Pokemon as a franchise has prided itself over the years on asking its players to “catch ’em all.” After eight generations of new Pokemon, however, that all is coming to an end with Pokemon Sword & Shield, featuring the ninth generation of Pokemon and an end to the National Dex.
For those unfamiliar with how recent Pokemon games have been structured, there are two Pokedex that exist in the game. For example in Pokemon Sun & Moon, there was the Alola Dex, that contained Pokemon that could be found in the Alola region (where the games were set), and the National Dex, which included all the remaining Pokemon in the entirety of the series, and could be imported through various methods from past games. In Pokemon Sword & Shield, there will only be the Galar Dex, and nothing else. That means if you want to bring in Pokemon that are not found in the Galar Dex, you won’t be able to.
For some, this has been called a controversy, Pokemon, a series built on collecting all the Pokemon possible, will no longer support having all your Pokemon in the latest game—but for me, I see this as an opportunity! A much-needed reset to a long-running franchise that in some of the most recent entries, has painted itself into a corner with its feature choices and Pokemon made available in a single entry. Finally, here is a chance in this nearly 20-year-old series to right some wrongs and to start partially anew.
When Pokemon finally graced the 3DS with Pokemon X & Y, it brought along the mechanic of Mega Evolutions. This new feature would enable one Pokemon on your team, of a small select amount of Pokemon who were capable, to evolve once during a battle for enhanced stats and abilities. As one might imagine, because it was only a small pool of Pokemon who featured this ability, having one of your team became almost a must. Of course, you could always ignore them, but why would a player do so? Not only do you have a Pokemon on your team that was strong, but now it can become even stronger with new abilities! To make the most out of your team, having a Pokemon that could Mega Evolve was an essential part of building an efficient team.
In the next entries, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (remakes of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire), the amount of Pokemon that could Mega Evolve increased, but it was still a small amount in comparison to the entire amount of Pokemon available. Sure, you could bring over your old Pokemon if you wanted to, but they were never the focus nor felt like they intended to be there. The game wasn’t built around their existence outside of merely allowing them to be brought over, which was only made more apparent by the fact that the Pokemon outside of the game’s regionally available Pokemon received the same level of treatment; none of them received Mega Evolutions.
Enter Pokemon Sun & Moon, and subsequently Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, and you once again can see the design ideas of the past slowly begin to work themselves into a corner. Mega Evolution didn’t go away in Pokemon Sun & Moon; it just took a little bit of a hiatus in place of Z-moves. You could still Mega Evolve, but it took beating the main challenge of the game before it would become possible again. Once again, the decision to carry over an old concept was brought over for the sake of bringing it over, but it never became anything meaningful past that—it merely existed as an ancient vestige of past game design that needed to be brought along and wasn’t give much more thought. Z-Moves, however, became Pokemon Sun & Moon’s new Mega Evolution, featuring a similarly limited ability, but instead could be used by any Pokemon assuming they had the right item equipped. Of course, just because all Pokemon could use it, doesn’t mean there wasn’t some who had unique Z-Moves when compared to others. And again, just like Mega Evolutions, the same problem quickly occurs—some Pokemon get the golden treatment, while others are simply left to the scraps and brought along because that’s just the Pokemon thing to do.
But this slew of issues only covers design problems brought on by trying to merge the old with the new. Bringing new ideas to a vast array of Pokemon and needing to make sure those old Pokemon are compatible with them while also providing something unique enough to be interesting is a practicality nightmare, but so is keeping all those Pokemon up to date through the ages. Do you think Todadile receive the same level of treatment as Alola Sandshrew in Pokemon Sun & Moon? Absolutely not. What about Drilbur from generation 5 or Skuntank from generation 4? Extremely doubtful. See, Pokemon has already made a habit of abandoning the old for the current, and it’s plain as day in the way the series has treated its mechanics and how older Pokemon are treated in relation to those gameplay elements. The same can be said when it comes to balancing all those Pokemon, it’s just impractical to expect the same level of balance when it was only 151 Pokemon to the 800+ that exists now, not to mention how uninteresting many are likely to be in comparison to the current generation’s offering.
Pokemon, much like trading cards, lose their interest and the amount of attention they are given over time. This is because new elements are introduced, or new strategies are developed that make that old card not as appealing. Of course, this can also have an opposite effect, and an overlooked card can cause balancing nightmares because it was never considered in the current set of cards available. For both these reasons, this is why seasons exist in games like Hearthstone. By limiting the number of cards available, developers are now able to have a better ability to balance the cards available while also being able to reintroduce old or refreshed mechanics selectively in new cards to achieve a new gameplay mix. Perhaps one card was too powerful if it was available in the last expansion, but this upcoming one, something similar would compliment the current mechanics in a balanced way. If every potential card was available, it would limit the creativity and ability of the developers to design new and exciting concepts for the sake of balance. Removing the shackles of the past helps free the developers from design restrains imposed by old philosophies and choices; Pokemon is no different.
Here we have an opportunity to for this long-running franchise to start anew, to cast off the weight of the old and potentially do something new. I can’t foresee the future well enough to say if this will actually be accomplished in Pokemon Sword & Shield, but we should give it the opportunity. So what if old Pokemon can’t come along for the ride? We should welcome this chance for the franchise to partially reinvent itself, and perhaps it could become something more than we would have thought with a leaner but better thought out roster. Maybe we might see new, more exciting mechanics and functions without none of the worries of the past. Perhaps we might see a more deliberate design and balance philosophy that wouldn’t have been possible in past entries. All of this we wouldn’t know if Pokemon just kept doing the same thing it’s been doing all these years.
Let’s give something new a try, who knows; we might all like it.