Why Pokemon Needs To Start Focusing On Proper Sequels

My favourite Pokemon game of all time is Emerald, but I think Crystal is objectively better. Johto is one of the most coherent and consistently fascinating regions Game Freak ever put together, while intriguing new mechanics and features like the day/night cycle and the Bug Catching contest, respectively, shook up the Pokemon formula in a legitimately ambitious way.

The best part about Gen 2, though, was the return to a completely different version of Kanto set three years after the original games. Even as a kid, it made me completely rethink how I engaged with the series. I developed a sense of false security as soon as I stepped foot in a region I thought I was familiar with, which was then absolutely shattered by the fact that Cinnabar Island had been consumed by a volcano since the last time I was here. I arrived in Fuchsia City and Koga was nowhere to be found – his daughter had taken over the gym after he had been scouted to replace Agatha in the Elite Four (which makes sense – Koga is by far the best trainer out of Gen 1’s Gym Leaders, which is evidenced by the fact he almost manages to break free of the series’ outdated monotype Gyms).

I mean, the only better Gym Leader is also in Gen 2’s Kanto – Blue. After Giovanni left three years beforehand, Blue, your Gen 1 rival, took over Viridian Gym. Boasting a Pidgeot, an Alakazam, a Rhydon, a Gyarados, an Exeggutor, and an Arcanine, he’s got one of the most – if not the most – varied Gym lineups in the entire series.

But this isn’t about Gym Leaders – it’s about change, and being able to actually witness it. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I adore Alola. I love the Pokemon, the characters, the region itself – all of it. But I don’t like Kalos. I am not particularly interested in Galar – except for how it appears in Pokemon Twilight Wings, which is miles better than Sword and Shield. And although Unova has grown on me over the years, it’s still the first region I associate with a noticeable decline in quality. When I talk about change, I don’t necessarily mean a whole new location packed with people and Pokemon we’ve never met before. What I’m thinking about is the possibility of returning to somewhere you’ve been before, but being able to see it as if for the first time. I think it’s true to life in general that seeing how a place you used to be intimately familiar with has changed can sometimes be more fascinating than seeing somewhere brand new, particularly if you’ve spent some time doing the latter – which we as Pokemon fans most certainly have.

I know Black and White 2 exist, and I think that’s a good start. I already admitted that I’m not exactly enamored with Unova, but I definitely appreciate what Game Freak was doing here. The fact we got an excellent sequel and were then immediately shipped off to Kalos gives me shudders… sorry X & Y stans, I just can’t see it, and I probably never will.

I’ll admit that I can confidently commend Game Freak on trying something new with Galar – some parts of the Wild Area are stunning, and the Crown Tundra is downright gorgeous. I also recognize how impressive some of the big city design is, although I’ve always been more fascinated with Lavender Towns than Black Cities. That’s a “me” thing far more so than it is an overall issue with Pokemon. What’s probably not just a “me” thing, though, is that Lavender Town is miles better than Stow-on-Side, which does not look like the kind of town you’d find a Ghost Gym Leader in.

I’m not trying to be a spoilsport – new regions are fine. But, to go back to my points about Gen 2, it’s fascinating to see how they connect to other areas, and to examine those same areas across different time periods. Pokemon in general is a world that’s steeped in ambiguity – even when it’s at its most brazenly childish, there’s magic crackling in the air that shrouds everything in a veil of mystery. So, when the parts of the game that actually are comprehensible become unclear – like where Giovanni has legged it off to by the time Gold & Silver roll around – all of that magic is amplified even further. The same applies to the most mundane parts of what you think you recognize, but soon realize you don’t – what happened here? When? How? Why?

I’m all for new regions – within reason. I mean, it’s also worth acknowledging that Game Freak simply cannot include every Pokemon in the National Dex anymore, meaning that the addition of 100 new ‘mons likely calls for the removal of loads of older ones. I couldn’t believe I had to wait until the Isle of Armor just to get Blastoise, my favourite Pokemon, in Gen 8. I had Vaporeon to tide me over until then, but how am I supposed to make waves as a Water trainer without everyone’s favourite tortoise-but-with-shoulder-cannons?

I think a smaller new area with less new Pokemon paves the way for returning to a previous region, but several years before or after the fact. This gives you so much freedom – a prequel could feature extinct Pokemon, whereas a sequel could introduce totally new ones in the same way as a new region. I’d personally love to see a game finally expand on the Sevii Islands from LeafGreen and FireRed, which I think have been criminally underutilized in the series as a whole.

And no, I don’t necessarily agree that we’ve already done Kanto and Johto too many times, because this whole piece is about a change in setting. Sure, the location might be the same, but the time of our hypothetical scenario is completely different. Also, just connect the Sevii Islands to the Orange Islands and create an island-hopping game based on the Philippines or Indonesia.

And then put a boat to Kanto or Johto in. Thanks.

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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