Will Pokémon: Let’s Go Be Good for Both Casual and Veteran Players?
Will the upcoming games be just as fun for veterans as they will be for newcomers?
Earlier this week, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! were officially announced as the first mainline Pokémon games for the Nintendo Switch. Now that we’ve all had a few days to digest this information, it’s time to do some analyzing. During The Pokémon Company’s press conference, at which the games were announced, the claim was made that while the Pokémon: Let’s Go games are made to appeal to more casual gamers and bring in new fans, veteran players will find plenty to be happy with as well. As a lifelong Pokémon fan who’s more casual than most hardcore fans but more hardcore than many casual fans, I thought I’d look at the information we got from the games’ announcement and see if both casual and veteran players alike should be excited for these new entries in the series.
Returning to Kanto
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! will see players return to the Kanto region yet again. For those unaware, Kanto was the first region in Pokémon, being the land players explored in 1996’s Red and Green Versions. Since then, Kanto remained the sole explorable region in 1998’s Yellow Version, appeared in the post-game of 1999’s Silver and Gold Versions as well as 2000’s Crystal Version, re-appeared as the only region in the 2004 remakes FireRed and LeafGreen Versions, then re-appeared in the post-game of the 2009 remakes HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions. Between casual and veteran players, there’s quite a division as to whether returning to Kanto yet again is a good thing.
For many casual players, returning to Kanto again is great. Many Pokémon fans were really only fans during the first Generation, and once new regions and Pokémon started being included and complicating things, they turned their backs on the franchise. But the launch of Pokémon GO in 2016 showed that many of these fans are still passionate about the first 151 Pokémon, even if they haven’t played a main series game in twenty years. For those fans, getting a new main series game that returns them to a familiar region with familiar Pokémon could be just the thing to get them interested in the franchise again. Additionally, Pokémon GO made many new Pokémon fans who are enamored with the catching and collecting aspects of the game, but may not be so keen on the battling aspect. For these new fans more concerned with catching than battling, Pokémon: Let’s Go may be the thing to get them interested in the main series games, as exploring Kanto and trying to catch all 151 first Generation Pokémon is much more manageable than jumping into Sun and Moon and trying to collect over 800 Pokémon.
For veteran fans, it’s a bit of a different story. As you read a couple of paragraphs ago, Kanto has appeared in main series Pokémon games a lot, and is by far the most re-visited region. Many fans who’ve played every main series game are simply sick of the region. Kanto and the first 151 Pokémon are great and all, but you can only re-visit the same area with the same Pokémon so many times before it becomes stale. That being said, the updated graphics and other various changes that appear to be made in the region and gameplay (which we’ll get into later) may be enough to keep veteran fans interested. The games were just announced, after all; there’s probably an abundance of information still waiting in the wings that may or may not get players who are sick of Kanto excited to play these new games.
But with the return to Kanto comes a number of other implications. After the press conference in which Pokémon: Let’s Go was announced, members of The Pokémon Company and Game Freak held a Q&A session where some more details about the game were revealed. One such reveal was that only the first 151 Pokémon will be available in these games. Alolan versions of Kanto Pokémon will appear, but no non-Kanto Pokémon will make appearances. Well, the official transcript of the Q&A session states that “in general” only the first 151 Pokémon will appear, so it’s possible that more may appear in the post-game, but considering that during the presentation a point was made that only Kanto Pokémon could be transferred from Pokémon GO to Pokémon: Let’s Go (more on Pokémon GO connectivity later), it seems that there will only be Kanto Pokémon in these new games. At the very least, the main campaign will only feature Kanto Pokémon, with the possibility of a National Pokédex opening up in the post-game. But for the most part, it will be just Kanto Pokémon. As stated earlier, casual players who are more familiar with Kanto Pokémon, or those hoping to catch all 151 but would rather not worry about the 800+ Pokémon currently in existence, will likely embrace this with open arms. Veteran players who have come to know and love all seven Generations worth of Pokémon will likely be more hesitant. Having only the first 151 Pokémon available will significantly cut down on the amount of variability players will have when choosing their teams in the game, which will probably make many veteran players unhappy. Any veteran players looking to relive their first experiences in the world of Pokémon or those looking to be thrown into the same general circumstances as they were twenty years ago and see what they can do differently, however, may still have some fun with these titles.
