While playing through Pokémon Black/White, Laura and I recently had a chat about the future of the Pokémon RPGs, particularly with regard to the Nintendo 3DS and all of the improvements it allows for, that weren’t quite possible in the past.
While we certainly aren’t vain enough to believe that our opinions matter in the larger picture, it was a fun talk, since Laura’s kept up with all of the recent games in great depth, whereas I’m more of a “returning” fan that dropped off after Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire. We covered three topics, primarily: communication, the world, and battles.
Below is an edited version of part 1 of our talk. We’ve tried to trim the fat out and keep all of our thoughts relevant. We hope you enjoy it, and feel free to join in the discussion with your own thoughts on the series’ future!
Laura: Interesting that they were all, "We shouldn’t be bound by what makes Pokémon, Pokémon" and… well, I never noticed it, but they kept the box system. I’m too used to it.
Ishaan: I hate the box system. Hate hate hate hate hate. Especially because the rest of the touch interface is so good. Just do a drag and drop system already.
Laura: Oh yeah. I noticed that it was a bit awkward compared to Hg/Ss, even.
Ishaan: Was Hg/Ss better? I can’t remember…
Laura: It was a bit better. Still weird drag-drop though. Well, with the 3DS having console capabilities, Nintendo’ll be able to "cheat" the "we’re only doing portables" system limitations. 3D will probably be the least of the changes.
Laura: You think they’re going to keep the turn-based system?
Laura: I know the system’s done great for…uh…15 years? But…still. 15…
Laura: Keep something that works…or try something new?
Ishaan: I don’t know; that’s the biggest concern on my mind, too.
Laura: I mean…it’s not that it’s not deep. There are plenty of strategies to be done. However, Nintendo is intent on breaking their own strategies. Their Dream World Pokémon? Most of them are horrendously difficult.
Communication and Story in Future Games:
Ishaan: OK, well…let’s take it one by one. Like you said, 3D’s a given. It’ll be the least of the new features they’ll add. I mean, Iwata said as much at his last investor conference.
Ishaan: So…let’s say they need to focus on two new things for 3DS Pokémon…maybe "bringing the world to life" and "communication" could be their buzzwords? Communication is actually something that they tried to take further in B/W.
Ishaan: Look at the C-gear screen when you have it turned on. It looks almost like it’s bringing in updates or streaming data to you…I really like that.
Laura: You mentioned the "What if it was actually streaming data to you." Like Twitter or something. Well, while text support could be hard, considering how you’d need the touchscreen to play the game too, voice support is possible…
Laura: And then there’s always the DSi-supported camera, which…i think they already did with the Livecaster.
Ishaan: I don’t think they’d rely too much on voice outside of an optional feature…I’m sure they’ll include it, just like B/W, but I don’t think it’ll be the main mode of communication.
Ishaan: But okay, let’s consider a few things:
1. 3DS has a unified friend code, instead of one for each game.
2. C-gear assumes that you’re always near some kind of Wi-Fi hotspot while playing, which is the first time I’ve seen a [non-3G] portable game do that.
Ishaan: So maybe, “Pokémon 3D” can stream data to you on what other trainers on your friend list are up to. Like, if they’re playing Pokémon, too, it could tell you where they are, what they’re doing etc. and maybe allow you to jump in and join them on a quest.
Laura: Isn’t that a bit extraneous info? I mean, you don’t really want to know they ran into 100 Rattatas. Maybe send requests, though…like: “Up for a trade?”
Laura: And you can type it out, instead of that "must have seen in Pokédex beforehand" that prevents you from getting certain Pokémon. The major pillars of Pokémon communication, I think, is still trading and battling, which the C-gear supports.
Laura: You mentioned questing, which I think is cool. Nick did mention that this Pokémon is like a portable World of WarCraft. Plus, it’d give you purpose during post-game, which really annoyed me in B/W.
Ishaan: Like a portable WoW?
Laura: It is. The only difference, maybe, is that Pokémon has an end to the story (Elite Four), but then you can keep on doing it over and over again, so really, the game is as much as you make it out to be.
Ishaan: I do feel like they placed more of an emphasis on the story this time around. Like the early scene with the Munna. I’d like to see more of that in the future.
