Tsunekazu Ishihara announced at E3 that the Pokémon Company was working on an RPG for the Nintendo Switch. Without revealing any substantial details, it’s not clear as to which direction this new Pokémon RPG would be heading. In the likelihood of its release in 2018, it would appear slightly too early for generation eight, as we’ve only just received Pokémon Sun and Moon last November, and anticipating the arrival of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon later this year. However, it has been known that the Pokémon Company has been working on some serious games for the Switch, and it was speculated that a game dubbed Pokémon Stars would be the first main game on the system. The announcement of an RPG next year seems to suggest that generation eight is impending.
Whilst premature, Pokémon on the Switch offers some exciting changes that could, once again, revolutionize the series. The Nintendo Switch has already pushed our high expectations of the Zelda franchise to untold new heights when it bravely unshackled itself from a slightly neophobic approach and evolved the franchise with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. From this, Pokémon has the opportunity to flatten the boundaries that each previous game has been subjected to and create an opportunity for fans to live the Pokémon adventure they have always dreamed about.
Naturally, the linear approach that has been the standard for Pokémon since its birth in 1996 would have to be reconsidered. Breath of the Wild showed a storyline does not need to be inside the walls of a linear path, and a story can be discovered by the adventure itself. This easily sticks to the framework of the previous Pokémon games, allowing the player immerse into a new region, finding towns and cities at their own choosing. With the chance to create a world as beautiful as Hyrule in Breath of the Wild, the new region could bring a fresh palette of personality, relying on adventuring into the unknown to find pokémon, rather than the percentage chances of previous generations. Different environments would produce different pokémon, rewarding the player that explores every step of the map.
And this world should push the boundaries even more so than before. So far we’ve had regions inspired by Japan, USA, and France. This accounts for Asia, Europe, America and the Pacific. The natural step for the new Pokémon RPG would be Africa. The beauty of Africa is its diversity, allowing a creative freedom like none other. Inspiration could be taken from the cryptic pyramids in Egypt to the boisterous Serengeti in the sub-Sahara.
This leads to a unique opportunity to expand on the concept of Alolan forms. Adapting the storyline further, going to the roots of each Pokémon. Africa is the continent of our origins, and it would be fitting to make generation eight about the origins of pokémon. We know some of the story but not everything. There’s certainly room for more diverse fossil pokémon, with much of them appearing as an after thought. With Pokémon heading further into space, it would be unwise to neglect the stories on its own world entirely. If Ultra Beasts are a concept that is going to be continued into generation eight, then there’s a multitude of stories and fables that could be told with the concept of evolution. If Pokémon Sun and Moon can be seen as a celestial balance, then generation eight could be seen as a natural balance.
Upsetting the balance of nature is where the story could really unfold. There’s always a criminal organization trying to swing the pendulum one way. This could tackle an issue Pokémon has dealt with before – poaching. This in itself could adapt the choices for the player, allowing the concept of a pokémon ranger into the game. This deviates from the linear model that Pokémon has had for so long further, allowing real choice for the player. Becoming the Pokémon League Champion, defeating some criminals, and catching all the pokémon shouldn’t be the standard for every game. Breath of the Wild, once again, did this perfectly by allowing the player to tackle other missions independently from the main storyline. Giving new opportunities to the player will alleviate the franchise into a new era, at just the moment when Pokémon’s popularity is rising.
The realization of a beautiful new region, with the ability to take your journey into your own hands, should clear the way for a balanced, creative approach to new pokémon designs. Balance is crucial, especially with the starter pokémon. In Pokémon X and Y, they managed it perfectly. With Greninja, a water/dark type, having the advantage over Delphox, fire/psychic, which in turn had the advantage over Chesnaught, a grass/fighting type, which had the upper hand against Greninja; a perfect triangle. Sadly, the balance of the second typing was lost in Pokémon Sun and Moon. Pokémon RPG has an opportunity to rectify that error and create a much fairer approach to the starter pokémon, hopefully stopping the usual swing of popularity for a certain starter (Popplio deserves more love).
Importantly, some pokémon need some serious buffs, whether through evolution or stat changes. Competitively, some pokémon have become far too commonly used; Mimikyu and Toxapex are nearly in every team at the moment. The day Farfetch’d evolves into a normal/fighting type, with the leek becoming a martial arts weapon, is the day Pokémon finds justice for the weak. Unfortunately, expect to find a pokémon that looks like it should evolve from Farfetch’d, but will end up having no relation to it whatsoever, such is the story of before. And with the power of the Switch, Pokémon RPG could make it notoriously difficult to evolve these weak pokémon from previous generations. Farfetch’d could evolve on a certain day in Spring, at level 99 holding a leek, on top of the highest peak where it’s been training to defend itself against poachers.
In many ways, it would be preferable if Pokémon RPG didn’t add too many new pokémon, and focused on strengthening the pokémon it already has. It isn’t a different variation of a pigeon that we need, but an enhanced pigeon that we could comfortably utilize in competitive gameplay. The revolution will come with the world itself, and how the player interacts with their surroundings, providing more game time exploring rather than sifting through the GTS, ignoring the twenty people searching for a Mew for their Caterpie.
This is, maybe, the biggest leap Pokémon could make. Not creating another hundred pokémon, but creating a world that fully immerses you. How many times did you find yourself back at Pallet Town? Probably once more after you were respawned there after the Indigo Plateau. Pokémon RPG has a unique opportunity, on a fantastic console, to produce a world that allows non-competitive players to live a different adventure. Generation eight should be the generation of balance and variation, and it’s in the beauty of the Nintendo Switch itself that we will find how serious this Pokémon revolution is.