Pokémon Dismal Outlook and Bright Future

In the weeks leading up to its release, quite a bit of controversy was generated by Pokémon Sword and Shield. Longtime series fans had a few issues with the upcoming games, including the supposed reusing of 3D models from the 3DS entries and the recycling of animations along with them. The biggest issue for many fans though was GameFreak’s decision to only carry some legacy monsters over into the new games. These issues appear to not have had much of an effect upon the games’ critical reception and initial sales, the titles garnering generally high praise and record-breaking success respectively. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well. There are deeper problems facing the series which, if left unaddressed, are more than capable of hurting it in the long run.

The first and most obvious of these problems is the roster. In the twenty plus years since Pokémon Red and Blue first debuted in 1996, the total number of Pokémon has ballooned from 151 to over 800 monsters. That’s an incredible amount of creatures to keep track of and keep balanced, so it’s no wonder GameFreak decided not to include them all in the series’ latest outing. It’s also no wonder that many fans took issue with that decision. Some of these monsters have been around for twenty years, which is plenty of time for fans to grow attached to their favorites. If one’s most cherished Pokémon isn’t included with the other “good” Pokemon, then they’re likely to get upset or just plain lose interest.

Now, one could say that it’s on the fans to grow up, face reality and accept the Pokémon roster has become unmanageable, but that stance isn’t completely fair. Pokémon is indeed intended for kids and perhaps some older fans got a little too loud with their objections, but one must acknowledge that this is a problem of Game Freak’s own creation. Instead of focusing the gameplay itself, they instead chose to just make another set of monsters each time. It was only a matter of time until the roster grew out of control. With all that in mind, the best thing Game Freak could do at this point is completely start over.

With the next Pokémon game, they should create a new set of 150 monsters with no carry-overs from previous generations. This would allow Game Freak to both get the roster under control and create a much more balanced game with none of the legacy problems created by old monsters. Fans would likely still be upset at the loss of their favorite monsters, but it would likely be easier to accept a completely clean slate than the picking and choosing like Game Freak did with Pokémon Sword and Shield. It would also be a great opportunity to revisit legacy features and even make some into permanent additions.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Screenshot
The Pokémon series has hosted many interesting gameplay features over the years, but most of them never make it outside their debut game for some reason. This habit of throwing out good features needs to end if the series’ gameplay is ever going to make meaningful progress. Super Training, Mega-Evolution and Z-Moves are just a few of the fun and interesting features Game Freak has inexplicably thrown out in recent years and the game has suffered for it. New additions like Dynamax and Gigantamax are cool too, but they don’t make up for the loss of the rest. The loss of quality of life features like Super Training, Poke Radar and the ability to catch Pokémon above one’s training level are particularly problematic since it makes the games less playable overall. This problem is only going to grow if Game Freak continues to focus on new monsters as the main draw of new Pokémon games; combining partial rosters with degraded gameplay isn’t something one should expect to produce long-term success.

While Pokémon Sword and Shield do have their fans and have indeed set sales records for the series, the series nonetheless has issues that need to be addressed if it’s to remain at its current level of success. Its massive roster needs to be trimmed down to size, ideally by wiping the slate clean completely. Game Freak also needs to find a way to iterate on the series’ gameplay rather than starting over with each new iteration. They need not keep everything, but there’s at least no reason why fans can’t expect to keep good quality of life features at the very least. Should Game Freak decide to go the distance and implement this kind of policy shift, then the future of Pokémon will likely be bright indeed.