OK, before you read this, I want you to do two things for me. First of all, I want you to think about how much time you have dedicated (in hours) to Pokémon games. And secondly, I want you to try to remember as many names as you can of the cities in the various games.
If you’ve tried your second challenge and find yourself lost, don’t worry. Despite the hundreds of hours spent in the game, I was stunned when I said Pallet Town and Lavandonia. What turns out, I suppose, is that the game worlds have always been anything but memorable. Despite the great moments that many of us have had with the titles in the series, it’s clear that their virtual landscapes have had little impact on our memory.
This, however, is starting to change. Alola and Kalos, the two areas of the Pokémon world that players have recently explored, have proven to have made more of their mark than their predecessors. And the reason this is happening is that introducing new worlds to Pokémon hasn’t just brought a breath of fresh air. By giving the world of each game more personality, Pokémon’s mechanics have had more room to evolve, and with this more space comes the growth and improvement that is making the series important today.
Before we can explain why the evolving nature of Pokémon worlds is allowing modern games to develop, it is important to understand that all Pokémon worlds, even those in the most recent titles, have been designed with one purpose: to encourage the player to fight with their Pokémon.
All worlds are designed with one purpose: to encourage the player to fight with their Pokémon.
In fact, combat represents the core mechanics of the series that have ramifications in every aspect of the game. It creates emotional bonds with your little monsters, allows you to discover (and capture) new ones, advances the story and is the main way to interact with the world around you.
This implies that combat becomes an essential part of the three objectives of any Pokémon game: the mission to become Champions, the desire to defeat the trainers, and the path to complete the Pokédex. But to support this thesis, the world must lead the player into the next fight. This means that you need to design an environment that constantly encourages players to find the next battle for their Pokémon.
This is therefore the common denominator that rules every Pokémon world. The number that distinguishes each path grows as you progress on the world map, cities exist to provide support and rest, and the scenarios for the evolution of the plot are gyms and battles. And each map takes you around the world, taking you back to where you started once the game is complete. As a result, the main requirement of any Pokémon world is to keep you constantly on the move while providing you with enough support to give you the feeling that you are really ‘living’ in that universe.
In the first few chapters of the series this meant creating maps that were simply inspired by the regions of Japan, which merely created some biodiversity and a background story to entice the player to explore. Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnoh, the first four worlds, each based on real regions of Japan, to convey to the player a certain cultural background and a geographical basis on which to implant the elements of the game.
Each Pokémon world is capable of keeping you constantly on the move.
But although these worlds were inspired by real historical regions and places, relevance was harnessed mostly for relatively mundane purposes. In Gold and Silver, the two famous towers of the Kansai region (the Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji towers) were transposed as the Burnt Tower and the Bell Tower with the sole purpose of serving as a home for the two legendary birds.
A surprising anecdote concerns Junichi Masuda, a game director of Game Freak and creator of the Hoenn do Ruby and Sapphire map, who admitted on the company’s blog that he rotated the Kyushu region 90 degrees to create the game world, because such. operation has ‘increased playability’.
In short, he meant that the worlds were made with the intent of creating environments that were fun to explore, rather than to seem realistic. This is certainly a valid and understandable choice from a game designer’s point of view, especially when the series was still relatively new.
But once the series hit its 10th birthday, complaints began to multiply over the extreme flatness of its mechanics. The copy and paste of the villains of the game and the Pokémon League have gradually begun to reduce the desire to capture over 350 monsters. And while the Hoenn and Sinnoh worlds of the last few chapters were quite interesting, the lack of a stark change within them made the series too stagnant.
That’s why Game Freak has reversed the approach to world creation in Nintendo DS Pokémon Black and White games. Inspired by his press tours, Masuda decided to model the Unova game world on the state of New York. Taking the game overseas allowed his team to create a world infused with a different set of cultural references, such as the New York subway, the Brooklyn Bridge and, strangely enough, even several references to Jamaica.
Introducing a new lineup of Pokémon to catch on this continent, tweaking the structure of Pokémon centers, and adding mechanics to support less skilled players (such as midway health recovery), allowed Black and White to be the crucible for a change. both in mechanics and in the creation of a new world that allowed the same mechanics to develop and be less stale.
The ever-growing world in which Pokémon games come to life is helping its creators move the series forward.
While this was quite evident in the Kalos of X and Y, where the introduction of enticement and a new set of villains had all the flavor of France, in Sun and Moon the implementation of new mechanics in the world of Alola showed how important the discovery of Game Freak is for the future of the series.
With a single game, the company has truly revolutionized the formula with the following changes: it has set aside the Pokémon League model in favor of Dominant Pokémon, Route Captains and Kahuna; introduced a great diversity of species to make the small number of new pokémon go unnoticed (50); has created an exotic world like that of Alola, relaxing but revolutionary at the same time.
This is significant that the Game Freak team is learning to understand the benefits of building the game world. Alola works well because it maintains the canonical structure of the games in the series (numbered paths, stop points in the cities, big enemies to defeat) while adding new features.
The question that arises is: will Game Freak be able to keep all this? Will the company take players to another world next time? Or will he return to the Japanese setting using the lesson learned abroad to support the home Pokémon world?
Either way, it’s clear that the ever-growing world in which Pokémon games come to life is helping its creators move the series forward. As a student on her gap year, Game Freak is evidently discovering more about herself as she broadens her horizons. And all of this can only be a good thing for fans who expect even more memorable cities, no matter what their name will be in the future.