This is just a kind of stream-of-consciousness post. I just want to add my two cents into the endlessly toxic world of people complaining about Pokémon, and hopefully do it in a more civil manner. I say I love Pokémon and have given high scores to the very hated recent installments, yet I had times where I was straight-up bored with those games, despite how much I love them and how much I insist I love the series as a whole. My relationship with Pokémon is very complicated, so let’s go over this in segments.
For context: I started with Pokémon Platinum and stuck with each main release since. My most nostalgic favorite installments are Black & White 2.
First, the Most Objective Flaw: They’re Ugly as Sin Now
No one—from Pokémon’s most devout fans to its most vocal critics—play these for graphics anymore. We all know that the Nintendo consoles have always been incapable of surpassing the 12k 480fps of modern systems, but most people who work with the thing—from Nintendo to Monolith—have managed to make beautiful games that run well nonetheless. GameFreak has not.
They really have no excuses here. At first, I thought that the data of 1000+ Pokémon alone made it so that they couldn’t invest in graphics without jacking up the file size to cataclysmic levels. However, my experiences with digital game copies taught me that the bulk of data IS the graphics. A ten-hour-long Devil May Cry game will take over seventy gigs, while a 80+ hour RPG made with pixel art (like CrossCode) will be barely over a single gigabyte. I really don’t understand why they just can’t get the games to look good. Granted, it is just the environs for the most part; characters at least look respectable. When Gen 10 comes around, they need to borrow some Zelda devs to make a Pokémon game that looks like Breath of the Wild.
Other than That, I Really Don’t Get Some of the Criticisms
Maybe I’m biased, but I honestly don’t understand what’s so bad about these games. I heard it gets divisive from Gen 4 onward, but starting from Gen 6, the hate feels unanimous. People refer to these games as if their badness is a scientific fact; as a level of gaming sacrilege on par with Fallout ‘76. Granted, my only window into the gaming world is what I hear from the YouTubers I watch…
In any case, I can at least understand why people wouldn’t like Gen 7 (i.e. cutscenes) and BDSP (i.e. the lack of Platinum quality-of-life improvements), but that’s about it. The rest of the games have flaws, DEFINITELY, but I wouldn’t call them travesties. People generally say the newer games are too easy (Souls fans, I presume?), but I have a counterpoint for that I’ll address later.
I just don’t understand the hate for Gen 6, ORAS, Gen 8, and Gen 9. I will say that the Pokémon games have had unsubstantial postgames after Gen 5, which unlocked huge parts of the overworld, optional bosses, and… the stupid movie studio (well the argument is that it was a lot not that it was perfect). ORAS had the Rayquaza post-game story, but that’s the only one I think compares.
Other than that, the newer games are great mechanically. The eventual removal of HMs was huge, allowing more freedom in team builds. The battles are generally faster, and the actual visible encounters (once added) made it easy to avoid battles and find rare Pokémon. They also make TMs infinite use (or methods to infinitely produce them), which means you don’t need to play the entire game again for that Earthquake TM!
However, They Kinda Have Lost Their Magic
I don’t think the games are these cardinal gaming sins like the rest of the Internet does, but at the same time, I don’t know if I can call them masterpieces either. Each Generation, I always love finding the new Pokémon (since I don’t spoil myself on them) and reacting to them. That’s kind of… it for the most part. Like I said before, I love playing them but also get bored sometimes.
Ultimately, I think the issue is that it’s for kids. I don’t wanna sound like that guy (especially since I love a lot of stuff geared to kids), but I think being adults and veterans of the series colors our impressions to an extent. Everyone these days says the games are too easy, and I kind of agree. You get a lot of XP in battle, to the point where only bosses are capable of requiring a little effort; they might make ONE Pokémon faint. The games aren’t balanced on understanding the competitive meta either.
This is where my two cents come in: I think that the bulk of difficulty in Pokémon, moreso than any other RPG, is not knowing the mechanics. No matter what game we started with, our first playthrough was an uphill battle. I remember having to grind up to five-plus levels just to potentially beat a Gym, and now, I can do a lot of fights underleveled. To succeed in Pokémon, you need to know the relationship between eighteen different elements, as well as the stats, movepools, Types, and Abilities of over a thousand Pokémon.
To further corroborate this, I should mention a YouTuber I watch who knows nothing about Pokémon: StephenPlays. He has a series of stream VODs archiving a playthrough he and his wife did of Pokémon Let’s Go. Let’s Go is Final Fantasy Mystic Quest-levels of aggressively easy; it gives XP out like candy, and doesn’t let you challenge any Gym without a Type advantage. However, they both struggled. Immensely. At the easiest games in the series. Why? Because they didn’t know the mechanics, especially with the Fairy Type being brought into Gen 1.
