, why not focus on enhancing the mechanics built around catching Pokémon? I hate using the word immersive, but it honestly fits here: making a region where the Pokémon feel like actual animals, with unique patterns of behavior towards the game world and the player, would do a lot to make the game more engaging to me. What if the rattatta you saw on the field ran away from you and up a tree out of reach, instead of just being a random encounter? What if the only way to get that rattatta to engage with you was to have a flying Pokémon get up to that tree? What if you could sneak up on a Pokémon on the field and throw a pokeball then and there? If you can catch it unaware, you'd have a higher chance of catching it without battling — a thing that happens in the anime...a lot, actually. It could mimic the throwing mechanics from the Let's Go games, but with the added option of not using motion controls.
Then you could expand on that with the game's exploration aspects. What if there were quests that led to specific Pokémon you could catch, or even shiny variants? Say you hear about a strange black-colored Charizard in town that's been hanging about in a nearby mountain range. What if you traveled to that mountain range with a rock Pokémon that could push boulders out of the way, or by sitting on the back of a flying Pokémon large enough to carry you? If you can get through the area successfully, you have a shot at catching a rare Pokémon without having to spend copious amounts of time waiting on RNG or having to trade your way to a shiny Pokémon. Other quests could give you access to rare, unique-sized, or even Max IV pokemon! You could have quests where you investigate a Pokémon that isn't native to an area, or quests where you've found an Alolan version of a Pokémon on a different region — there are tons of possibilities that'd do a lot to break the pacing of Town → Gym → Town → Gym → Cave → Town → Gym.
The Detective Pikachu movie was so engaging to me as someone who's nostalgic for pokemon because it put the focus on Pokémon existing as something other than a means to a battling-end. I think putting in the effort to make a region feel like a real world with Pokémon literally everywhere and existing outside of the realm of waiting to be caught by you would do a lot to excite me. Even just letting Pokémon interact with each other would do a lot to excite me! Imagine an Onix and a Graveler duking it out while you pass through a cave system? Or seeing a school of Magikarp being led by a Gyrados in the ocean?
I Be Up in the (Pokémon) Gym, Just Working on My (Pokémon) Fitness, He's My Witness (Ooo-wee)
The other pillar in my boredom with the Pokémon Series is in regards to its in-game difficulty. It's funny, Pokémon is a lot like fighting games, in my experience — the NPC fights are way too easy, but getting online requires more depth, preparation and meta-management than I have the time or skill for. So! I know online Pokémon is where the "real" difficulty is, but this post is going to focus on what difficulty can be pulled from the game's campaign. I'd also like to say — these suggestions should be adjustable. All games should have difficulty modes anyways, and there's nothing to stop what I'm about to suggest as being a "Hard" mode separate from the already existing easier version of Pokémon.
First, it'd be great to have trainers on the field that have more than two Pokémon at any time. Am I really the only trainer in the region that thinks to carry 6 Pokémon, outside of gym leaders and the elite 4? On top of that, have the trainers use stat-altering moves. Have them switch out Pokémon when necessary, and heal, and all that jazz. Basically, make them as strategic as gym leaders.
So that's that, but speaking of gym leaders, how do we mix that up? What if we did something super out there: get rid of type gyms! There are so many Pokémon out there right now that you can do more than just types! As an example: what if one of the "gyms" was a Herpetarium, so you'd be battling serpent Pokémon? So you've got to consider Poison types like Ekans, but then you have stuff like Serperior, or Steelix, or Dragonaire, and maybe even some water types? And on top of that, what if the gym leaders had a pool of Pokémon they could choose from to make each battle a little different? Stuff like this could help mix up the variety of the battles, and force you to think outside your team of standard six, which gives you more of an incentive to catch and use Pokémon you might not have at that point in the game, or even in general! In my opinion, new mechanics like Dynamax don't really need to be added — I just need a reason to more competently use the mechanics we already have.
Also, and of course this is a pie in the sky idea, but it'd be nice if fights were a little more dynamic. I'm not talking full action game here, but even just fighting Pokémon directly on the field as opposed to going to a new screen would help to make the game feel more lived-in as well. For stuff like water battles, you could still be transitioned to a battle arena, however.
Those are probably my biggest suggestions! I also had a wild idea about being one of the first explorers of a brand new region with no civilization, just new Pokémon to discover, but that felt more like a spin-off than what you'd expect from a mainline title. Maybe I'll make a post on that one day though, where we can start shooting for some really off the wall ideas.
What would you like to see in your dream Pokémon game? Let me know, either by commenting here, hitting me up @eightbitsamurai on Mastodon, or @mintymentha on Twitter! And if you liked this post and want to see more like it, consider checking out and supporting my Patreon! Thanks for reading!