The Q&A session also revealed that the plot of the Pokémon: Let’s Go games will not bring the player to the Johto region. It’s not entirely clear if this means that the player will not go to Johto in the main campaign but may be able to in the post-game, or if Johto won’t be in the game at all. However, if the first 151 Pokémon are all that will be available, then a trip to Johto could likely be ruled out entirely. If the National Pokédex does come into play in the post-game, then it’s a possibility that players could visit Johto, but even this doesn’t seem terribly likely, since these games are being marketed as the first ever Pokémon journey re-imagined, and Johto was not accessible (nor did it even exist) in Yellow Version, which Pokémon: Let’s Go is based off of. Once again, casual players will probably be fine with just Kanto to explore, since the addition of a whole second region may be overwhelming for those just getting into the main series games for the first time. Veteran players, however, are constantly asking to be able to explore more than one region per game. It adds more challenge and just a whole lot more to do. One of the reasons why Gold and Silver are among the most well-received games in the series is because they were the first (and only, excluding their remakes) games in the series to feature multiple regions. For more on this, you can defer to my review of Gold and Silver from when they became available on the 3DS eShop last year. The point is that veteran players like having as much to do as possible, and since Kanto and Johto are geographically right next to each other, many were hoping that remakes set in Kanto would mean the possibility of being able to walk over to Johto and explore a revamped version of that region as well. As it stands, it’s not 100% clear if Pokémon: Let’s Go will be actual remakes of Yellow Version or more like re-imaginings of it. If they’re remakes, meant to emulate a fresh but faithful recreation of the original game, then Johto will likely not be included, since it didn’t exist in the original Yellow. If these games are re-imaginings, then there’s more of a possibility of Johto being accessible, but it’s still not likely since these games are largely being marketed toward an audience that wouldn’t appreciate a trip to Johto the way many veteran players would. Ultimately, if Kanto itself is done well enough, veteran players just looking for a fun return to the first region while they wait for the next mainline games coming next year may be satiated even without Johto. That being said, re-creating Kanto for the fifth time without re-creating the region within walking distance of it will likely seem like a missed opportunity for many.
Speaking of missed opportunities, some people who attended the Q&A session have reported that aside from the inclusion of Alolan forms of Kanto Pokémon, there will be no connections between Pokémon: Let’s Go and Pokémon Sun and Moon. If these are the games that bring casual players who either haven’t played a Pokémon game in twenty years or just discovered the series through Pokémon GO into the fold, then they likely won’t care about any connections or lack thereof between these new games and other main series games. But for those of us who have stayed with the series, playing all mainline games for twenty years, having no other connections between these new games and Sun and Moon seems like a huge missed opportunity given how many references to Kanto were present in the Generation VII games. Having Alolan versions of Kanto Pokémon appear in Alola meant that Kantoan versions of Alola Pokémon could have appeared in a Kanto remake, but apparently this isn’t going to happen. At the end of Sun and Moon, an important character leaves to go train in Kanto, and at the end of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, a different character makes the same decision; a remake of Kanto could have meant that we would see these characters return and possibly be involved in the new story to some capacity, but this won’t be happening either. Giovanni alluded to making some kind of return in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon once Team Rainbow Rocket was defeated; a Kanto remake could have meant the continuation of the Team Rainbow Rocket storyline, but it looks like this won’t happen either. At the end of the day, the Let’s Go games are very capable of being good games in their own right without any connections to previous games, but even if they are great games on their own, veteran players will likely be left wondering would could have been and mourning what seems like a bunch of obvious but missed opportunities for a Kanto remake.
