Recently, I have been wondering about the future of the Pokemon games. Maybe it's because of all the episodes of Zero Punctuation and Extra Credits I've been watching recently, but I worry about this series. Now there is no denying these games are addictive and fun, but once you get that little bit out of the way, the Pokemon series has been suffering from a fear of progression in the core gameplay fundamentals, especially compared to other Major Nintendo series.
Allow me to explain. With the Mario series, a common criticism is that the main story is always the same basic Mario(Popeye) must save Peach(olive oil) from Bowser(Bluto) ploy, however no one plays this series for the story-they come for the unique gameplay and innovative stages and features that it brings to itself and the medium, from scrolling screens to playing with gravity and motion controls. (Recent games have been having issues with advancing the medium, but that's a story for another topic.) Zelda has fairly good stories(not OH MY GOD, but still great), but again, one of the things that makes it great lies in the sense of exploration and adventure, and the deceptively easy puzzles that make you feel like you'll never beat it, then take a moment of pause and see the solution was in front of you the whole time.
Metroid takes the best of both worlds-the platforming of Mario and the exploration of Zelda-but gets a step above by integrating the story and narrative with the game so the player sees it happening- you are there in Super Metroid seeing the theft of the infant, forcing your return to a fallen world that has you interacting with creatures that help you, you see yourself fighting an unstoppable bieng, only then to see that who you pursue save you and tragically die in the process. You are there in Metroid Prime, wandering through the remains of Tallon, learning the history of the Chozo and their downfall. You are experiencing the immense fear in Fusion, being pursued by a foe far beyond you that you must grow stronger to defeat. This is why many complained about the Other M game-it removed the sense of discovery by giving you everything, and reduced the story role to hours of cutscenes, a la Metal Gear. But that type of story just doesn't work for a series like Metroid, as we have seen in that game.
Now with Pokemon, it seems like a reverse Mario-the story has gotten much better over the years, but the gameplay has been left the same to stagnate. I mean let us look at the story-it went from a child on an adventure to become the best trainer in the world while fighting a criminal group, to the story of a newer generation seeking the same goals in an older changed world, to a superhero-esque plot where you must stop 2 warring factions who seek to destroy the world with their actions, to the story of a struggle against a man who despises the flaws of humanity and seeks to make the world anew, to the story of a tortured child manipulated by a blind truth to believing the only way to bring balance and peace is to recreate everything with his ideal way. But outside of these baby steps, the main niche of “hunt down a bunch of creatures, explore a linear path that leads to battles against 8 dudes, then beat 4 more dudes and some super trainer and win” has never changed in the last 15 years.
Now you may argue that there have been changes over the years-the day/night cycle, the introduction of items, abilities, genders, IVs, and EVs, the Physical/special split, the Dream world- but it still never advanced the core, like how Mario bros 3 added a mapway with houses and the like, or Link to the Past integrating 2 parallel worlds to solve the ultimate journey. These are added to advance the post game to appease the competitive scene, which is fine and all, but in the end most of them aren't even playing the main game proper-they just use new games for reference to add additions to simulators, where a majority of competitive play takes place. The reason why the original Pokemon games were so widely praised was because they redefined the handheld RPG-they introduced the concept of exploration and team structure while incorporating a system that made an interactive experience for multiple people and a sense of a journey. this is why the first 5 games have 10s from IGN(seriously, look it up), because it brought something new at the time.
But then....they stopped. They resigned to the ”if it ain't broke, don't fix it” mentality, not advancing the formula that they made. Ironically, most of the spinoffs-Mystery Dungeon with the challenging roguelike mentality, Pokemon Snap with a new take on searching for the beasts for something other then combat, and Pokemon Conquest with a new take on how to strategically use your monsters outside of the whole “define EVs & IVs, see it's coverage, and exploit abilities/STAB moves” strategy we've had since gen 3. why not find ways to incorporate these these into the core rather then keep them aside from the core gameplay? I mean you even seperated the advancinly better story from the main meat of the gameplay, as all the major features in Gen 5 happen post game instead of during.
Now you may argue that the point of pokemon is the sense of collection and completion. Well, I think that them has been abandoned for quite some time. Now Pokemon isn't about finding all themysterious beings anymore,but moreso collecting troops of various types for an immense army to assist you in the long run and variously switching between them. This is why some characters like Pikachu and Jigglypuff have decreased in popularity, because while having one is cool in the cuteness factor, they are useless in the long run because they bring nothing useful to the mian goal of having a complete team. Getting the Ultra rare stuff isn't as interesting as it used to be, since 4 out of 5 times they are illegal to use online and in some certain spots in-game, so they mostly sit in PC boxes as trophies never to be used. There isn't even much will to try and “Catch them all” anymore, because either they are pointless to obtain(seriously,would you even bother with Luvdisc if it didn't give Heart scales?), or we resigned to the inevitability that we will never own them all, as more are always added. I mean hell, they even use that slogan anymore.
So what do I want? Well, I would like to see them try to incorporate a system similar to modern Open-world games like GTA or Skyrim. Make it feel like we really are in a huge expansive world of discovery and mystery, and give us freedom of what to do. This is supposed to be an expansive world, so why does it feel like there is less freedom to explore then Zelda or Metroid? Why not give us the option of being like someone from Snap, rather then collecting them we take pictures, possibly to be integrated in a way to effect the immense world? Why not give the strategist who likes team management but doesn't want to go badge hunting the option to craft a masterful team with out the Level limitations, possibly with a challenge tower to appease them(maybe with some roguelike elements)? Why not give people who like just collecting them for contests or films the options to just explore those options as well aside from the main quest? Many have requested that they make an MMORPG of Pokemon, but I feel they should establish an open area of travel and freedom first.
It seems ironic in a way that a series about growth and evolution seems to never evolve itself(excluding spinoffs). Once again, I want it known that the series is by no means terrible(Pokemon White is probably one of my 5 favorite DS games I own, along with TWEWY, Canvas Curse, Elite Beat Agents, and Bowser's Inside Story) but it doesn't change that the formula has gotten stale and flawed over the years. So this is where I turn to you all-what do you believe the series needs to have happen to gain a healthier future?