Ishaan: Right now, the people in the world still feel kind of shallow. The game’s still about battling and trading, but I don’t think it should be restricted to those in the future.
Laura: Pokémon isn’t a normal RPG. You can’t expect it to be all about story. In fact, I’d almost say it’s deliberately not about story, the core part of the game. As much as I’d love a Pokémon with story, that’d be more like a “gaiden” than the actual Pokémon game.
Ishaan: But don’t you think that’s the direction it’s going in? Black/White have more story already. The next step is to try and make each player’s experience unique, and that ties back in with communication again, because it’s a talking point.
Laura: Either way, increasing story…that’s also making it less appealing to kids, isn’t it?
Ishaan: People will share their experiences…like you mentioned the Rattata thing. Someone could send a message over their "network" of friends, going: "THIS IS THE 30th RATTATA IN A ROW!"
Ishaan: And maybe if they’re stuck in a battle, or about to faint, they can send out an S.O.S. or that C-gear type interface can alert you that a friend is in trouble, and you can jump into their battle to try and save them.
Laura: That’s interaction, that’s not story. But that kind of interaction, I’d love to see. I mean, Pokémon is about…your own journey, not about "I’m out to save the world," which is why there’s never been a great complex story.
More Interaction and Creating a Unique Experience:
Ishaan: It’s not story, yeah, but you don’t need to strictly have a "story" to make each experience unique. It doesn’t have to be plot-driven…it can be character-driven.
Laura: Technically, the game itself is about a character-driven "I’m growing through my adventure" story, but it doesn’t really work out because you, the player, aren’t really growing. And character-driven doesn’t really work in video games because there’s no real “goal.”
Laura: Interaction, yes, definitely. Pokémon is about, as Nintendo has said and emphasized, a community. One way to grow is to go further into that. Story, though? I’m not too sure. Though quests can give you a mini-purpose.
Ishaan: That’s all it needs though. It just needs more meaningful characters or things to do in the world other than battling and trading to help bring that world to life and make it feel like you’re having a unique experience that maybe another player isn’t.
Laura: If there’s a story, then everyone would be experiencing the same. In short, you’re saying, make it more MMORPG-esque.
Laura: Oh, speaking of quests, I think Pokémon Mystery Dungeon kind of does that well. It could be kind of a quest system like that, except online.
Ishaan: What does Mystery Dungeon do?
Laura: Mystery Dungeon has a major storyline, but it also revolves around taking quests. It gives you a bigger purpose — trying to learn about why you’re a Pokmeon and return to being a human — and it gives you smaller ones, like saving Pokémon from mystery dungeons.
Ishaan: Right. So you have the same end-goal and the same overall story, but your path to reaching the end (and what you do afterward) should feel like your own…not what everyone else is doing.
Laura: Feel like your own? Or actually is different and your own?
Ishaan: A bit of both? It’d be unrealistic to expect them to make everyone’s experience 100% unique, but adding enough variety to it shouldn’t be a problem when you’re Nintendo and Game Freak. They have the budget and time, and the drive to do it.
Laura: Like — and I’m going to use what I’m playing at the moment as an example — a branching storyline that reaches the same goal, or you can make a party of completely different combinations of classes and it’ll feel different every time because you’ll always require a different strategy?
Laura: The latter is kind of like having different party of Pokémon, but what I basically mean is, a bit of…flavour difference? Different quests overall, different cities to visit. You don’t have to always go to the same 8 gyms. On that note, the anime did mention once upon a time that there are more than 8 gyms in a region…
Ishaan: Different quests for sure. Different cities, if they’re willing to go that far, would be awesome. But maybe also how you reach the end of the story. Maybe you aren’t strictly a Pokémon trainer. Maybe you could be a researcher or a breeder?
Ishaan: And as a result of that, you’d see a different side of the game and world. That comes back to characters again. Same overall story, but see different aspects of it through different characters, quests, goals and Pokémon.
Laura: I’m not sure about occupations. sure it sounds nice, but carried out, it’ll turn into the most superfluous of differences that will only seem "gimmicky" rather than in-depth. Hmm..unless you do turn it into a branching storyline. Different goals will play into that.
Ishaan: I don’t think you have to make the occupations clear-cut. Let the player steer himself in the direction that looks most interesting, and let him or her back out and go a different way if they find it getting boring. That’s very important.