(By the way, if you want to get into tinfoil-hat levels of hypothetical missed opportunities, you could consider the fact that veteran players have been expecting remakes of Diamond and Pearl for some time now and Game Freak could have potentially killed three birds with one stone making a Kanto remake since Kanto is right next to Johto and Johto is technically connected to Sinnoh via the Sinjoh Ruins, so some fans speculated that a Kanto remake could have included three regions, though I think everyone realized that this was so unlikely to happen it’s not even worth thinking about. The moral is: maybe just be happy with the games that we get for what they are instead of speculating about what else they could have been and ending up disappointed that they didn’t turn out the way we thought they might in our heads. This way, veteran players could end up enjoying Pokémon: Let’s Go, despite the lack of Johto or connections with Sun and Moon.)
Pokémon GO Integration
Besides returning to Kanto, the other big talking point regarding the Pokémon: Let’s Go games is their integration with Pokémon GO. Pokémon GO will influence these new games in two ways: inspiring new mechanics and actual connectivity between the games. As far as connectivity goes, it’s purely optional, so veteran fans really shouldn’t have much of a problem with it, even though some do. Players will be able to transfer Pokémon that they’ve caught in GO to Let’s Go, where they will appear in the Go Park. At this time, it’s not completely clear if Pokémon transferred in this way will only be available in the Go Park itself, purely existing for players to fill out their Pokédexes, or if they will actually be able to be used in battles. I’d think it would have to be the latter, since who would want a totally usable Pokémon in GO to go to waste being merely Pokédex fodder in Let’s Go, especially since it appears that you won’t be able to transfer it back into GO, or send Pokémon from Let’s Go to GO at all? Assuming transferred Pokémon will be usable in Let’s Go, both casual and veteran fans who play Pokémon GO will probably be happy to be able to connect GO with main series games in this manner, and fans both casual and veteran who don’t play GO should be happy to know that this connectivity is totally optional and that you definitely don’t have to play GO in order to enjoy Let’s Go. So it’s a win-win. Some may argue that transferring a really strong Pokémon from GO to Let’s Go early in the game could be seen as cheating, but the same could be said for just trading strong Pokémon from one main series game to another, which players have been able to do since 1996. Besides, I would imagine that strong Pokémon received from GO would disobey trainers without enough Gym Badges, just like strong Pokémon traded over.
The more controversial part of Pokémon: Let’s Go is its inclusion of Pokémon GO-like mechanics. It seems that there are really only two major mechanics from GO that will be making their way to Let’s Go, so let’s tackle them one at a time. First of all, wild Pokémon will appear in these games in the overworld, rather than being random encounters, as has traditionally been the case. Whether this is good or bad is really just up to each individual’s personal preferences. Those who only played Red or Blue may be upset to see this fundamental change in gameplay, but they may also be happy when they realize that this change means not worrying about running into Zubats every three steps they take in a cave. The same can be said for veteran players; this fundamental change may upset some, but those who find themselves usually running from weak wild encounters anyway will likely be more open to the change. Seeing Pokémon in the overworld also means that hunting for a specific Pokémon will be easier, since you’ll be able to actually see it instead of just running around in tall grass, hoping you happen to run into that Pokémon with a 5% encounter rate. Those coming from Pokémon GO will likely be happy to see this mechanic too, since it’s more in line with what they know. So it seems to me that the popularity of this mechanic won’t necessarily be divided between casual and veteran players the way some of the other aspects of these games might be, but rather it comes down to what each individual player thinks of it.
