The Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remakes have the youth of today experiencing gems of the past, with the rest of us getting our fix of nostalgia. There are few names in the gaming industry that carry us much weight as the Pokémon IP. A game that consistently does well for Nintendo with the mainline Pokémon games from Game Freak; and spin-off games such as Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Go and Pokémon Unite. But are the games actually getting better? Are they playing games too safe? Could Nintendo and Game Freak learn from Bethesda’s approach to mods with Pokémon hack games?

Pokémon Red & Blue

For over half a decade Pokémon has been battling to be the very best, like no game ever was. But have the Pokémon games done enough to improve to see them outsell gens 1 & 2? It seems the games have struggled to improve it’s sales figures. Failing to build enough of a new audience and maintain older audiences consistently.

Mainline Pokémon games sales figures for top 15 performers in order of release (left to right)

When Pokémon first came out I was 6 years old. Like every kid at the time I was obsessed. Becoming a ‘real’ Pokémon Trainer, catching and battling my very own Pokémon. As a kid, my first playthroughs of these games were long ones. I didn’t want to overwrite my save. I’d formed an attachment to my team of level 100: Charizard, Gengar, Articuno, Raichu, Gyarados and Nidoking. (Rate my Gen 1 team in the comments, keep in mind I was very young). Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow were an immense success. Between the 3 of them selling over 45 million copies. A trend that sadly would not continue. Both in terms of sales and the length of my future playthroughs.

Pokemon Gold & Silver

As we move through the years, new Pokémon games release on new hardware. From the addition of day and night cycles, more pokéballs, berries and 2 different regions on Gold & Silver. To the Gameboy Advanced games bringing new game content and new attacks, more new Pokémon, and new antagonists. These new games are around the time criticism started. It seems that people were unhappy with things not changing enough, and saw a downtrend in sales figures.

Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire

Nintendo DS Generation

The Nintendo DS came out and so did more Pokémon games. Diamond & Pearl, Black & White and Black & White 2. More pointless mini games, some touch screen gimmicks, slightly improved visuals and lower sales figures. This is the darkest era for Pokémon in my opinion. Pokémon Black and White were dreadful, but what made them worse was the Trubbish Pokémon designs. But before we talk more about Pokémon Black & White..

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl – Pokémon fashion contests… When I first played it, it was a real face-palm moment. I’m not against the idea of having them in the game, for those that enjoy them, but still to this day they are pointless mechanics. Make them count for something. They could do it quite simply by improving the role play mechanics. Allow for players to play the game as say a Pokémon Breeder. Give them their own unique questline to follow, not so weighted around being a Pokémon Trainer. That would improve the replayability, while offering something new and giving people new ways to play improving accessibility and innovation.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl

The Darkest Day For Pokemon

But despite the issues that came with Diamond and Pearl nothing compares to the more black and white issues of Black & White (including Black & White 2). Despite a decent story, I feel I need explain no further other than to say… Trubbish. But in all seriousness, more mini games, the worse Pokémon designs, investment and time into dead-end features and a map you can’t explore until after you have completed the game. Hot Take: All of these faults could have been overlooked if it wasn’t for the dreadful Pokémon designs.

Pokemon Black & White 2

What came next was better in my opinion. Pokémon X & Y had some great quality of life improvements and the whole mega evolutions concept was very cool. Especially giving them to long-term fan-favourites, Charizard, Blastoise and Gengar. But did they innovate? My answer is not really, no. I guess with Sun and Moon, you could say they tried. Moving away from the traditional Gym Challenge concept within Pokémon. I’m not against this idea, but it should feed in to something bigger, like opportunities to play a different role in the Pokémon world. Ultimately though, the games were getting too easy with the likes of Mega Evolution, less HMs, new Z-moves. You would end up with your team way too OP. It seems they were trying to vamp up the battle sequences. But Game Freak need to realise, they don’t need it as a priority.

Pokémon on the Nintendo Switch

The Pokémon Let’s Go games draw heavily upon nostalgia, and definitely had influence from the mechanics in Pokémon Go! It is a fun little mechanic for the capturing of wild Pokémon, but removing wild Pokémon battles is a real head scratcher. The option to not battle would be fitting for lower levels, but higher level or harder to catch Pokémon should require weakening first!? Being able to see wild Pokémon walk around though, is brilliant and should have happened ages ago! Sword & Shield too has some great ideas like Pokéjobs. The execution just could have been so much better. Both games were good and showed potentially interesting developments but the games are definitely too easy.

