Dreaming of Pokémon Switch

Every Pokémon fan’s dream has been for a full-fledged Pokémon RPG to hit a home console. Well, thanks to the Switch being Nintendo’s handheld and home console, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company are basically forced to have the next major game in the series hit a home console. Praise Arceus.

We’ve already gone over five major changes Pokémon Switch could bring to the series, but here we’re going to go over our dream scenario – not just what could change, but what should absolutely stay the same in the process. It seems like just yesterday that everyone thought Pokémon Stars would be coming to the Switch, though this just turned out to be Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon for the 3DS. While those games were passable (if not almost identical to the original Pokémon Sun and Moon) having an improved port of a 3DS game as the Switch’s first Pokémon outing would have been a bit of a disappointment. It’s unlikely the graphics would have been majorly overhauled, as it would take more than a year to fully make Pokémon Stars from the ground up for an HD console.

Luckily, it appears Game Freak has been hard at work on Pokémon Switch for quite some time. Announced at E3 last year, Tsunekazu Ishihara, President and CEO of The Pokémon Company, let the world know that a proper Pokémon RPG would be hitting the Nintendo Switch, but it would be more than a year off. We know for sure that Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were worked on by a relatively small team made up primarily of junior employees, so at the earliest proper production for Pokémon Switch began sometime after Pokémon Sun and Moon came out in 2016. It’s even more likely, however, that some degree of production for Pokémon Switch began after Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were released in 2014. Pre-production for Pokémon Switch could have even begun as far back as right after Pokémon X and Y hit store shelves in 2013.

We’re somewhat confident in these estimates for a few reasons. Most importantly, Junichi Masuda hasn’t directed a single Pokémon game since Pokémon X and Y, though he directed every mainline title between Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon X and Y, with the only games he sat out on as director being the decidedly less-major Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver and Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. He did, however, compose the music for and produce every Pokémon game since then, so his involvement in the series is still apparent. It’s likely that ever since he finished up work on Pokémon X and Y, he started working on the next big thing. Of course, his absence as director from Pokémon Sun and Moon may suggest he’s simply done acting as a game director, but he’s only 50 years old and Pokémon Switch could be his crowning achievement. Additionally, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire was a decidedly smaller feat for the company to tackle than an entirely new game for a new generation, and if Masuda and others began pre-production on an HD Pokémon game as far back as 2013, it and the rest of the games in the series since then have possibly not taken away from their productivity much. Once those remakes and the Pokémon Sun and Moon games were finished, it’s likely full production of Pokémon Switch began.

It’s almost a sure thing that Pokémon Switch will end up being Game Freak’s largest undertaking as a developer yet. It’s their first HD Pokémon game, and with the exception of the largely forgotten side-scrolling platformer Tembo the Badass Elephant, the only console game they’ve made in nearly twenty years. Any other spinoff Pokémon game, like Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness for the GameCube, Pokémon Stadium 1 and 2 for the N64 and Pokkén Tournament for the Wii U and Switch, were all made by outside developers. Because it’s their first HD and their first console Pokémon Game, there’s a lot more manpower necessary for its development.

Inspiration

Of course, there have been numerous Pokémon games on consoles not made by Game Freak, but only two are RPGs with a full campaign. Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness are widely known for one thing – being missed opportunities. Pokémon Colosseum for the GameCube came out in 2004. They made good on bringing the Pokémon we know and love to televisions, but the Stadium games had already done that. Instead, fans were hoping for a high quality campaign much like those found on the handheld series. That didn’t really happen.

Colosseum and Gale of Darkness didn’t allow Pokémon trainers to wander through tall grass, catch wild Pokémon and evolve them to fill out their dream team as they saw fit. Instead, in Colosseum, Pokémon could only be caught if they were specific “Shadow Pokémon” and could only be caught from an opposing trainer’s team – something counter to how the typical Pokémon games operate. This severely limited your possible team, as instead of catching possibly hundreds of Pokémon in the wild, you could only get those that the story saw fit to give you. The pseudo-sequel Gale of Darkness was essentially a rehash of Colosseum, but added a few things for returning players, like the ability to purify shadow Pokémon by cleansing them in the “purify chamber” instead of just walking around with them in the team, as well as the inclusion of Poké Spots, where players could obtain new Pokémon by luring them with snacks. A bit better, perhaps, but still not a proper Pokémon RPG.

Though those games have their place in the series, Pokémon Switch should decidedly not go in their direction. These games stripped Pokémon of random encounters and a fulfilling adventure rife with player choice. The next game should attempt to retain what makes Pokémon what it is, but there are games from other franchises that it could look to for inspiration.