The other mechanic brought over from Pokémon GO, however, is much more divisive. In Pokémon: Let’s Go, players will no longer be able to battle wild Pokémon. Instead, they can either try to catch them by chucking PokéBalls in a GO-like manner, or just run. GO players will again likely be happy to see some mechanics they’re familiar with in the main series games, but those who mainly or only play mainline games, whether they did so twenty years ago or continue to today, may not be so stoked. Many veteran players simply don’t want change and just want the core Pokémon experience they’ve come to know and love over the past seven Generations. However, the Pokémon formula has never stayed exactly the same, and usually changes for the better. Generation II saw the introduction of breeding. Generation III introduced Abilities. Generation IV finally gave us the Special/Physical split. Generation V made TMs multi-use instead of single-use. Generation VI introduced an Exp. Share that makes training a full party much more manageable. Generation VII did away with HMs, making HM slaves no longer necessary. The formula is constantly changing, so the assertion that you’re a veteran player who doesn’t want the formula to change at all is kind of ridiculous. Plus, we know that next year’s mainline games will be more traditional and likely not include this new catching mechanic, so veterans probably don’t have to worry about this becoming a staple of main series games from now on.
This new catching mechanic does provide one genuine concern, however. Up to this point, wild Pokémon have served two major functions: catching and grinding. Clearly, we don’t have to worry about the catching aspect of wild encounters. What we might have to worry about, however, is the grinding aspect. Particularly in older Pokémon games, grinding on wild Pokémon was almost necessary to make sure your Pokémon were on high levels before taking on Gym Leaders or the Elite Four, especially since rematches didn’t exist back then. It’s unknown at this point if rematches against normal trainers will be a mechanic in Pokémon: Let’s Go, so the other grinding option we’d be left with would be grinding against wild Pokémon. As of Generation VI, catching Pokémon rewards your team with experience points, meaning you could technically grind it out by catching a bunch of wild Pokémon rather than battling them, so this will likely be the case in Let’s Go as well. The problem with this strategy is that it would be a huge drain on money and resources. Grinding via battle doesn’t make you lose anything; if your Pokémon faint or lose too much PP, you can get them healed for free at the Pokémon Center. But if grinding is dependent on catching Pokémon, then how much grinding you can do will be limited by how much money you’re willing to spend on Balls. You’re probably going to want to save at least some of your money for other items, but even if you don’t, you’ll only be able to catch so many Pokémon before you run out of Balls and you’re broke, bringing your grinding session to a halt. To avoid this, I would think that constant and easily accessible rematches would have to be a thing in these games, but we’ll see. The lack of grinding may not matter much to many casual players, but veterans who want to get their teams as strong as possible would likely be affected.
Another potential concern is that this new no-battling-wild-Pokémon mechanic would bog down the experience of catching Legendary Pokémon. Instead of the big, epic battles we’ve come to expect with these Legendary beasts, we’ll just be sitting there throwing a bunch of Balls non-stop. It’s possible that Legendaries will be the only wild Pokémon that can actually be battled, but there has been no word on the matter thus far.
There are several other features that will be in Pokémon: Let’s Go that aren’t necessarily connected to the setting of Kanto or Pokémon GO integration. For one thing, following Pokémon is making a return. This is something that many veteran players have been asking for since 2009, so they’ll be sure to be happy seeing its return. I’m sure many casual players will think it’s a cute mechanic as well. There are sure to be players who simply don’t really care about having Pokémon follow them around on their journey, but I can’t imagine that there would be very many players actually angry about it, so the inclusion of this mechanic seems like a win for both casual and veteran players. It also appears that your starter Pikachu or Eevee will be customizable to some extent, with a mechanic that allows players to dress up their starter. Again, there will likely be both casual and veteran players who think this is cute and others who just don’t care, but there probably won’t be a significant presence of players who downright hate that this mechanic exists. Another win for both camps.
Something else that will be carried over from the original Yellow Version is that your starter won’t be able to evolve. For Eevee in particular, which is categorized as an Evolution Pokémon, this seems odd. I mean, it makes sense to the degree that these games are based on Yellow Version which itself was based on the TV show in which the main character has a Pikachu that refuses to evolve, but still. It would seem to make your starter much less valuable if it can’t evolve past its weak first form. Growing up, I knew kids playing Yellow Version who simply put their un-evolving Pikachu in a Box so they didn’t have to waste a slot in their party for a Pokémon that became more and more useless as enemies got stronger and stronger. Speaking of Boxes, apparently a Box will be available in the player’s bag in these games, making it much easier and more convenient to switch out Pokémon to and from your party, which is another example of a new mechanic that will be likely to appease both casual and veteran players. But going back to the un-evolving starter thing: casual players may be happy to carry around their cute starter on their shoulder or head for the whole game, but veteran players may be more inclined to get sick of their weak starter and just Box it.
