Pokémon is a series that means many things to many people. For some, it’s their first social fad. For others, it’s an enjoyable and classic video game series. For RPG fans, it’s what separates the casual from the hardcore. You’re only a real RPG fan if you plough through a 76 hour boss fight, after all. What are you, a wimp? But one complaint that’s been levelled at the series for the two decades it’s been dominating portable gaming is that it never strays from the same formula. You catch animals for Satan, battle gym leaders, and eventually reach the Elite Four and become the region’s champion. Then, it’s off to the endgame and competitive battling for you. You could try to complete your Pokédex, but there’s a gazillion of the little assholes now. Good luck, thirty-something single dad with an office job who has no time for fun. However, this writer personally believes that the series doesn’t even need to change because it’s perfect. Why, you ask? If you’re asking that, they why did you even click on this article? Are you some kind of masochist?
Don’t worry, I am too.
Pokémon Sun and Moon has hit it out of the park with its sales worldwide. People have argued that it’s the changes made to the games’ formula that led to its success. Basic marketing principles aside, they have a point. At first glance, this latest entry has shaken things up in terms of its progression structure and seems like a breath of fresh air. Instead of battling gym leaders and earning badges that let you train stronger Pokémon, you face trials and earn items that power up your Pokémon. Instead of facing the Elite Four, you witness the building of the Elite Four and then fight the Elite Four. However, the game hasn’t changed. I literally just told you why. When you change the name and nature of these progression ‘checkpoints’ but don’t change the actual rhythm of these ‘checkpoints’, it’s not a “marked departure”. It’s the same old shit.
But that’s not a bad thing. Oh no, dear reader. While the praising of this is hypocritical, it’s still the same system…but Pokémon was never about that system. It was about being the perfect adventure story for children. Kids are just like adults, except with more questions about the world around them. As they grow older, their environment forms their opinion about the world’s answers. By the time they reach adulthood, they have a basic ‘understanding’ of the world around them and how to perceive it. Then they get trapped in a sociopolitical bubble that means that they can blame other people for the state of their surroundings for the rest of their lives. Don’t believe me? Ask your mother! Then she’ll tell you to ask your father who’s passed out on the couch watching F-Troop reruns, so you might as well not question me past this mediocre metaphor.
With a child’s questions about the world comes a sense of adventure. They want to explore, learn, maybe even grow. Pokémon is the purest epitome of this childlike sense of wonder, and if it changed it would betray its truest nature. Pokémon games usually start with a kid moving, a kid being called downstairs by their mother, a kid being beckoned by an adult professor who wants to “give them a pocket monste–oooooooooh dear
Every child that’s played a Pokémon game knows these feelings: they’re relateable. They’ve felt the anxiety of moving house, of taking the responsibilities of growing older, etcetera. These beginnings put the protagonist firmly in the same shoes as the player. Who’s either a kid or a kid at heart. Or somebody who wants to understand children. You know, like Disney execs. But unlike rich old people, kids will be drawn into the world of the game and relate it to their own. This allows them to truly believe that they are the player character. They even get to name their character! They insert themselves into the game and get stuck in forever. And ever. And ever. And ev
At this stage, kids don’t even know what’s gonna happen. They don’t know about the Pokémon League, or the Elite Four, or any of the other convoluted happenings in the world around them. In fact, they don’t give a damn. They just want to get stuck right into the adventure and explore the world around them. It’s a basic instinct of children, and is the heart of every good Adventure story. A kid gets lumped with a chicken to cockfight with, they go out into the world and learn about it as they go. They get a rival that they used to be able to call “BUTTHOLE” (but now they can’t because character development is apparently important in an RPG for children) who they compare themselves to. This is another relatable feature of the series, as every child has some kind of friend that they constantly fight with and attempt to surpass. It’s an additional driving force behind the adventure that doesn’t get in the way of the real reason they keep playing: The sense of adventure.