Though many fans lament the decline in Japanese RPGs in the recent few console generations, there are still plenty of contemporary examples of games that Pokémon could mimic. First there are Nintendo’s own fantastic Switch games, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. While Breath of the Wild took Zelda into totally open-world territory, Super Mario Odyssey kept its worlds segmented, but still large and filled with wonderful gameplay opportunities. Pokémon may do well to find a healthy in between of these two games. Many fans want Pokémon to be completely open world, and while it very well could be, past mainline Pokémon games have been highly structured, somewhat linear affairs with many opportunities to revisit past areas and stray from the path. Though Odyssey takes a fractured approach to its worlds, the idea of introducing more content when revisiting areas is one that Pokémon has done before – but they could take it even further.

Pokémon Sun and Moon made a lot of changes to the core Pokémon experience, like removing traditional gym leaders, scratching HMs from existence and adding numerous quality of life improvements. Though Pokémon Switch shouldn’t stray too far from the core experience, it could retain these changes and take things even further.

Although gym leaders were no longer in Pokémon Sun and Moon, there were seven Trial Captains and four Island Kahunas. The Trial Captains didn’t operate quite like gym leaders – instead of taking on the player in a traditional Pokémon battle, they facilitated trials for them to overcome, like finding ingredients for a particular dish or capturing spirits of deceased Pokémon on camera. At the end of their trails, a Totem Pokémon (along with some allies) would appear for a battle. These Totem Pokémon were larger and stronger than normal and had boosted stats as a result. They couldn’t be caught during these trails and posed a serious challenge for trainers. The Kahunas, on the other hand, were much more akin to classic gym leaders as they fought the player one-on-one, had clear type affiliations and some even ended up being Elite Four trainers as well. Gym leaders could return in Pokémon Switch, but hopefully there will be more to them than just being eight sequential trainers with specific type affiliations, similar to how Sun and Moon handled things.

HMs (like cut, surf, waterfall, etc.) were used in the first six generations of Pokémon games and they became more frustrating as time went on. They took up a space in a Pokémon’s move set, typically weren’t the most desirable attacks in the game and in older games couldn’t be removed once learned. All of these abilities could be used outside of battle in order to traverse across water, cut down plants, wade through whirlpools and more, and while this is useful from a game design perspective, it wasn’t entirely player friendly. So, Sun and Moon simply got rid of them. Sure, Surf and Fly are still attacks, but they are just regular old TMs now and aren’t necessary to progress through the games. Instead, GameFreak introduced the Ride Pager system, where at certain points in the game you could call Pokémon that weren’t in your party for assistance, like a Charizard that would fly you to previously-visited locations or a Sharpedo that you could ride on in the water and crash through breakable rocks with. Though it doesn’t have to be this exact same system, we’d be sorely disappointed if Pokémon went back to the tired HM system of old.

Being the first single-screen Pokémon game since Ruby and Sapphire, there’s a lot of UI redesign that will have to happen with Pokémon Switch. Because players won’t have that bottom screen reserved for the map, battle commands and menu options, GameFreak will need to integrate their menus into a single screen. This could pause the game or could almost work like the quick menus in Breath of the Wild, which were pulled up by holding down certain buttons and scrolling through a small menu while the rest of the game slowed down in front of you. Since the Switch has more buttons than any Nintendo handheld ever has, many of these actions could be remapped to the JoyCon’s extra inputs. Oh, and just as a side note: Nintendo, please don’t add motion controls to this game. I know you’re dying to make some mini-games out of it, and maybe that could be passable, but don’t bring it into the core experience.

I Want to be the Very Best

In our dream Pokémon Switch games, there are not one but three versions: Mind Version, Body Version and Soul Version. Each game begins with a few player choices in a menu, some old and some new. Players will pick their name, gender and design their character, including their voice. Yes, in this newest Pokémon game, there is voice acting. Though much of it is reserved for in-game cutscenes, all battles will have very light dialogue between trainers to accentuate the action. Not all conversations will include voice overs, instead opting for text boxes with many NPCs, much like how Breath of the Wild incorporated these elements.

Importantly for veteran trainers, players can now pick their difficulty. There will be three to start with: Pichu (Easy), Pikachu (Normal) and Raichu (Hard). A fourth difficulty called Mega Raichu (Expert) can be added by beating the game once. These difficulty changes will impact many things: the levels of both trainers and wild Pokémon will be raised with each difficulty bracket, less money will be earned in battles, and more experience will be required to level up your Pokémon. Expert mode will charge the player to use Pokécenters and all items in Pokémarts will cost substantially more money. Easy mode will put the player on a long tutorial, teaching players the basics of encountering, battling and catching Pokémon like past games always have. Normal mode will have some of this as well, but with less hand-holding and with not as much of an info-dump. Hard mode will do away with these tutorials entirely and any missed information the player may need can be found in the menu. However, to incentivize competitive players to avoid using Easy mode to raise their Pokémon quickly, each Pokémon will have one or more powerful move available to them that can only be obtained be leveling up in the higher difficulties. Similar to Pokémon Sun and Moon, attack strengths and weaknesses will plainly be shown in the battle menu next to each attack, barring that the player has already encountered and beaten that species in the past – however, this feature will not be available in Hard or Expert mode.

