I know this is pretty broad and vague, so no pressure to answer it super deeply and completely, but I’ve found it to be a pretty fun thing to think about and I’m curious to know what you would say to it.
Which specific set of Pokémon games do you think had the most missed opportunities, or could be some of the best games in the series but fell short? (That can be in terms of the story, the gameplay or anything else you think you’d want to be changed about them.)
And if you were put in charge, not of making a NEW set of games or changing the series as a whole but just of fixing up that one set of games, what would you want to do to it to take advantage of that potential?
(By “set,” I just mean a pair like Black 2/White 2 or a single game like Platinum, not a whole Generation or every game taking place in one region, haha.)
That is one confusingly recursive name you’ve given yourself there.
So… I feel like in almost all of them there’s something I would change. Heck, in almost all of them there’s probably something the designers would change if they could; no one ever gets to put everything they want into their game because time and budget constraints exist, even for a franchise as successful as Pokémon. And I have a really peculiar love/hate relationship with Black and White specifically, because those are the games that started me writing this blog, and I think they are in some ways the best games in the series but in other ways deeply “meh.” I guess a lot of my old “If I Were In Charge” article series is kiiiiiind of a response to this question with reference to Black and White, but also not at all. Assorted thoughts on why Black and White are interesting here, here, here, here, here and here, and although I don’t 100% stand by a lot of it anymore you can also pick up something of what annoyed me about Black and White from my assorted reviews of 5th generation Pokémon from 2011.
All that being the case, let’s talk a bit about a completely different set of games instead.
Leaf Green and Fire Red are… not ambitious games. Pokémon’s ambition is something we should talk about another time, but arguably Fire Red and Leaf Green didn’t need to be ambitious. They had to exist because generations III and up are not backwards-compatible with I and II, making the age of Ruby and Sapphire the only time in Pokémon’s history that large numbers of prior-generation Pokémon have been flat-out unobtainable. They also, perhaps, needed to exist because Red and Blue (precious to all our hearts though they are) frankly seem unbalanced, unfinished and uniquely primitive, and are plagued with annoyances and inconveniences that detract from the core gameplay. So, weirdly, the making of Fire Red and Leaf Green would have been both a necessary chore and an affectionate send-off for the old games – oh, and it also needed to fit in a respectable chunk of the Johto Pokémon (including Unown, a special kind of headache on its own), as well as a bunch of mechanics from generations II and III that required meaningful effort to integrate, like Pokémon breeding, held items, rebattling trainers at higher levels, and Battle Tower facilities (no wonder they didn’t bother including contests or day/night cycles). And I’d assume that the budget and team size allocated for a remake are smaller than those for a new game. And there was probably a significant chunk of the fanbase that would have been annoyed if the core of the game, the part that takes place in Kanto, had been altered more than superficially. And there was no precedent yet for a Pokémon remake being anything more than a mechanical and graphical overhaul of exactly the same game.
So there are a lot of completely valid reasons for Fire Red and Leaf Green to have been profoundly unambitious games. But, imagining a world where none of this is true and I can do whatever I want – wouldn’t it have been fun to have the Team Rocket storyline in Kanto get the kind of serious rewrite as Ruby and Sapphire did in their remakes? Perhaps foreshadowing some of the events of Gold and Silver by building up the cult of personality around Giovanni (the Team Rocket arc in the Sevii Islands implied some of this, as well as hinted at Silver being Giovanni’s son)? Maybe turning more of the postgame into a full-blown prequel to Gold and Silver – setting up Blue’s journey towards becoming the new Viridian Gym Leader, exploring Mt. Silver as Red, seeing Cinnabar Island destroyed? You could give Mewtwo a storyline on the level of what Suicune got in Crystal, picking up from the scraps of information recovered from the burned out mansion on Cinnabar Island.
And as for what we did get, the Sevii Islands, well, I don’t mind them, but they could have had more personality (as well as much better names); the lack of a gym quest leaves them without much to tie them together or give you a sense of progression as you move through them. I remember at the time I thought they should have set that part of the game in the Orange Islands, from the anime, because those were supposed to exist in exactly the part of the world where Sevii seems to be located in the games. This, in retrospect, would clearly have been mad; the Orange Archipelago is a huge region with over twenty named islands, and to do them justice would take all the resources of producing a whole new generation, but without the payoff of introducing a bunch of new Pokémon. But you could take some of the ideas. You could have the Gyms with quirky rules, attribute some of the culture of the Orange Islands to islands in Sevii, and have the player travel between islands on long water routes rather than by ferry to give a better sense of how they’re connected – and while we’re here, think more about ways to make water routes more interesting and diverse, because you’ve just finished Ruby and Sapphire and your players can Dive now, and it’s such a shame not to use that. In short… be wildly ambitious. It’s what Red and Blue were.