As the player surpasses obstacles, they find a purpose. It’s not the player character that grows with the game, but the player themselves. If each game repeats this progression of growth – which it does – it wouldn’t matter. People who play Pokémon are in it for the adventure, not for the ‘checkpoints’ themselves! Sure, the gym leaders are always very fun (if one-dimensional) characters that we love to meet and greet, but it’s not the point. Kids have an innate desire to see new places, meet new people, catch ’em all until they realise that they’re not even 10% through the ‘dex and give up. Even if you were to turn these ‘checkpoints’ into a cooking competition to see who can make the most humorous penis-shaped cupcake, it wouldn’t detract from what the game’s truly about. The purpose that they find is with Pokémon. This is the same with any journey in life; when you experience what the world has to offer, you find your place in it. In Pokémon’s case, it’s to become the very best like no-one every was. How you get to be the very best doesn’t matter. It’s the journey that matters. Let’s dissect the basic Adventure story and see what makes it so enticing! Let’s goooooooooooo
1 – Protagonist leads a boring life
Every Pokémon game starts, as I mentioned earlier, with a mundane beginning. If you started up a Pokémon game and had no idea what it was all about, you’d get excited about all these newfangled porky mans and then get a boring old kid story instead. This leads us to the next point…
2 – Protagonist gets an opportunity for excitement and adventure
The Pokémon themselves are behind this one. The world of the games mirrors our own, but there are creatures with godly powers that you can control by trapping them in scientifically vague balls. Every kid has wished that Pokémon were real, which is testament to the power of the games’ worldbuilding. Do you ever see kids wishing that gym leaders were real? Or the Elite Four? Fuck no. They want an electric mouse thing to call their friend. I only had an imaginary friend who told me that nobody loved me, but I also wanted a Rattata. When the player gets to pick their first Pokémon, they feel a genuine sense of excitement. It’s the first break from the mundane real world and the boring life they leave behind for a moment. Another good example of this is Star Wars, when Luke gets his lightsaber and learns about the Force. It meant getting away from his boring farmer boy life and finding some excitement! Pokémon is no different here, except the laser swords and space wizards are replaced with a sentient rock and an ice cream with a face.
3 – The adventure gains a purpose
When the player begins their journey, it’s not long before they learn about the League and all that crap. Suddenly, your adventure has a goal. You have something to work toward that you didn’t know at the start. This is a benefit that RPGs can boast, but no other genre. You don’t win a game and start over, you take a long journey for your own satisfaction. You grow and learn from this adventure, and your battling skills get better. You meet new characters, see new enviroments, go on a goddamn adventure.
4 – The adventure gets its conflict
Battling. Champion. Must fight and grow stronger to defeat other trainers. Sometimes other story stuff. Next.
5 – Protagonist growth (Getting the Girl)
In an adventure story, the protagonist never finishes their adventure as the same person they started it as. There’s been some growth, they learn lessons, laugh, love, and even kiss. Unfortunately, you never get to kiss the girls in Pokémon. Or the boys either. In an ideal world, Pokémon games would never taunt us with waifu bait and Communists would never be trusted with nuclear energy. And yet, I can’t marry Lillie or Sabrina and the area surrounding Pripyat is uninhabitable for at least 200 years.
The progression system of Pokémon games gives us this growth, and changing the structure would fuck the whole thing up harder than the Soviets fucked up Reactor No.4. Whoops, sorry Sweden! We got our radiation all up in your atmosphere! Sorryyyyyyyyyyy. Without this growth, the entire point of the series would fall apart. This is the reason that the spinoff games unanimously do much more poorly than the base games: Nobody wants to play pinball or be a Pokémon. Unless you get off on that kind of thing. No judgement, just keep it out of the schools. Can you imagine a Pokémon game where the only sense of progression is hunting down every Pokémon to fill the Pokédex? No you can’t. Because that’s stupid.
5 – Climax
You’ve become the best trainer in the game! Congratulations! You did it! Then you get your head smashed in during an online battle. The adventure is over, and the endgame is about to begin! You can keep going, or do whatever you feel like. This is the point, however, when the more causal players simply stop playing and move on. They’ve had their adventure, and continuing would be boring. Kids will keep battling other kids, and swapping their Pokémon, and being snot-nosed idiotic begging machines. Truly shaking the formula up wouldn’t affect this endgame, so I won’t go too much into detail.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if Sun and Moon changed the formula or not (it didn’t really) because that’s not the reason people play this series in the first place. The progression system is just fine, and doesn’t need to be changed. Pokémon is a pure adventure story that’s stood the test of seven generation of games, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But learn from the Commies – it ain’t broke if you tell people it isn’t broke. If it works, great! If something goes wrong, it’s Eastern Europe’s problem. Radiation sickness is not that bad, stop whinging and drink yer vodka. I don’t think I made a whole lot of sense here, but neither do people who think Sun and Moon is special.