The player will then be introduced to Prof. Sequoia, who is actually the player character’s mother, and her skin tone will mirror what the player chose for their character. Like all Pokémon professors, she has a specialty – this time, she studies type advantages. The game once again begins with the player moving to a new town, but this time they start by helping Sequoia unpack her lab in Coronado Town, a small beach-front town within the California-inspired Cali region. The player begins the game as a twelve-year-old. The player begins the game with a low-leveled Eevee, but it’s time for the player to kick off their journey with a new starter. As is tradition in this region, if a child is twelve-years-old during the Pokéday celebration, they are given their first Pokémon by the local professor. Even though the lab is not ready, and Prof. Sequoia has scrambled to capture all of the Pokémon necessary, the celebration will commence.

Instead of three starter types, there are now nine: fire, water and grass as always, in addition to fighting, rock, flying, steel, ice and ground. Eventually, each starter will develop a dual type, accounting for the other nine types, making it so all eighteen types are present in total. However, the set of available starters changes depending on which version of the player has. Mind has fire, water and grass starters, Body has fighting, rock and flying, and Soul has steel, ice and ground. There will be two rivals from the town, one a boy and one a girl. If the player gets the fire starter, the other two will get the water and grass types as per usual. Same goes for the fighting, rock and flying trio of types, and the steel, ice and ground trio of types in the other versions.

Gyms once again make a return but are no longer tackled in a totally linear manner. There are nine gyms, each a type that isn’t included in the nine starters, meaning they are as follows: electric, bug, normal, ghost, psychic, dark, fairy, poison and dragon. The gyms are similarly separated into threes and are accessible in those orders, meaning the first three gyms the player can choose to go to are electric, bug or normal. Once the player beats the first gym, the second gym will increase in difficulty, and some Pokémon in the next gym leader’s team will even evolve along with this spike in difficulty. Once all three are finished, the player is given a new Pokéride Pokémon, in the first case it’s surfing on a Mantine, which will allow the player to access areas of the map they previously couldn’t. This again leads to another section of freedom, and the player can choose from the second set of gyms: a ghost, a psychic and a dark type gym, with the same general rules of the first set of gyms. After beating them all, the player is given another Pokéride Pokémon, this time a Hariyama that knows strength, opening up yet another set of sections of the map. The final three gyms, being fairy, poison and dragon-based gyms, are now available.

Upon beating all nine gyms, the Elite Six opens up. Instead of being based on types like the gym leaders, each Elite Six member focuses on a different stat. There will be one whose Pokémon have exceptionally high HP, one with high attack, another with high special attack, the rest with high defense, special defense and speed, respectively. Like in Sun and Moon, they can be tackled in any order, but as always, the player cannot revisit a Pokémon center between these battles. The Elite Six champion is none other than Prof. Sequoia herself, and her roster of six Pokémon are the fully evolved versions of the six starter Pokémon not present in the version of the game the player is using. She is, up to that point, the most powerful possible trainer in the game by far.

After beating Prof. Sequoia, the player is given another Pokéride Pokémon, this time it’s a Gyrados that can swim up waterfalls. This will allow players to access an entire new region called the Baja region to the south of Cali. Baja is largely based on Mexico, and is filled with another nine gyms, each the types that weren’t accounted for in the first nine gyms. Again, these gyms will increase in difficulty with each one defeated, but these can all be accessed in any order as a single group. Baja has its own Elite Four, and each trainer focuses on different types of attacks. One uses a lot of stat increasing and decreasing moves, another exclusively uses powerful but inaccurate moves, one uses status infliction attacks and the last uses defense-oriented moves. The Baja region is actually where the player originally came from, and his father is the Elite Four champion here.

There is a total of 100 new Pokémon in Mind, Body and Soul Versions, twenty-seven of which are starters and their evolutions. Fifty-three additional Pokémon can be found in the Cali region, and the last 20 are exclusive to the Baja region. Because of the region’s relative proximity to the Alola region, a lot of Alola variants can be found in the games, particularly in Baja. Though the general design for battles remains the same, there are a few shifts in the backend. Instead of being able to hold just one item, Pokémon now have two equipment options: an accessory, and a special item slot. The accessory slot works just as it always has, but the special slot is reserved for one of three things: a Mega Stone, a Z-Crystal or an elemental enhancer. In these games, Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves have returned, but any given Pokémon can only access one at a time, or simply opt to hold an elemental enhancer to boost their regular attacks instead. Because Mega Evolutions are back, there will be a host of fan favorite Pokémon that will get Mega versions, including Mega Donphan, Mega Raichu, Mega Crobat, Mega Luxray, Mega Volcarona and Mega Pangoro.

