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.
5 thoughts on “Anonymous asks:”
“Write something where only 20 or so Pokémon are actually playable team members. […] 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.”
I’d argue that exists. It’s called Mystery Dungeon and it’s awesome
I don’t think so? I mean, I only played the first one, so maybe this isn’t a fair assessment, but “character arcs” are basically limited to the partner and the NPCs. Once a Pokémon joins you, that’s it. Like, there’s this Absol that joins you in the course of the plot and seems to have personal reasons for it, and I expected to learn more about that going forward, but it never says anything else, not even in parts of the game where it should definitely be with you. Everyone else is kind of defined by “are they on your team or not,” and once they are, that’s it. Because Mystery Dungeon is still constrained by wanting to let you have any Pokémon you want, out of the 380-odd that existed at the time, and you can’t have individuals of all those species be real characters.
Having said that, “throw out the humans altogether, let Pokémon talk, and de-emphasise the party-based elements” *is* a decent answer to the original question here. On the other hand, there is an argument that we’ve actually just invented Digimon.
I disagree that you can’t have specific Pokemon have some kind of agency and/or characterization.
One thing we need to remind ourselves of is that with almost every Pokemon, we’re not talking about a one-of-a-kind scenario. We know for fact that there are many of most Pokemon species including legendaries. We may not see more than one in our play through, but we have seen evidence of there being multiples of Pokemon like the bird trio, Lugia, Latios and Latias, Darkrai, the Ultra Beasts, etc.
For those Pokemon, I don’t see why you can’t give one of them agency. That one doesn’t have to be capturable. Even for Pokemon like Mewtwo, the Alola Island Guardians, or Rayquaza who seem to be individuals, you could easily write them as obtainable only through mutual agreements, and that they’re not permanently yours to train. For example: maybe the Island Guardians are fine to work with you after facing them, but if something threatens the islands or you attempt to leave Alola, they’ll leave you on their own.
Man, I’d play the HECK out of a Dragon Age-style Pokémon game… Anyway, your last point reminded me of this other article (on WordPress also, funnily enough): https://gamebabble.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/sonic-and-the-worst-fandom-ever/
Those adorable dogs in Sword and Shield have a bit of agency and stuff, and cute woofing. Like by Pokémon standards they’re almost complex characters!