Guilty confession time:
I’m warming up to Greninja’s battle bond ability, and think that the concept is something Pokemon should continue to explore.
Hear me out. I know Ash-Greninja specifically is pure pandering to anime fans. But the implementation of the concept is, in my opinion, mega evolution done right. Mega Evolution was supposed to be about a strong bond between Pokemon and trainers making the Pokemon stronger, which would strengthen the franchise’s partnership concept. But of course, mega stones simply became an OP held item that you could use as soon as you obtained them. Battle Bond, on the other hand, really emphasizes the participation of the trainer (I think Ash feels pain when his Greninja does or something?) and occurs in the heat of the battle, once the Pokemon has already started taking out foes. What if in a future generation, all the starters’ final evolutions had battle bond as an ability? It might need some adjustments, like needing to be at a certain level to activate, and maybe a friendship or affection requirement as well. But overall, I think Game Freak could really work with this.
So I’m going to start by admitting that I’ve only seen, like, one or two episodes of the anime that feature Ash-Greninja, so I’m not super well-versed in how the Battle Bond ability is supposed to work vis à vis magical friendship bull$#!t. But hey, that’s never stopped me before…
I think there are obstacles in how best to implement something like this. Mega Evolution occupies an item slot, which is something that we don’t really care about in terms of developing a Pokémon’s flavour. Battle Bond occupies an ability slot, which means we can’t have something else more unique in there (then again, starters at the moment by default have the generic Overgrowth, Blaze and Torrent abilities, so it’s not like that space is being exploited to its full potential as it is). On the question of how well these represent partnership… Well, Mega Stones are overpowered items, but they are also highly valued magical items that are pretty heavily tied into the backstories of the generation VI games. What’s more, they only work because the trainer has a corresponding magical item, and the two stones together are supposed to symbolise the trainer’s link with the Pokémon. It’s all in the presentation, and it’s possible to present Mega Evolution well and Battle Bond poorly, or vice versa.
Mechanically the need for a spiritual bond in Mega Evolution isn’t represented because you just push a button and it activates, and I agree that that’s a weakness of the concept, but I’m not convinced Battle Bond does a lot better on that front. It’s harder to activate than Mega Evolution, but it’s still just triggered by Pokémon doing Pokémon things – you knock something out, you
Mega Evolve Battle Bondage Digivolve do the flashy thing. You were going to knock something out anyway; that’s already your core objective in a Pokémon battle (unless you’re a support Pokémon, and that’s something else Battle Bond would have to address: other Pokémon would need to be able to trigger the ability in ways that better suited their different fighting styles; otherwise it would just be a bad ability on Pokémon that aren’t as aggressive as Greninja). Things like friendship or affection requirements… well, those are fine, but you could put those on Mega Evolution too (honestly I think it’s kinda weird that they didn’t; affection was a major new mechanic of generation VI as well, so why not tie them together?). I suspect that really delivering on this “partnership” theme, in a more meaningful way than either Mega Evolution or Battle Bond, demands totally new mechanical systems that don’t resemble anything that currently exists in the core games. Frankly, I have no damn idea what those should look like.
The other tricky thing is that part of the concept of Battle Bond has the Pokémon taking on aspects of its trainer’s appearance, so Greninja (aside from standing upright like a human) gets a red-and-white crest that recalls Ash’s hat, and black fins and “sideburns” that imitate Ash’s hairstyle. With player characters in generations VI, VII and VIII having progressively more customisation options, it’s not really possible to incorporate elements of the player’s appearance into the Pokémon’s design, because the player has no canonical appearance. You could pick other prominent characters in the games instead (Serena-Delphox, for example) but then you’re losing the emphasis on your relationship with your partner. You could ditch that aspect of Battle Bond designs completely, but then it’s… sort of just Mega Evolution by another name? Designing a whole bunch of Battle Bond forms would work really well in a game like Pokémon Conquest, where you have loads of characters but each one is closely linked with just one Pokémon (in fact, it’s sort of the reverse of what Conquest actually did, with human characters’ costumes adopting elements of their partner Pokémon’s designs as they achieved the highest levels of attunement). The core games as they’re currently trending, though… I think would have more difficulty accommodating the concept.
So… I’m with you as far as this being a problem that needs solving, and I agree that Battle Bond explores an interesting space in that regard, but there are moving parts involved and I think the ideal solution may be more complicated.