I’ve bought the same game 10 times…
And when Sun and Moon releases it will be 11
My first handheld game title was Pokémon Crystal. I had played the earlier titles briefly from friends, but Crystal was the first one I owned and played fully. I was even more happy to play that one for my first as it was the first to introduce the option of playing as a female character. Since Crystal, I owned: Ruby, Sapphire, Diamond, Platinum, Black, Black 2, Heart Gold, X, Y, and Alpha Sapphire. Between these games there is only 5 different stories, with some alterations between dual titles and expansion titles.
Why do I call these games the same despite their differences? Because I know what I’ll be doing in the game from the moment the game is announced. First, I decide my gender and name my character. Next, get one of 3 potential starters. A choice always centered around grass, fire, and water types. After that, if I haven’t already, I’ll meet my rival and battle with them for the first of many times. Next comes traveling and challenging gym leaders to gain badges. Sprinkled in–between gym battles and Pokémon league, the need to take down an evil organization. Lastly, but not least, catching the featured Legendary of the game. A tried and tired formula that has been beaten into the ground.
As I’ve said earlier, this has not stopped me from buying them. Pokémon is the only series growing up that I would consistently ensure to get as it released after getting my first. The first system I ever bought myself was the original Nintendo DS, the silver hunk of a handheld. The first game I got for it was Diamond. And I was playing Platinum when it finally died on me.
This pattern has become trying to me as a gamer. Even more so is hearing all the new announcements at E3. Looking at Zelda that has expanded to an Open World style, where I can gather multiple different weapons and clothing, chop down trees, start fires, and find the final boss first! Compare that next to Pokémon, which has stuck itself inside a box and refused to come out. The only innovation I saw as helpful was being able to see the effect of status lowering moves already calculated and shown in game.
I understand that these titles will probably never stop being made as long as the Pokémon franchise exists. Even as people who are older to the series start to give it up, there are newer fans coming up that haven’t played these titles before. They didn’t grow up in a time where there were only 151 Pokémon to remember. Compare that to the over 700 currently, not including the growing numbers with Sun & Moon. Part of my reason for playing these games now is only to learn the new set of Pokémon that they introduce in the new titles.
Why can’t the innovations of other games be integrated into this series? Take the games that come out like Black 2 or Platinum; these titles are in some ways just extensions of the previous titles, but you’ll need to trudge through the old to get to new a second time around. Why not try for something continuous? Rather than starting from the same beginning of moving to a new town all over, your character has just defeated the Pokémon League and a new threat has appeared. Make a new or returning organization that is threatening the world. The region remains the same, there is a new story to encounter and the new additional Pokémon can be found and caught. For this option the series would have to allow for transferable data to be carried over from the previous game. Or at least introduce DLC content, so it adds without buying a whole new game. Sadly, this is an innovation I see as unlikely to happen any time soon – at least due to the physical copy saves being limited to the cartridges and the franchise creation of Pokemon Bank.
The biggest change and main one that I believe many would be hoping to see is an Open World Pokémon game. Not Pokemon GO style. If I can get to the final boss of Legend of Zelda at the beginning of the game, why can’t I go to the 8th gym first?! Some of you might be thinking about level difficulties, i.e. the 8th gym is supposed to be the hardest. According to the Pokémon show, gym leaders can have different Pokémon for different battles depending on the trainer’s level. That level usually determined by the number of badges they have. Utilizing that in the game can allow for a new level of strategy of which gym trainers would go to first based on the Pokémon that one has, rather than just simple progression. As you gain badges, the gyms will still get progressively more difficult. Just now, where one person did a fire gym first another could save it for last.
As I said before, this style of game will probably be around for a long period of time thanks to newer generations picking up on this franchise. But as they pick on this one, they will still be able to see the innovations of other games around them. The innovations we are seeing now with open world could be common place within a few years, that even the new generations of Pokémon gamers can end up feeling limited within the straight line path of these titles. Open World is one of the natural paths I see the series expanding into. And I’m still along for the ride as I wait for it, even as I roll my eyes.