Pokemon as a franchise has had a lot of ideas over the years. Some were good ideas, like the ability to breed Pokemon, or splitting attacks into physical and special variants. Others were bad ideas, like the problem mechanics we mentioned when discussing previously how Pokemon Scarlet and Violet gave us what we wanted – and it turns out we were wrong.
I'm not here to talk about those ideas today, though. What interests me right now are the ideas that don't get discussed much anymore. Those ideas that time – and, apparently, Game Freak – somehow forgot. Don't get me wrong, it's perfectly normal for a game sequel to have a gimmick or unique selling point that marks it out in the franchise, but when that USP is well-received, most companies would consider it plain common sense to make it a staple and incorporate it into the wider series going forward.
Game Freak doesn't do that, generally speaking. New ideas are introduced, hyped to high hell in the promotional material, then silently abandoned, usually by the very next game in turn. The only ones that do get to stick around are those core concepts that can be smoothly integrated into the core mechanics (such as held items or Pokemon Eggs) or basic quality of life improvements, like being able to change nicknames anywhere. Is it just me, or is that… weird?
To pick a random starting point: what happened to stadiums? Sword and Shield introduced the idea that a Pokemon gym could be so much more than a dozen conveyor belts and a dog fighting pit, and built the gyms up into huge arenas with thousands of cheering fans, turning it into a spectator sport. It made you feel like it really mattered! But just one generation later, Scarlet and Violet's Elite Four – the greatest the region has to offer – all fight you in a grey, windowless, featureless room with no audience at all. Prior to that, the gym battles all take place in small parks or nondescript tennis courts. Talk about a step backwards.
Or hey, what about Contests? These Poke-pageants have occasionally made an appearance starting back in Gen 3, but struggled to get traction – presumably because they never actually hung around and thus never had the chance to develop alongside the core battling gameplay. But while they weren't perfect, I was still all in favour of the idea. Usually when Game Freak tries to develop Pokemon mechanics outside of the combat, it often becomes empty, time-filler gameplay, like the ability to pointlessly prod and wash your Pokemon as though you were playing a budget Nintendogs knock-off. Contests were a great middle ground, a proper set of mechanics that built on what existed and prompted thought, investment and engagement. Now they're just… in the past, and I'm not sure why.
It goes on like this. Growing berry trees was around for a while, but no longer. The age of the Pokewalker has been and gone. Dynamaxing is dead, as is Mega-evolution before it. No more contests means no more Poffin cooking either. Hope you weren't looking forward to the "third version" games a la Crystal and Emerald, because that's all ancient history. Gen 3's Hidden Bases would've made a lot of sense as part of the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet coop system, but it's too late now. And when something does come back, it's largely due to the obligation of being in a remake – i.e., the Underground returning in the Switch adaptations of Diamond and Pearl. Nice to see it again, but it wasn't in Gen 9 afterwards, and there's no reason to think it'll be in Gen 10 either.
And it makes for this weird kind of apathetic fatigue. I rather like the Terastallization mechanic introduced in Scarlet and Violet, but even as I praise it, I can practically see it being fed into a paper shredder. I have no confidence it'll be back, and the same goes for the co-op and the picnics. Even the open world's long-term legacy seems shaky after what it's done to Gen 9's technical functionality, and it makes it hard to care about any of it when it doesn't feel like Game Freak does either. Even if you personally really liked Scarlet and Violet, you might feel a bit discouraged by the fact that most of its best ideas will probably never exist beyond it.
But regardless of whether you actually enjoy any of these abandoned ideas, it is certainly strange to see such a throwaway culture with regards to your own creations. Let's be clear, this isn't dynamic reinvention, like what Resident Evil 7 or Breath of the Wild did for their long-running series, nor is it the impatient passion of a restless creative auteur. It feels more like… amnesia. If even half of the dead features mentioned above had been kept and built on game-by-game, the Pokemon series would be a very different beast – and almost certainly for the better.
"Uh… Oh yes! I'm the Move Deleter!"
Which makes me wonder about the root cause of this phenomenon. Game Freak is recognised as a comparatively small company with a speedy turnover rate, so perhaps it's simply a matter of what's feasible with the resources and time given to them. I guess every generation needs a USP attached, so mixing up something sexy and new each time probably means there's rarely the chance to go back to proven concepts or ideas with potential. Not to mention that they do still think up a batch of new Pokemon for every generation, which ain't nothing even with the total creative surrender that is "Flamigo".
Oh, and it should be acknowledged that there's also been comments by employees recently that there's a high-ranking element to the company that's seemingly resistant to certain kinds of innovation, and thus a lot of work has to be done via a constant cycle of short-term contracted workers. If true, that certainly wouldn't do much to help a company's lasting memory.
Though maybe it's simpler than that. We all know that Pokemon games will continue to sell like nose plugs outside a sewage treatment plant no matter what happens, especially when Pokemon Scarlet and Violet had the biggest launch of any console exclusive game ever. From a purely financial standpoint, the effort required to integrate and rebuild old mechanics probably ain't worth the investment.
But frankly, I don't really care about that. I'm not a shareholder in the Pokemon Company, and I have no fears about the profitability of what is comfortably one of the most recognised franchises on the planet. I'm interested solely in the games being good games, and while I've argued before that it's worth the franchise taking steps to evolve, you can't do that if you don't remember what you've done in the past, or if you uproot your ideas before they can ever germinate and develop.
It's worth mentioning that recently we've seen direct competitors to the Pokemon brand starting to announce themselves, with young, ambitious upstarts like Temtem and Nexomon. I doubt Nintendo needs to be worried, but there is something to be said for the fact that some games seem to think they have a real chance to overtake the venerable franchise – and if Pokemon wants to be the very best, they'll need to start earning it again at some point.
If you want to leap into Paldea regardless, a good place to start is the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet tips we've laid out here!