Ishaan: This way, the emphasis is still on Pokémon and not on people. Your path is decided by your view of Pokémon and how they can help the world.
Laura: What would Pokémon be about then? Learning about the Pokémon or your journey as a Pokémon trainer, researcher…or rather, learning what you want to be in life?
Ishaan: I think growth. Isn’t that what Pokémon is supposed to be about on some level anyway? You grow alongside Pokémon…that’s always what they’re trying to push, but if you’re our age, it doesn’t really feel that way.
Laura: I suppose so. At our age, it’s actually more about the Pokémon. Finding them and catching them, sure, but also how to battle them and come up with strategies. On that note, I’d love to learn more than just a small Pokédex blurb about the Pokémon.
Ishaan: The turn-based thing is up for debate, too, like you said. It’d make the game less accessible for younger kids though. That said, Persona 3 and 4 are turn-based, too, but they feel more dynamic because of the music and animation, and Black/White’s battles already look more animated.
Ishaan: If they use 3D models — those would be compatible with the 3DS Augmented Reality Cards, too — they could easily make the battles feel more exciting.
Laura: Well I mean, even if they do the "Oh, this Pokémon’s Speed is MUCH, MUCH higher than the opponent’s. We can make him attack twice!" instead of having speed be completely comparative…
Ishaan: Ah, yeah, that would be cool. Like, actual differences in how fast they can move. Then again, that might make everyone want to focus on their Speed stat…so maybe just the number of turns like you said.
Ishaan: …not that that wouldn’t make people focus on the Speed stat, too, though.
Laura: Because currently, even if my Jolteon’s Speed is 390, it only attacks once compared to a Pokémon with Speed 30, and while I understand that Speed is important, it’s also the stat that’s second-easiest to ignore when EV training, simply because it doesn’t do anything other than determine turns.
Laura: It’s very important, but… I think you’d hesitate more to not train Defense or Special defense. Then again, I can see this easily being abused, haha.
Laura: So that’s story and communication. What else is there, other than battles?
Before Moving On to Battles…
Ishaan: Hmmm…what about presentation? How would you make the world "feel" more alive? Castelia City in Black/White didn’t quite work. Even though they tried, it had the opposite effect. All the random streams of people just made them feel like zombies.
Laura: Interactable Pokémon that appear randomly but aren’t for battling. Like those pigeons or bats in the beginning, depending on when you started. Like the ducks in the lakes.
Ishaan: Ooh, I like that. In fact, that ties into your Pokédex blurb idea. The more you meet and interact, the more you fill out your Pokédex entry on a species.
Laura: I’m not sure how it’d tie into Pokémon encounters. Maybe if you befriend them, you’ll encounter more, but the rest of the ones in the area will run away or gang up on you?
Laura: But I do want to see more of Pokémon other than in battles. Honestly, that was why I had this sudden urge to play Pokémon Guardian Signs. Even if it was still about encounters, I saw them walking around on the overfield.
Ishaan: Well…the problem is, how would you grind then? You can’t have so many just wandering about. Then again, I wouldn’t complain if they significantly cut down on the grinding itself…
Laura: They already did cut down a lot. Especially with the "lower level = more experience" thing.
Ishaan: Even with the improvements, Black/White gets grindy.
Laura: Oh yes, it is. Especially later on with the Elite Four?
Ishaan: I’m still at lvl 22, and it took my entire team, with five of them fainting, to defeat the Bug Gym.
Laura: i played Hg/Ss recently again, and I was getting, annoyingly, 2000-3000 EXP per Pokémon, while in B/W, I was getting…uh 7000 to 9000. It is much easier in B/W to level.
Ishaan: I can’t believe you had the courage to go back to Hg/Ss.
Laura: Of course…all my Pokémon are there. And seriously? If I actually tried? I could complete the Pokédex, just by evolving and breeding.
Ishaan: I’m just going to mooch off your Pokémon from Hg/Ss, and what few I have myself.
If you lasted this long, there’s a chance you might enjoy the second half of our discussion, which centred around the current battle system and whether or not it needs streamlining in the future. We’ll have that up tomorrow!
Thanks to Serebii.net for the Pokémon Box image from Black/White.