So here’s a thought that occured to me; for a series titled Pokémon, many of its plots aren’t really ABOUT the Pokémon themselves, are they? At most, they’re just plot devices while the human characters get all the focus, characterization, and development. You could replace Groudon with a weather dominator Team Magma created, and nothing about Ruby’s story would really change. Even Necrozma, the most proactive Legendary I can think of, is held back until the eleventh hour, and has everything about its character told to us by other characters (who seemingly exist ONLY to provide said exposition) instead of something the player finds out for themselves. What do you think would be the best way to rectify this recurring problem, if you even think it is one?
Well, I don’t think there’s a simple solution, or one that I can provide here. The basic structure and assumptions of the games stop functioning if you try to give individual Pokémon agency and character. The big obstacle is that part of the core attraction of the Pokémon games is being able to choose whichever ones you want for your team, out of a selection of hundreds. You can probably build some kind of modular system where Pokémon of certain types or natures want certain things from you, but even that would be a lot of work for something that can only be very generously counted as characterisation. And yeah, you’re talking about legendary Pokémon, but we have to be allowed to catch those too, and as soon as we do, any independent goals or priorities they have are subordinated to ours. Even legendary Pokémon can be, at most, incarnations of forces of nature; any desires they have operate on timescales that aren’t relevant to us. I think if you want them to get characterisation, development, motives, ideals, that sort of thing… you can’t allow us, the players, to control them. Any of them.
The problem is that the huge selection of creatures is also the main thing that makes Pokémon stand out from other RPGs. You could, for instance, throw out a lot of the basic premise of the core games. Write something where only 20 or so Pokémon are actually playable team members. Maybe you study the rest, observe them in their natural habitats and so on, and other trainers can use them against you. For the player, though, the whole experience of Pokémon training and battling is filtered through this pre-selected batch of Pokémon that you meet through predetermined events in the story and each have specific character arcs. But, uh… do you think that’s a Pokémon game that people would play? I think in practice it would wind up playing a lot like any other party-based fantasy RPG. And… well, I like party-based fantasy RPGs and would probably enjoy that game, but if it isn’t distinctively Pokémon anymore, then what’s the point?
Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because of the whole Sword and Shield National Pokédex fiasco, is that I suspect it’s actually impossible to make a good game that does everything the Pokémon fanbase wants it to. Not merely difficult or expensive or time consuming, but actually impossible, because such a game would have design goals that are mutually exclusive, mechanics that undermine one another and no clear vision of its own purpose. So many people play Pokémon for so many different reasons and love so many different things about it, that it can’t be everything to everyone and still make any damn sense. I don’t think Game Freak can fix that, or even that they should have to. However, it’s also not clear to me who should.