As the dust settles after last week’s Kanto-shattering Pokémon announcement, I find myself in an unfamiliar situation. For the first time in my life, I am excited about a new Pokémon game.
In case you have been living under a rock for the past few days, Nintendo and The Pokemon Company announced in a press conference that two new Pokémon games—“Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!” and “Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!”—are coming to Nintendo Switch later this year. These two games are not the same as the ones Nintendo announced last E3 (those games are still coming in 2019) but rather reimaginings of 1998’s Pokémon Yellow with heavy influence from Niantic’s mobile phenomenon Pokémon Go. Opinions on Pokémon: Let’s Go were somewhat divisive shortly after their announcement, with many players lamenting the games’ seemingly more casual approach, while others (like myself) feel extremely excited about the change in direction.
My personal history with Pokémon has been shaky at best. I was first exposed to the franchise on the Game Boy Advance with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. I do not recall getting very far into those games, as the gameplay felt repetitive and tedious, and I did not find the metagame of Pokémon breeding and EV/IV training to be all that appealing. I tried giving the franchise another chance with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl for the Nintendo DS, and once more with Pokémon Black and White, but after feeling the same way about both games after only partially completing them, I ultimately concluded that, while the Pokémon franchise is beloved by millions of players around the world, these games were simply not for me.
Then, Pokémon Go happened, and like the millions of players around the globe who downloaded the app when it first launched, I spent countless nights raiding nearby gyms with my friends, capturing every Pokémon in sight, and defending my honor as a proud member of Team Valor. The gameplay, of course, was considerably more simplified than the mainline Pokémon RPGs, but Niantic was able to distill the experience down to the one thing that makes Pokémon such an internationally recognizable brand: its characters. By distancing themselves from traditional Pokémon battles and focusing on the collection aspect of the actual Pokémon themselves, Pokémon Go made me realize that while I never cared for the turn-based battle system found in the core Pokémon games, I do very much care for the pocket monsters and their designs as well as the world they live in. It was just that up to that point, those things were veiled behind games that I simply did not enjoy.
As an aside, this seems to be the case for me and a lot of other popular video franchises. Two quick ones that come to mind are Sonic the Hedgehog and Star Fox. Both series feature interesting characters with fascinating storylines, yet I cannot bring myself to really enjoy a Sonic or Star Fox game for various reasons. It is such a shame, because as much as I would love to get to know these characters better and the universes in which they exist, I am prevented from doing so because I just do not like those games.
Pokémon: Let’s Go strips away a lot of the tediousness that has barred me from fully enjoying the mainline games. The first of which is random encounters. Random encounters were an artifact of not being able to render multiple enemies on the screen at one time back in the late 1990s, and many popular role-playing franchises that have employed this technique in the past (such as Final Fantasy or the Tales games) have since abandoned them. It is great to see Pokémon finally let this archaic mechanic go, and it will make exploring the game world feel much more seamless without the interruption of incessant random battles. The second is wild Pokémon battles. Encounters with Pokémon in the wild will be more in lieu of Pokémon Go, thereby eliminating the repetitious nature of fighting the same Pokémon over and over again. This should streamline the experience quite a bit and make it feel less grindy, though it remains to be seen how the game will rebalance itself in light of that change.
There is also something to be said about bringing the Pokémon franchise back to Kanto, which is the region that was featured in the first Pokémon games. One of the problems that I have had with more Pokémon games is that none of them make a conscious effort to bring in new players. Sure, the advertising may claim that “there is no better time to start than now,” but by repeatedly adding new mechanics as well as over a hundred new Pokémon each generation, the barrier of entry has never been higher. Pokémon: Let’s Go feels like a soft reboot for the franchise (though, as mentioned before, the main series will continue on in 2019), and the trailer explicitly calls the games “Your First Adventure In A New Style”. Game Freak could have just remade the first game with better graphics and I would be intrigued, but add in the aforementioned gameplay changes and I am suddenly far more interested than I thought I would be.
I have seen some negative reactions online regarding how “disappointing” these new games are due to the changes I have discussed above. These criticisms are not without merit, though the anger that drives these comments seem to be misguided. Specifically, those who look down on Pokemon: Let’s Go only do so because these games were not designed for them. Indeed, many have been quick to call this game “casual” or a “spin-off,” which I do agree with to an extent, but these labels potentially undermine the impact that these games might have on the Pokemon franchise and, to be frank, I find them mildly demeaning as someone who is genuinely excited about them. It saddens me that there are still many gamers out there who are unwilling to allow their favorite franchises to become more accessible due to selfishness, and, more than anything, it confirms my feeling that “true” Pokémon games will never be for me.
Nevertheless, I am extremely excited to give Pokémon another chance with Pokémon: Let’s Go. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am by how well Nintendo and Game Freak have been able to sell this game to me. It is everything I love about Pokémon minus everything I hate, a strange and unexpected delight that could not have come at a better time. For the rest of you, I am sure you will enjoy the prettier, more robust Pokémon experience you have all been clamoring for in 2019. But for me, I am content with looking forward to spending a little time with me, Pikachu and Eevee, and their 149 other friends.