I loved Pokemon blue and gold back in the day, but haven’t really played any Pokemon games ever since. I’ve had briefly tried some of the newer ones, but they couldn’t spark my interest for the lack of innovation (And that’s the main problem with the Pokemon games really, they’re all essentially the same game).
Now recently I borrowed Pokemon Black from someone, and while it wasn’t as bad as I feared, I’m reminded of all the things it could have been but isn’t.
Now there are tons of things to comment on, but writing it all down would take forever, so I’m just gonna talk about what I think is the biggest issue (or at least one of).
Namely the random encounters.
The thing about it is that while it’s the main thing you do in the game, I’m pretty sure that on average a player spends more than 50% of the time in a random encounter, nobody likes doing it.
It just so extremely tedious and annoying.
I have often thought (as have others) the main reason for this is just the very nature of turn based combat, that they’re just outdated. But gym battles and other “boss”-battles have showed me that that isn’t necessarily the case.
These turn-based battles can be fun and exciting, mostly when challenging, but just not when encountering the same pokemon for the 10th time in a couple of steps.
So the main thing that needs to be changed, is how we experience these random encounters.
But before thinking of concrete ideas to improve random encounters, we first have to understand their purpose.
why does Pokemon have random encounters? or jrpgs in general?
I would say the purpose of random encounters in jrpgs is to provide a way of having continues obstacles for the player while traversing the world. And (generally) the main way for the player’s character(s) to develop and become stronger.
Now let’s not mistake obstacles for challenges. random encounters generally aren’t there to provide a real challenge to the player, at least definitely not in Pokemon.
And there’s a good reason for that, a game needs to alternate the difficulty, having every battle be challenging could possibly be worse than having no battle be challenging. So having the random encounters in general not be challenging is probably the best idea. (That way important battles can be)
An important difference between random encounters and fixed battles, is that the former isn’t linked to the progression through the campaign/story, but only to the players own speed and interest in discovering the world, it provides a freer kind of obstacles basically.
But Pokemon specifically has another purpose for random encounters, namely to introduce the player to new pokemon and allow him to capture them and expand/alter his team.
Now i would argue that Pokemon already has something else to provide continues obstacles, and as the main way to gain experience (points), namely npc trainers, littered over the world as an obstacle in the player’s path.
There are so many of them that there really isn’t much point in having random encounters for this purpose, especially since they aren’t challenging to begin with, they’re just obstacles, so the only purpose remaining is for the user to encounter and capture new pokemon.
But this can be done differently, and more importantly, way less tedious.
Removing the “obstacle”-purpose, allows for some changes to the random encounters:
First of, skip the long battle-intro. I can understand a battle intro for important fights, but not for random encounters, it is quite literally a complete waste of time.
Also, allow the player to run from battle immediately.
To make the battles less tedious, it could also be a good idea to differentiate them more from trainer battles, by changing the battle mechanic a little. For example, by having your turns have a time limit, making the wild pokemon attack if you wait to long. (Which would fit perfectly with the lore, as wild pokemon don’t have to follow the rules of trainer battles)
And that brings me to my main suggestion to improve random encounters:
Since the DS, the games have always been on 2 screens, but let’s be honest here, it doesn’t really need to have the battle menu take up an entire screen.
This got me thinking, for random encounters, we could have the game world on 1 screen, while the other screen shows the battle. This way the player can keep walking when encountering a wild pokemon, and run away from battles by actually walking away.
The wild pokemon could be shown on the world screen as well, and having it go out of screen would be equal to successfully running away.
The battle could have time-based turns, so if you don’t get away fast enough your pokemon can still get hit.
Anyway, you might not agree with my solution for the random encounters, but I really think everyone should agree that they need to change.
I know I’m kinda simplifying everything in this post here, but I feel my statement still holds true.