By comparison, us veterans know the Type matchups, Abilities, and moves off of memory. In a casual campaign, we can eat everyone except maybe the final boss for breakfast (Gen 9 can be hard at points if you do it out of order, though). Randomizers and nuzlockes are the only ways for us to feel a challenge from them now, and sadly, the former is technically illegal (or, at the very least, will inject malware into your computer).
Kids playing the “easy” newer games will definitely struggle. Also, since they’re the target audience, the stories of the games will—sadly—never go anywhere interesting. Let’s address it. People complain that the stories in the new games are simple, soulless, and boring, but honestly, I feel like it was ALWAYS that way. The difference is that they have a lot more escalation now. In Red & Blue, you went from fighting silly, incompetent criminals, to cultists who want to control literal gods. Despite this escalation, the stories remain cartoonishly simple.
Most importantly, they try and fail to have character development. People complain about characters being soulless now, but again, they were that way back then. The classic Gym Leaders and Pokémon League members in the beloved Gens 1-3 are no better than the newer ones; one-off people who sit in their buildings like hikikomoris. The newer games do put in a nonzero effort for SOMETHING; they actually have some moments. Sometimes, the brief impression of a Gym Leader that you do get from their Gym alone—such as with Larry—is actually sufficient to make a great character.
Unfortunately, the story only peaked exactly twice: Black & White, and Legends Arceus. In Black & White, the Gym Leaders all have established roles (and actually help you at the end), while it goes into Pokémon training ethics for the first time in the series. Sadly, they oversimplify Team Plasma with a classic “puppetmaster pulling the strings” plot twist; probably another consequence of these games being made for kids. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the only game to give the main protagonist character development. They are a kid who somehow ended up in Sinnoh of the past, and is immediately regarded as an anomaly by the locals and often discriminated against. The endgame pulls out all the stops and it actually feels emotional. I’m betting that we complained less about the older games’ stories because we’re just nostalgic for them; the ones we played AS KIDS.
The Manga Actually Looks Awesome, Though
Among One Piece and Jojo is a manga that has run for about as long: Hidenori Kusaka’s manga adaptation of Pokémon. Each Generation has a self-contained story starring both variants of the player character, but with actual personalities.
I haven’t actually read it, though, since it’s huge, not part of Viz Media’s subscription, and my local library is sorely lacking copies. I have skimmed through it and what I saw is actually kind of lit. Unlike the anime, it’s faithful to the game mechanics, while taking creative liberties to extend on the story and the otherwise unremarkable characters from each game. Maybe give it a shot if you’re a devout critic of the games. It won’t fix the games themselves, but it’ll be something.
Despite Its Flaws, Other Franchises Have Yet to Surpass Pokémon (Hot Take, I Know)
Pokémon was a big, important series in the creature collector subgenre, to the point where it almost monopolized the subgenre itself. Naturally, a series like Pokémon has rivals. Although many vocal people have pieces—both trollish and scholarly—about how any of those franchises are better than Pokémon, I have yet to encounter such a phenomenon. I have played at least one game from two of Pokémon’s rivals, and honestly, I don’t get it.
I played through a Digimon game once: the first DS one (whatever it was called). Despite it still having a devoted fandom that insists it’s better than Pokémon, Digimon seems to have died off. It still has new games, but they never looked too amazing (and the Steam reviews I read of the new, visual novel-esque one were pretty mixed, leaning toward negative). The DS ones seemed to actually be among the highest regarded.
Mechanically, there are some things about Digimon that are neat… actually, one thing. The way evolutions work is a lot more interesting than Pokémon. Each Digimon has its evolutions displayed like a skill tree, along with their conditions. You dictate when they evolve, and you can also unevolve them to experience other paths without having to catch a new one. You’ll need to do this, because Digimon have a level cap that blocks them from certain paths, and unevolving them increases their level caps.
However, the positives end there. For starters, the game was super unbalanced around this core mechanic that they expect you to use. You think Pokémon is easy? I two-shot the final boss of this game, just by using its systems like they wanted me to! Digimon retain some base stats on unevolution, making them much stronger than they were the first time. Some of these evolutions require you to do this several times, and by then, a Level 1 baby Digimon will have three-digit base stats. If there is any depth or nuance to combat, it’s useless. In fact, I don’t even think there is anything, at least not from what I recall (it was MANY years ago that I played it).
In addition, it was a lot emptier than Pokémon; even Gen 8 and its lousy overworld. Structurally, it’s a dungeon crawler, which is fine in theory, but in practice there is nothing to explore, no treasures, NO REPELS TO STAVE OFF ENCOUNTERS, no nothing. Furthermore, the designs are too intricate. Digimon oozes that 1990s-early 2000s aggressive edginess where they had to make everything as edgy as that damn fourth Chaos Emerald. The evolutions also have no logic whatsoever. The grass starter evolves into… an angel? Meanwhile, there’s some other little puppy Digimon that I recall evolving into either a tsuchigumo… or Funky Kong.