In addition to the eight current Eeveelutions, there will be an additional 10 evolution options for Eevee that will account for every type, including a normal type Eeveelution, which is the only one with higher total base stats than the others. Each Eeveelution will also get a Mega Evolution, further focusing on the importance of Pokémon types in these games. Because the player begins the game with an Eevee, they are encouraged to experiment with its unique typing evolutions.

In Mind, Body and Soul, the party limit during battles is still six Pokémon, but now they can have an additional four reserve Pokémon that can be switched into the team at any point outside of battle. Battles will be instigated when another trainer sees the player as usual, but for many of the battles the player can choose for it to be a single, double or triple battle, giving more control of how the flow of battles unfolds for players. Wild Pokémon now roam in the wild, and will chase after the player if they get in their range of vision. If the player makes contact with the Pokémon, a battle is initiated. Going between the exploration screen and battle screen is seamless, and all battles take place exactly where either the wild Pokémon or trainer meets up with the player. Not all wild Pokémon will chase after the player: if the player’s Pokémon are at a high level, most won’t attempt to run towards the player, but will instead run away. Depending on the Pokémon’s nature, it may run away regardless. If Pokémon are particularly aggressive or territorial, they’ll chase the player for long distances. Some Pokémon are lazy and don’t care either way and will simply stay in one place waiting for the payer to engage them.

Team Rocket returns as the enemy organization in Mind, Body and Soul, and the universe-hinging plots that Pokémon games have gravitated towards is toned down here, instead focusing on a simple villainous group that is stealing Pokémon from trainers – or so, that’s how it seems at first. As it turns out, Team Rocket is attempting to distort reality itself by enslaving one of the three legendary Pokémon in the game. One is a psychic type linked with Mind version, one is a fighting type associated with Body version and the last is a ghost type paired with Soul version. After toppling Team Rocket before the Elite Six, remnants of the group are scattered across Baja and it’s up to the player to squash any chance of them coming back once and for all.

The game will be in full 3D, allowing players to control the camera throughout the game with the right analog stick. There are specific areas the player character can climb up or crouch down in order to reach and running and using the bike or Pokéride Pokémon have their own physics systems. Pokéride will have a teleport functionality powered by an Alakazam, and this functions much like fly did in past games, automatically taking the player to previously discovered towns. After beating the Elite Six, the player gains access to the Pokéride Pidgeot which will allow players to fly above Cali and Baja in real time much like they could in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

The graphics are in full HD, rendered at 1080p while docked and 720p in handheld mode. It runs at 30fps on both but is locked to be a bit more stable when docked. The graphical style is somewhat similar to what GameFreak began with X and Y, but much more crisp and detailed. The Pokémon themselves appear somewhat cel-shaded, and their colors are bright and vibrant. They fully animate, both when idling and actively attacking. And, finally, Pokémon no longer speak in garbled corrupted sound file-like bursts that attack your ear drums and instead say their names, or fractions of their names, when battling or hanging out in the world.

Like No One Ever Was

This will be the biggest Pokémon game ever with two full regions to explore and eighteen gym leaders to battle. It will take most players between 40-50 hours to beat both campaigns and many will be incentivized to buy more than one version to gain different starter sets at the beginning. Of course, all Pokémon can be traded locally or over the internet, so it isn’t necessary to buy more than one version.

What players want out of Pokémon for the Switch is a massive, proper RPG in the vein of the mainline handheld games and that’s exactly what they’d get with Mind, Body and Soul. It keeps many of the quality of life improvements introduced in recent Pokémon games and takes them even further. It has more content than ever before but retains the same battle system and under the hood mechanics that it always has. It’s a bit of a Pokémon overload, but a slight experience is not what’s in store for Pokémon Switch. These games change quite a bit about the series’ structure and presentation but keeps the core of the series intact and ready to evolve even further in upcoming generations. Expect Pokémon Switch to be properly announced at E3 this June, and released either late this year or early next year.

This has been the final installment of “Dreaming of…” our monthly feature that dreams up what might be in the world of gaming. If you liked this, check out Dreaming of the Next God of WarDreaming of Resident Evil 8Dreaming of the Next Legend of Zelda, or even more of our ongoing features. For all of your gaming news, reviews and more, keep an eye on Hardcore Gamer.