With every new Pokémon title, Game Freak always tries to make technical features less complicated and introduces mechanics that arguably make the games easier. Many Pokémon fans don’t like this and would rather play a game that has the challenge of the original Pokémon Red and Blue.
But that doesn’t make sense for the series. Pokémon shines brightest when the games are fun, casual experiences and when the more technical aspects are made more accessible to a general audience.
Let’s Go does a lot of things right
When Pokémon: Let’s Go first released, I expressed that the game was perfect for busy adult life. You can almost immediately start catching Pokémon, and many of the tedious mechanics of past games have been taken out.
Seeing Pokémon out in the field to control which ones you encounter was the best time-saving move Game Freak could have made. Most of your time with random encounters in any game is spent seeking the exact Pokémon you want in your party. By not wasting time going in and out of battles with Pokémon you don’t care about, the game is made inherently more accessible and easier to play. Yet, this is a feature Pokémon: Let’s Go is praised for. So, where do we draw the line of “too easy”?
A change Let’s Go was criticized for was having a PC wherever you go. By having access to a mobile PC, players can change out Pokémon on the fly. Some fans argued this took out the challenge of going between towns with just a team of six.
However, I disagree with that. In some cases, I would find myself in an area where none of my team was going to be useful. If I had to walk all the way back to the nearest PC, that would seem like a waste of time. I’ve already proven I can make it that far, so why waste my time with taking that same path again?
The mobile PC doesn’t necessarily make the game too easy, but it does save a ton of time. In my life, time is more important than it ever has been. Taking away a time-wasting task is taking away artificial difficulty, not something that’s actually challenging.
What about competitive play?
Competitive Pokémon battling is something I’ve avoided for a long time. I know some of the basic things you need to look at: natures, IVs, EVs, and other technical terms the game never identifies for you. But that’s the problem. You shouldn’t have to do online research into hidden numbers to make a competitive team.
I’ve seen a more torn opinion on this throughout the Pokémon community. Some people feel if you want to be competitive, you need to spend an astronomical amount of time to build the perfect team. Others believe it shouldn’t take hundreds of hours to build up a strong team.
Game Freak has been slowly making competitive battling more accessible over the years. Super Training and Hyper Training make it easier to focus on certain stat boosts with your Pokémon, and now Sword and Shield will let you change the natures of your Pokémon.
Competitive players undoubtedly spend countless hours of their time finetuning their team, and Game Freak is making that easier. If you’re a competitive Pokémon fan, why wouldn’t you enjoy new features that make your time spent with the game more efficient? It will now no longer be up to chance to get the perfect nature. You don’t have to grind certain Pokémon battles for hundreds of hours to get the right stat boosts.
So while it may sound contradictory, Game Freak is taking care of the competitive players too by making Pokémon a more casual experience that’s accessible to everyone. These quality-of-life improvements also help new players feel welcome in a competitive setting. Now anybody can make a strong team, and it’s all thanks to a few tweaks in the gameplay to make things easier.
The future of Pokémon is casual
With recent changes to the Pokémon formula, one thing is clear: The Pokémon Company wants to reach a broader audience. This is especially apparent with Pokémon GO and Let’s Go. But what’s wrong with that? When was the last time you could walk down the street and talk about Pokémon casually with a stranger?
Pokémon is becoming more inclusive, and that’s amazing to see. So Game Freak would be missing a large opportunity if they didn’t make their main games more accessible to the new audience that’s been brought in since Sun and Moon.
I think everyone should enjoy Pokémon for what it is: a casual game where you collect cute monsters. Pokémon is social; anyone can be involved. No amount of artificial challenge or time-wasting features will make the series better. If you’re waiting for Pokémon to appeal to hardcore fans again, I think you’re wasting your time. For the sake of the series’s future as a social game, it needs to keep making improvements that make it more accessible to a wider audience.