Have you ever played a Pokemon game and thought to yourself “wow, this might be a bit too easy”? Well, if so, you wouldn’t be alone. The lack of a difficulty setting makes steamrolling other trainers, or even gyms, a simple task. Pokemon had a hard mode once, and it needs to make its return.
Over the past few generations, Pokemon has been gradually getting more and more accessible to newcomers. The franchise has been around since 1996, so there’s a lot to ease first-timers in to.
With increased accessibility, though, comes a far easier experience on the whole. Features such as permanent team EXP sharing and scripted healing before and after battles are no doubt helpful, but they’ve also lowered the difficulty considerably.
Some may not realize that Black 2 and White 2 actually introduced a Challenge Mode and an Easy Mode back in 2012. The problem with it, however, is that it was implemented in an unnecessarily complicated way using the Key Link feature.
Players had to beat the champion in Black 2 to unlock the Challenge Mode Key, and defeat the champion in White 2 to unlock Easy Mode Key. Simple so far, right?
The keys would then have to be transferred to others with the opposite game in order to be used. So, if you and your friends all bought White 2, you’d only have access to the Easy Mode Key.
If you restarted your save file after obtaining the keys, you’d lose them. That all sounds confusing because it is. If difficulty settings are ever brought back, fingers will remain crossed in hoping that anything related to the Key Link is left in the past.
Convoluted implementation aside, Challenge Mode provided interesting alterations that made it tougher for your 10-year-old trainer to become the best in the region.
The mode gave Gym Leaders and the Elite Four extra Pokemon, increased their IVs (Individual Values) to 30, raised every trainers’ Pokemon levels, and made the AI smarter overall.
This difficulty option disappeared abruptly, right after being introduced. When the world needed it most, it vanished, and hasn’t been offered since. Don’t get me wrong, having EXP Candy in Sword & Shield is extremely convenient, but the game is already easy without, and it just makes the game’s difficulty even more of a joke.
The exception to this in Sword and Shield would be the champion, Leon. The championship battle against him was a difficulty spike that kind of comes out of nowhere, and was more trouble than I expected. His rematches in the post-game Battle Tower were even tougher.
It was probably because my team was too casual because well, up to that point you could put whichever Pokemon you want in your team and not have a hard time. Leon’s Charizard, Seismitoad, and Haxorus gave me a run for my money though and then some. He forced me to rethink my strategy more than once, which was quite the pleasant surprise.
Not every NPC needs to be at that level, but those are the kinds of battles that I’d love to have against the Gym Leaders and rivals at the very least. The only difference between most gym battles and regular trainer bouts is the spectacle, not the challenge.
With no official options, players often turn to creating their own “hard mode” in order to add some stakes to their playthroughs. Farewell to all the Pokemon lost on Nuzlocke runs throughout the years. You will be missed.
Essentially, a Nuzlocke run provides multiple self-imposed stipulations and rules that players must abide by on their journeys. For example, releasing any Pokemon that faints, as well as catching the first Pokemon you see on each Route.
Seeing an official Nuzlocke mode in a mainline game would be exciting, but I’m not naïve enough to think we would ever be forced to release our Pokemon after losing a battle. Especially when the games still only have one save file. But save files are a conversation for another day.
Today, the hope of difficulty options returning is enough. Game Freak has recently discovered the existence of DLC, foregoing the “third game” tradition. I look forward to the day that they rediscover Easy Mode and Hard Mode as well.