Nintendo gave us their first peak at the brand-new mainline Pokémon RPG’s for Nintendo Switch. We got to watch a brief two-minute trailer showing off what looks to be the vast Galar region, with open fields and bustling cities. However cute the three starter Pokémon were, especially Grookey, I felt the trailer was missing something big which Nintendo could have aced with their more powerful hardware.
When I think of the Pokémon Universe, I imagine a kid growing up and exploring a world filled to the brim and fully integrated with the unique creatures we love. This is a concept realized well in the anime tv show and movies, with Pokémon flying in the sky, running around beneath the protagonist’s feet, or even carrying packages from place to place. What we saw in the Pokémon Sword and Shield trailer was an improved version of the 3D Pokémon games from the Nintendo 3DS, more specifically the Sun and Moon series. There were some enhanced environmental visuals, but I want to see Pokémon dispersed throughout the world. One specific example from the anime comes to mind.
To give you an idea of the sense of immersion from the anime, I think back to the first few episodes where Ash escapes a flock of Spearow in a thunderstorm. Just afterwards, a rainbow shines through the clouds when the legendary Pokémon Ho-oh flies overhead. Immediately a sense of wonder fills the young trainer Ash, as well as all the fans watching the show. That’s one small example of what I’m talking about.
(Digression: Massive Call to Action: As a brand-new adventurer, you see a super rare legendary Pokémon fly overhead. This immediately gives you a goal to strive towards and motivates you throughout your adventure hoping to one day meet that same Pokémon again.)
Players watch the show and play the games to be immersed in the world of Pokémon. In my mind, it’s the Pokémon that deliver on that immersion. It isn’t the better environments or more robust towns that make Pokémon games feel like Pokémon Games, it’s the Pokémon! You could argue the art style of the games is a rather generic anime-cartoon mix. Now let’s add some flare to that world. What if the player saw little ZigZagoons pop their heads out of the grass, a bunch of Swablu soaring in the sky, or a group of Magikarp jumping out of the ocean? The world would be so much more alive and a place where a fan of Pokémon would want to remain for hours on end.
In no way shape or form am I calling this an easy task. Proper implementation would require a lot of work. One could argue that Pokémon: Let’s Go has Pokémon out and about, however I found this to be a rather poor implementation. In Pokémon Let’s go, the Pokémon act more as mindless monsters that just wander around aimlessly. They don’t behave like Pokémon. This is where the hard work comes into play. The game needs to be littered with numerous examples of Pokémon existing within the world, with their own behaviors, animations, and tendencies. I think back to Pokémon Snap as a silly example of how Pokémon should appear in the RPG. While that game was completely scripted out, it gives a glimpse of how cute and immersive the world could be.
It’s a tall order, especially when you think about how these titles are the first new mainline Pokémon games to hit the Nintendo Switch, which is both a portable and home console. There’s still time to add this to the game, however we may need to be patient and wait for subsequent games on the system. I’m still super excited to see what GameFreak has to offer.