For some time, Pokemon had a bit of an identity crisis. The series has spawned mainline entries uninterruptedly every few years for over two decades, but the once-trusted formula that guaranteed critical success (and big bucks) has arguably felt a bit stale starting with the franchise’s jump to 3D X and Y. The frustration peaked with the franchise’s last major release. sword and shieldwhich received a lot of backlash for its perceived abuse of the goodwill of longtime fans. sword and shield has been accused of including the competitive scene with its many changes to the meta, lack of content due to the straightforward storyline and few post-game options, and, perhaps most infamously, not including more than half of the franchise’s total 905 Pokemon.

Since then it has been discussed sword and shield‘s release how much of it is actually Game Freaks fault. The Pokémon Company responded to the controversy, saying the series simply amassed too many Pokémon to properly implement each one, especially given the series’ short turnaround time for new games. It seemed like Pokemon had grown too big to fully satisfy anyone as every fan – from die-hard to casual gamers to the young kids these games were originally intended for – all have conflicting interests when it comes to the gaming experience. It seemed like PokemonChasing modern trends and layering a popular aesthetic on top was her response to the impossibility of her task sword and shield this has become ubiquitous in recent years.

The general atmosphere of Galar, the region in which sword and shield is structured heavily around sports, with the story itself mirroring that of a tournament arc in a sports anime. It seemed to have a good fit PokemonCompetitive in nature and promising and even a tad exciting in the game’s early moments, a much-needed shake up to the predictable gameplay that the series became famous for. Unfortunately, the games fall into the same old trap the series always has, with a rinse-and-repeat gym format culminating in a fight against the champion. Despite his attempts to repeat shows like Haikyuu or Captain Tsubasawith its emotional highs and passionate cast, the game feels shallower than ever, bogged down by too many unexplored ideas like the open-world areas and dynamaxing.

The Greatest Tragedy of sword and shield it’s all wasted potential. There are nuances of a better game in its DNA; Boss fights feel exciting and climactic, given the enthralled audience responding to the changing dynamic of the fight and the banger boss theme. But in his attempt not to stray too far from the bottom line”Pokemon” Progression, it doesn’t hit the beats that a sports anime should have.

sword and shield‘s first DLC, Isle of Armor, received some criticism for its short story, but could have been a wonderful addition if packaged with the base game. A direct copy of the mandatory training sheet, Isle of Armor finds the player training alongside the baby Pokémon Kubfu in a dojo, and includes a version-exclusive rival. The DLC is an unfortunately frustrating experience as it is distinct from the main story, rather than being a self-contained side story that many players complete after completing the main game. taken out of context, Isle of Armor is an exciting and unique story for the Pokemon series and could have been the blueprint for how the game was structured, carefully digressing into isolated but emotionally meaningful subplots.

Now that we’ve been dating for three years sword and shield, it’s (hopefully) easier to have a more measured assessment of it; It’s certainly a mediocre game and a disappointment for most, but more a symbol of the franchise’s increasing impracticality, which seems to have reached its saturation point in terms of work and interest. Even though sword and shield remains the fifth best-selling Switch game to date, its reception has become synonymous with its name and could put its follow-up in a precarious position. So what’s a good trend to chase in 2022?

Based on the trailers so far for the next installment, Game Freak seems to have landed in a school setting, which isn’t a bad idea. Academic attitudes have been popular in young adult media for decades, particularly since the onset of the pandemic, generating a keen interest and perfectly summarizing the years in between sword and shield and scarlet and violet. For all my doubts, the most recent follower certainly sells many of the elements I would expect from an environment like this: a group of delinquent rivals, school traditions and events, and a motley cast of high school students and faculty. Despite the game’s reliance on the gym progression system, the trailer implies that there are new, non-violent tasks for the player to complete in order to challenge each gym. scarlet and violet has staked much of its appeal on its true open world, a purposeful improvement sword and shield‘s wild area.

If Game Freak were smart, they would take inspiration from this Fire Emblem: Three Houses and persona‘s calendar systems that span each game over several months to reflect a school year. Although many find this idea being played out at this point (myself included), simulating a school year would address several grievances that have played out sword and shield, namely the lack of content and short story. Stretching the game out over a calendar year risks making a game feel artificially extended, but offers the opportunity for multiple unique, dynamic events to take place over the game’s playtime and could discourage players scarlet and violet long enough for Game Freak to push out updates and DLC that don’t feel awkward after the game’s natural life cycle. if scarlet and violet is really as open of a world as Game Freak seems to be marketing it, as it would also allow for events to be spread out across the world in a logical way, preventing the world from feeling empty or dead dynamic. A day-night cycle could also help have encounters dictated by a time of day that makes them feel random or unique.

When I think of high school settings in anime, I think of the high stakes and social dynamic that many often present, be it the melodrama Ouran High School Host Club or the over-the-top thrill of kakeguru. These are tropes that everyone is familiar with and a good base that can be easily extrapolated in almost any direction. There is enough evidence for that scarlet and violet are focused on innovation given what we’ve seen of the new multiplayer features, auto battle and gathering, and the “three stories” in the game referenced by The Pokémon Company. Many were satisfied with the progress made Legends: Arceuswhich now reads as a proof of concept for the ideas reused in scarlet and violet.

Despite the promise the game shows, I can’t quite shake my initial reluctance to play the game. Of course, one of the three previously mentioned stories is the Pokémon League, a task that has become more tedious and even redundant with each entry as the process has become easier sword and shield. In theory, I enjoy the fight from Pokemonbut many of these games require significant, weighty side content to support the more formulaic elements endemic to the series, content that should do its best to blend with the game’s main campaign.

Pokemon has suddenly gone from a series I buy at launch to one I might consider if some of my friends recommend it. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Pokemon is that I – and many others, I’ve noticed – have a hard time articulating what we really want to see with the IP. It’s far from a dead franchise, though Pokemon could soon be a series unsupported by its original fans. Perhaps his grumpiest followers would do well to move on. Sometimes cute little animals just aren’t enough.

Austin Jones is a writer and perfume enthusiast. His unfiltered thoughts are available for free on Twitter @belfried.

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