Monday, December 3, 2012

Improvements to Pokemon That Game Freak Doesn't Have the [Poke]Balls to Make

[Note: This article was written before the announcement and release of Pokemon X and Y.]
The Pokemon games are all quite good, and each new one brings a good deal to the table. Most impressive, is that the battle system is simple enough for a child to play, but has enough hidden depth for competitive players of all ages. Sure, it's not always completely balanced, but rules can be agreed upon among friends and in each tournament. I don't claim to be knowledgeable enough to suggest drastic changes to the already quite good battle system, so I'll just let the folks at smogon worry about that. What frustrates me is when a game with such a great core system has so many other, often minor, improvements that could be made. But of course, it still sells ludicrously well without changing these things, so why would Game Freak bother? For the love of the craft perhaps? Nah, I'm kidding myself, it's all about the product and sales for them.

Anyway, let's start with the stuff that has been improving, but not to the extent that it should.

Stuff that's improving but not to the extent that it should:
Say no to HM slaves.
HM moves have been a Pokemon annoyance since the first games. You need them to navigate the world, but they use up one of the four moves of one of your Pokemon. These moves then can't be easily deleted, are often useless in battle, and when there's five or more HMs to use, it becomes quite a hassle. Black and White versions finally improved on this system by not requiring you to use HMs to finish the game; instead only requiring them for optional areas. Unfortunately, this made the game feel more linear, as other arbitrary roadblocks were set up instead of barriers requiring HM moves. Also, the problem of the HMs still exists, even if it isn't to the extent that it used to be. How about instead of using HMs to move boulders and cut trees, there's a key item that you need to have? Or, keeping with the spirit of Pokemon, you could teach your Pokemon HM moves separately from their battle moves. That way you could have a separate list of what they can do outside of battle without making them totally useless during battle.

The story of Pokemon has always been the same: you have to get eight badges, beat the elite four, and stop some evil organization along the way. Honestly, that basic formula does not need to change for the story to improve. And the story has improved a little in recent games, but it still feels boring and uninspired. It's like they had to make a shell to put the great battle system into so they just said "Oh, alright" and made the first lifeless plot that they thought of. I don't think it's that the translations are bad; I think it's that the original writing is bad. Pokemon is an RPG, and as such, not having a compelling plot is missing a huge opportunity. The Pokemon universe has the potential to be epic and interesting, if only Game Freak would hire some better writers.

The graphics don't necessarily need to change. The current sprite-based 3D look is quite cool and I can understand the desire to maintain the same art direction. However, I've heard countless times that people would like to see a real Pokemon game on a home console in 3D. With the 3DS (and with the DS), it's possible to have a 3D Pokemon game on a handheld. Sure, it's not necessary, but I think that exploring the colorful world of Pokemon with a free camera and 3D models would bring the game to life in a significant way.

Multiplayer has always been a huge part of Pokemon. Battling and trading are definitely the essentials and as they are they work pretty well. The Global Trade Station (GTS) by which you can offer up trades and find trades online is a good start, but it could be improved. It is hopelessly clogged with impossible trade offers for level 9 and under legendaries, refreshing search results is cumbersome, and there's no way to specify that you are searching for a shiny Pokemon or one with a particular nature. Battling works well, but with random matchups online you'll only ever find ridiculously good people or people who disconnect without a penalty whenever you seem to be winning.

Additionally, I can't count the times I've heard people say they want a Pokemon MMO. I'm not going to suggest that. While I think it would be cool, I also think that it would be better as a spinoff game rather than one of the series' core games. I also understand that there is almost no chance of it happening. What I suggest instead is that you be able to see your friends running around in your game just as they are in their games, as long as they are in range of local wireless. You would then be able to talk to them to initiate a battle, trade, or minigame. Of course, you would still be able to initiate those things without being in the same place as them too.

Difficulty settings were added in Black 2 and White 2, but the way of unlocking them is convoluted and defeats the purpose of having them. Basically, beating White 2 unlocks an Easy  Mode option while beating Black 2 unlocks a Challenge Mode option. This can then be sent to another person's game to unlock it for them. Unfortunately, what this means is that you won't be able to play through the game in Challenge Mode or Easy Mode from the beginning unless someone sends you the key to unlock it. This design choice boggles my mind. It's better than not having the option at all, but increasing or decreasing the difficulty after the Elite Four is mostly pointless.

Stuff that worked but was removed for no obvious reason:
What's even more frustrating is when a handy or cool feature is implemented in one game and then not used in the next.