Pokemon Sword & Shield

Over the years you look at what Game Freak have done and they seem to take 2 + 2 and make 22 a lot. They have the right equation and it’s understandable why the mistake could have been made, but it’s kind of a silly mistake to make. The games seemed to have developed a real identity crisis the older they get. Supposedly RPGs but with less and less RPG mechanics.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

I have to say, I am excited for Pokémon Legends: Arceus. They are definitely taking inspiration from Breath of The Wild as well as positives from Sword & Shield (which sold nearly as well as Gold & Silver). These are the kinds of moves that the series has been crying out for. I won’t hold my breath though, with regards to Pokémon games. They definitely will need to go deeper. A lot can be learned from the hack Pokémon games and the way Pokémon use these creations to inspire new games, much the way Bethesda has with their modding community. And it’s the modding community that has kept the games relevant for so long. In my opinion, many of the hack games are far better than the mainline games of today. Variation in stories and story types, mixing up the difficulty. Allowing the player to catch all the Pokémon in one game. Many of these things done with much, much older games too!

So what does Pokémon Legends: Arceus need to do to keep the older audiences coming back, while enabling them to bring through new ones too?

⦁ Game difficulty mode that scales enemy AI, severity of status effects, difficulty in competitions, number and level of wild Pokémon encounters and paying for the Pokémon Centre etc.

⦁ Different role playing capabilities. Be able to play as say a Pokémon breeder. They make the best berry drinks for their teams and the team gets stat boosts that reflect this. They will also get Pokémon to produce eggs faster and they will hatch eggs faster. Hatched Pokémon could also get permanent stat increases or increased XP per battle. Or for comparison say a Pokémon Watcher, who would have a better rate with type advantages, would be able to teach Pokémon TM’s that other trainers can’t or find rarer Pokémon more easily. Different questlines could be available for each different role, along with the main one of say, free the trapped legendary Pokémon to save the world. To this, ever since the first games on the bridge going to Cerulean City Cape, when you appear to be asked to join Team Rocket, but are not given the option to. I think if players could play a Team Rocket questline as Team Rocket, it would be very well received. It could come with various bonuses but significant drawbacks too.

⦁ Bring back the strategy element for battle. I think if they are going to have turn-based combat (which I have no problem with) they need to strip it back a bit. Mega evolution, Z moves, Giant Pokémon It is too much. Just make the combat look really cool and the significance of type advantages be a key element of battle. If you want to change it, give Pokémon stats and passives that differ depending on difficulty and individual customisation.

⦁ Stop with all the new Pokémon – I do think this has slowed down a bit recently but I still think it is true. New Pokémon should be limited to when it makes sense. They are looking worse and worse each time looking more and more forced and weird. It used to be that they resembled animals and plants mostly, now they just look alien. I get each generation of human needs their own gen of Pokémon but this can be done once every 7 years or so. Maybe just have new legendries?

⦁ Easter eggs and nostalgic references. Pokémon is one of the few games to have serious nostalgia for people. Used tastefully within games, or with occasional remakes or cameos in future games is a great way to keep older users coming back.

⦁ Better stories. Many Disney films and other movies manage to make themselves appropriate for younger audiences, while also containing subtext that adults find amusing too. This is definitely needed to an extent in the Pokémon games. Although could be fixed with difficulty settings and multiple role play questlines.

⦁ Open world or semi-open world in a 1st/3rd person view. Its time. the isometric top down thing is done. I’m not saying that games like that should not be done. But if they do they should drill down on the style of it.

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I Accept

There are many more tweaks I can think of, but ultimately I think I’ve covered the most important things. Anything more becomes more a subject of preference, rather than a question of a way to get more people playing. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is looking like it will be a step in the right direction but it will be important to build on what works and cut what doesn’t. Then the Pokémon game after that one, I will be super hype for. I feel a bit bad, as I love Pokémon and never intended to bash too hard on it. I want it to do well and I am sure the games are in the right hands, but it can be so much better than what it is. What do you think? Do you agree with me or not? If not why? I wanna hear all about it in the comments, or on Social Media.