Pokemon games are memorable for a number of reasons, but narrative isn’t one of them. The main story of every game is fine – amateur trainer who leaves his comfort zone to become a Pokémon master. Boring, though it serves the game as an open framing device.
But it’s the story where each Pokémon title falls victim to the issues plaguing every game that came before it: boring and predictable. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, and Game Freak could learn a lot by looking at the series’ previous entries to make Pokémon Sun and Moon standouts for new fans and old alike.
While players journey their respective region, they encounter some sort of bio-terrorist organization hell-bent on altering the biological make-up of the Pokémon world itself, and in the case of X and Y, eliminate humans from the equation entirely. All the games devolve into the standard, melodramatic worldwide cataclysm that’s found in a bad anime. Artificial stakes that are never really sown anywhere in the game, tension that’s never earned. This is fine for players looking to power through typical story beats and continue their quest to catch them all, but why should players settle for something they’ve experienced before?
Each new entry in the Pokémon franchise has managed to iterate and improve on some fundamental aspect of gameplay, whether it be battles, exploration, breeding, etc., but the story is left mostly untouched. As it stands, 95% of Pokémon narrative is the journey, and that measly 5% is reserved for that trite terrorist sub-plot that usually takes place during the last third of the game.
Now, Pokémon doesn’t specifically need to get dark or mature (although that would be nice); it’s important to remember that Pokémon is aimed at children. Building off that notion, Game Freak would do well to adjust their storytelling chops accordingly.
Game Freak could largely capitalize on the Pokémon brand by ripping bits and pieces directly from the anime and create a series of vignettes and side-stories that would help break the monotony of mindlessly traveling from gym to gym. Take the original Red and Blue, for example. Upon arriving at Cinnabar Island, players attempt to challenge gym leader Blaine, only to find the gym closed. As fate would have it, the key is is tucked safely away inside the Cinnabar Mansion where a Pokémon experiment escaped to freedom, destroying much of the facility at the same time. Clumsy, yeah, but in terms of narrative it shakes things up significantly by forcing players to change their routine. Pokémon games need more of these moments, but far more interesting versions.