Co-op play is something new to Pokémon: Let’s Go that looks like it should be fun for both casual and veteran players, just as long as they aren’t expecting much. From the looks of it, the second player will just be tagging along with whatever the first player is doing, rather than going on their own adventure, just in the same world as player one with the opportunity to meet up with them. Some have even speculated that both players will share inventories and party Pokémon, rather than player two collecting their own items and catching their own Pokémon. Veterans, don’t expect this to be a mini version of the Pokémon MMO you’ve been asking for for so long. This co-op play looks like it’s just something to get a younger sibling or child involved in playing with you, but probably won’t give them their own experience playing the game. It’s arguable that this mechanic is better than having no co-op feature at all, but it’s probably best to keep expectations low. So once again, this is a mechanic that some casual and veteran players alike will enjoy, and others can choose to just not use it; probably neither camp will outright hate it too much, but I guess we’ll see as we learn more about it.
HMs will stay gone in Pokémon: Let’s Go. It’s not completely clear yet if Generation VII’s PokéRides will return or if rocks, bushes and water will be dealt with in some other way, but it looks like HMs are gone for good. As someone who has played mainline Pokémon games for nearly my whole life, I was very happy to see this change in Sun and Moon, and it seems most veteran players feel the same. There are a few who think that the removal of HMs takes away from the challenge of the games, but most veterans seem to agree that the HM mechanic just encouraged people to waste potentially useful move slots on good Pokémon or waste entire party slots on HM slaves (Pokémon you just keep with you because they can learn a lot of HM moves, but are never actually used in battle). Casual players may not even know that HMs were ever a thing, but if they do, I’d imagine most of them won’t exactly miss HMs either. Who wants to waste a move slot on Rock Smash?
Lastly, Pokémon: Let’s Go will be compatible with an accessory called the PokéBall Plus. This accessory can be used as a controller in lieu of a Joy-Con and is built to feel how an actual PokéBall would. You can also transfer a Pokémon from Let’s Go into the PokéBall Plus and take it with you wherever you go. Your Pokémon can talk to you from inside the PokéBall Plus and you can receive rewards upon returning your Pokémon to the game after walking around with the accessory. The PokéBall Plus can also be used as a Pokémon GO Plus accessory for Pokémon GO. Once again, this is a completely optional thing, so players both casual and veteran who think this accessory sounds neat can pick one up and enjoy it, and those who think it sounds lame can just not buy it and play the games normally. No losses here.
After reviewing the various features and mechanics, I think it’s entirely possible that Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! can potentially be enjoyed by both casual and veteran players who are willing to give it a chance. It’s hard to imagine that casual or new players won’t like the game since it’s basically tailor-made for them, from simplifying controls to re-introducing them to familiar areas and Pokémon to optional Pokémon GO integration for those who were introduced to the series that way. If you’ve never played a main series Pokémon game before, or haven’t played one for a while, these games seem like they’ll be great starting points for new or returning players. As for veterans, there is a lot that you could choose to gripe about. Returning to Kanto again might be boring and the addition of new or different mechanics might turn you off, but as long as you go in just expecting to have a little fun and don’t impose too much of your pre-conceived notions of the franchise onto these games, it looks like it might be possible for you to have a good time. Besides, you should probably find some assurance in the fact that these games are being directed by Junichi Masuda himself, who began work on the Pokémon series as a programmer and composer for Red and Green before going on to direct Gold, Silver and Crystal, as well as working on every main series game to some capacity since. And if nothing else, if Pokémon: Let’s Go looks like it just isn’t your thing, you can still look forward to the next, more traditional mainline games coming out next year.