Yo-kai Watch (henceforth known as Yokai Watch because the hyphen is unnecessary)
I played the first game through the main story and most of Psychic Spirits. I actually thought that this was the one to beat Pokémon. The idea of using Shinto mythology in a creature collector setting is brilliant, since there are SO MANY yokai, and Shinto itself kind of encourages making up new ones as you go. The dialogue is some of the best I’ve seen in any media geared toward children, and the designs are REALLY good; arguably better than that of any Pokémon. It has a traditional RPG equipment system, and no HM mechanics, allowing for better freedom in builds. Its overworld (especially in the sequel) is full of life, and has an excellent map for navigation.
However, the positives end there. Where do I even begin with all the issues—that Pokémon doesn’t have—which led to me rage-quitting this series that had so much promise? The first thing that comes to mind is that Yokai Watch has had the worst Western localization in any game this century; I honestly believe former members of 4Kids worked on it, and you can’t convince me otherwise. Even though it was before I did my proper research on Japanese culture, I had still wanted Yokai Watch to be a learning experience. However, I would be quite disappointed to know that pretty much every yokai (except for Jibanyan, his cousins, and certain others) have Westernized names. They are really good names for what they are, but I hated them as localization. I suppose they thought that kids would have trouble with the Japanese names, but the games have full voice acting, including each yokai saying its own name. Thus, there is no reason kids wouldn’t know how to pronounce the names since they would be spoken anyway.
More importantly, however, is the borderline censorship of Japanese culture (or at least attempts) that I find comparable to the infamous onigiri-into-donuts of early anime. Despite how much they try to pass it off as America, there are Shinto shrines, shinkansen, an equivalent of Tokyo Tower (or Skytree?), and—most notably—an early cutscene in the second game where the main character inserts a 100 yen coin into a gacha machine, despite the currency being localized as USD. I doubt that this kid got his hands on an old-timey dollar coin (and actually spent it).
I wish the localization was the worst; the gameplay is worse. FAR WORSE. First off, team building—despite what I just said about it—actually sucks. Yes, there is equipment and stuff, but that’s it. The problem is in yokais’ movepools. In Yokai Watch, each yokai has a physical attack, a magical attack, a support move, and a status move (I.I.R.C. of course; I do know the first two are correct). The problem is that yokai fall into specific roles, just like in Pokémon; dedicated physical/magical attackers, tanks, etc. However, the four moves they have are what they get (I think there are TM-like items but they’re rare). This means that most yokai will be stuck with a move that is completely worthless, such as a physical yokai with a magic move and vice versa.
Oh but it gets worse! People hate Pokémon’s reliance on RNG, but Yokai Watch is significantly worse. Virtually EVERYTHING about Yokai Watch’s gameplay is RNG-based. First off, catching new Yokai is awful. It’s a random chance after they are defeated. You might think “Good, then I don’t have to worry about weakening them and using items—” WRONG! In Yokai Watch, you must feed them their favorite food (and touch them in a certain spot in the second game) to increase your chances of catching them. However, even when consistently fulfilling all these conditions, it almost never works. To make it more luck-based, there are hearts that occasionally fly onscreen—AT RANDOM—that increase the odds further (but even with them it rarely worked). There are even static, unique yokai that are really powerful and can join your team once you beat them; key word “can”. Yes, even THEY are luck-based, although not as much as regular mobs. It’s stupid, since they are stronger than most bosses.
The problem with this compounds on what truly makes Yokai Watch the borderline-unfun slog that it is; fully autonomous party members. In battle, all you can do is use items, rotate through your three active party members (out of six), direct them at a target, hit random powerups (like those hearts), and use yokais’ Soultimate moves. Every move in a yokais’ movepool is decided BY A.I. For catching, this means that your party can (and often will) murder yokai that you’re trying to catch before you can maximize your odds. However, just fighting with them is no fun either. Theoretically, yokai have fighting styles that—for the most part—synergize with their builds; physical yokai will generally use physical moves, etc. There are also items to change this style if you wish. However, this rarely worked for me. I’ve had physical yokai use magic moves and vice versa quite often.
All this meshes into a game that’s about as easy as Pokémon. In regular battles, you just need one multi-targeting Soultimate to win. Boss battles are more fun, but they’re also stupid. Yokai Watch is a series that highly encourages inflicting status ailments; generally the sign of a well-built, strategy-driven RPG. However, unlike recent RPGs, bosses are universally immune to status! This means that if you have a status-based team, then you lose. Also, most difficulty really comes from the party not doing what you want. As much as Souls fans insist that intentionally programming the player character poorly makes for good difficulty, there comes a point where it just stops being fun.