Secret bases from the third generation weren't necessary, but they were super fun. Basically, you could claim one of many designated areas in the world, make a secret base there, and decorate it with items that you buy or find. It was kind of like a mini Animal Crossing game in Pokemon. Even better was that when you mixed records with people, their secret base would become accessible in your game and you'd be able to battle a computer controlled version of their team once a day; a very good way of getting quick experience and extra challenge.
Using L=A to play Pokemon at work may cause you to
make mistakes, so be careful not to screw up your EVs.

L=A was an option available from the third generation to the fourth (what Bulbapedia says is wrong; it ain't in Black and White). It let you use the L button as the A button, which meant that if you had a mind to, you could do almost everything just using your left hand, leaving your right hand free to cure cancer or pet your cat or whatever. Anyway, it was quite handy and I want it back.

Autorun was available in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, and like it sounds, it made you run by default. It makes sense, since the times you want to walk are far fewer than the times you want to run. I don't know about you, but if I'm not running in Pokemon, it's because I'm biking. Not only would I bring autorun back, but I'd use it to improve the game in another way which I'll explain in a minute...

Being able to rematch trainers ought to be a no-brainer. So why isn't it in Black and White? We had this feature before, but now we don't. There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to rematch every trainer and gym leader in the game if you want to.

There are a few other things too that are less necessary but still missed by some. Things like having a Pokemon follow around behind you, being able to use the bottom screen as a step counter, and minigames like the Pokemon Contests and Pokeathlon are just a few of the things that would be welcome to return.

New stuff and bigger changes:
When I think of things in Pokemon that make the game less fun and more of a chore, there are a few specific things that come to mind. 

First, the encounter rate is too damn high, even when the wild pokemon are at levels far below your own. But my solution isn't as simple as lowering the encounter rate. I would make it so that if the wild pokemon in the area are at a much lower level than those in your party, the encounter rate would decrease or stop entirely. However, supposing you wanted to encounter a pokemon, you could hold a certain button to walk (this is where autorun comes in) which would allow you to encounter pokemon regardless of your level.

Second, transferring pokemon is a huge pain when it involves more than just a few. In every new generation you'll probably want to transfer many of your pokemon from the previous version - and you can - but you'll only be able to do a few at a time and will also have to do some silly minigame first. Similarly, when trading between versions of the same generation, you'll only be able to trade one at a time, very slowly. It would sure be nice if you could just give your pokemon to the other game without having to trade, and if you could give more than one at a time.

While we're at it, why not make trading a feature of the PC box? The pokemon boxes also need an overhaul which would allow you to easily order your pokemon by type, number, level, etc. and also be able to manually move more than one at a time (edit: it seems moving multiple Pokemon is actually possible). Also, why are there so many menus before actually getting to the box? It asks if you want to withdraw, deposit, or move your pokemon, but you can do all three of those by selecting the move option, so why are the others even there?

The EV and IV system is also a big pain for competitive players and is what leads many to resort to hacking rather than spending the time required for breeding and training. For those who don't know, effort values (EV) and individual values (IV) are what determine your pokemon's stats (along with their nature and species). The IVs are determined when the pokemon is created and EVs are accumulated as you battle, with each pokemon giving EVs for certain stats. This means that if you battle a bunch of the same pokemon, one stat will increase far more than the others when you level up. Items like the macho brace can help you gain more EVs and cut down on the training time, so while it is a pain, it's not as big of a pain as trying to get good IVs. IVs can be bred for, but breeding takes tons of time and trying to get good IVs that match the nature and ability you want takes even longer. The benefit of EVs and IVs from the developer's perspective is that it makes every pokemon unique. Unfortunately, in competition it means that the person who wastes obscene amounts of time on it (or hacks their pokemon) has the advantage.

Fixing this is a bit more complicated. Breeding still needs to have a purpose; perhaps just getting the ability, nature, and egg-moves (and pre-evolutions of course). IVs could probably just be dropped entirely, and EVs could be replaced with a stat distribution system which lets you decide which stats to focus on at each level up.

Finally, something less serious but totally awesome that I'd like to add is character customization. I want to be able to dress up my character and change their look. Right now you can choose to appear as one of the many other trainer types you battle throughout the game during multiplayer, but I'd like full customization that I can see in single player and multiplayer. They had this in Pokemon Battle Revolution and it was one more thing to try to achieve. It's not just the fun of playing dress-up (teehee), it's showing how awesome you are by showing off your hard to find clothes. It's wearable trophies and I want it.

And that's everything that I can think of for now. Thanks for reading this rather long post, and if you have any other suggestions for how to improve Pokemon, let me know in the comments.

You might also like these other posts about Pokemon:
Or maybe the improvements I'd make to F-Zero and Mario Kart.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...