Yokai Watch further becomes less fun in the overworld. We all hate the long encounter animations in Pokémon; the fanfare plays, the Pokémon appears, then your Pokémon appears… blah blah blah. In Yokai Watch, you have to bumble around EVERYWHERE to get a reading on your radar, then go into a minigame where you have to do some focus thing on the yokai to get it to appear, THEN you can fight! It’s nice that the radar shows yokai ranks to give you an idea of what’s there, but I’ve had times where I couldn’t get anything to spawn at all. Dungeons are better since they are classic, visible encounters, but that’s only half the battle. You also have to grind for money (a lot), and if you’re a completionist, then you must additionally grind for fish and bugs. Although the journal in the second game shows habitats of undiscovered critters, they are still a PAIN to find. They have different rarities, and a very strict quick-time event that you must beat to get them (also the timing is—of course—random).
RNG also extends into the overworld. For some egregious reason, every single sidequest has a random chance of giving an additional bonus reward… or nothing. For completionists, this means that you must SAVE SCUM to get all the awards; specifically for the rare super bonus rewards that’re better than the regular ones. I always thought that some of the later quests had really powerful, one-of-a-kind items ONLY available through the super bonus; I at least know it’s the only way to get the best revival items. Also, a lot of yokai are only available through an RNG-based gacha that appears at the end of a nerve-wracking stealth minigame that occurs RANDOMLY. Seriously… I dunno. Maybe the newer ones are good, but the notion of Yokai Watch in the West is a pipe dream now, so I’ll never know for sure.
I Have Hope for Cassette Beasts, Though
People still try to topple Pokémon to this day. The most popular attempt in recent years is an indie game called Coromon. It looked great, and had built-in randomizer and nuzlocke modes. However, I was ultimately turned off by what I read about it on Steam. All Coromon have monotypes, and I.I.R.C., can’t even learn multiple moves types for utility like in Pokémon. Also, Shinies have better stats. While it’s nice that you get a reward for finding such rare critters… it also means actually having to grind 1/4000 odds to get the best party, and since the game is apparently quite difficult, you might actually have to even on a casual playthrough.
For the record, I know about Palworld and I’m not playing that either. Mechanically, it looks interesting; like Legends Arceus on steroids. However, I don’t like the whole “cute but actually dark and messed up” image. It pretty much always ends up resulting in something pretentious and politically charged, and insults the idea of embracing your inner child. My therapist’s son is a marine, and the whole pop culture trope of “all soldiers are mindless, remorseless killing machines” is an insult to our soldiers, and oversimplifies the complexities that occur behind closed doors (at least I hope that’s the case).
Anyway, this part is about an upcoming indie game called Cassette Beasts. It looks cool, has expansive mobility options, and the monster designs are really creative and very different from most creature collectors. It has an in-battle fusion system, and a table-flipping Type relations system where using specific Types on another can trigger status effects that help or hinder. There’s also dual typing (at least in fusion)! There is—again—more incentive to find Shinies, which are called Bootlegs this time. However, they don’t seem to have better stats, but are instead different monsters entirely. Honestly, the game looks really hard, strategy-driven, and complex, but I’ll still give it a shot. I just hope that they show previews of the results of your moves so you don’t have to memorize the Type matchups!
I will probably keep playing Pokémon, but I’m not really so sure what should be done to improve it. Part of me thinks that it might be better to not have overworlds or stories at all. The combat in Pokémon is incredibly deep and strategic when taken competitively. People love Stadium and its ilk; the spinoffs that are literally all battles. Pokémon Showdown allows anyone with a computer to build any team they want, right down to Nature, IVs, EVs, Abilities, etc. without grinding hundreds of hours in the main games to get that perfect Pokémon. Unfortunately, I have no real use for it, since I have no friends (and there’s no way I’m fighting randos).
The obvious good idea is to expand on Legends Arceus. The series has deep and fascinating lore, and that game set up potential to experience this lore for yourself. It could extend to a game set during the Great Pokémon War, and give huge character development to Surge. Arceus still wasn’t particularly difficult, and it was REALLY grindy, but it was a quantum leap in the right direction. Scarlet & Violet, at the very least, had a memorable and dynamic overworld, with huge variety in landmarks and geography. It’s possible to make an Legends game in a traditional open world setting and have it be good. However, GameFreak has had a long habit of coming up with brilliant ideas exactly once and never using them again.
Well, assuming that you’ve read all the way to the end of this long rant, I’d like to know your opinions. Do you love or hate Pokémon? Does the series have any chance to improve, or has it actually been saved with the most recent games?