The Pokemon franchise could greatly benefit from a transformative moment similar to what The Legend of Zelda series experienced with Breath of the Wild. While Zelda has always shown a willingness to push boundaries and shake up its formula, Pokemon has been more hesitant to take bold steps in its evolution, particularly in Generation 10.
When fans express their desire for a Pokemon game like Breath of the Wild, they are envisioning a specific set of features. They want a vast open world that offers unrestricted exploration, enhanced traversal options, dynamic Pokemon that have meaningful interactions with the environment, and a narrative that allows players to carve their own unique path. While games like Pokemon Scarlet & Violet introduced some openness to the series, they still fell short of delivering the transformative experience that fans truly desire.
As someone who has never been a hardcore Zelda fan, I had not previously made the connection between Zelda’s evolution and the stagnation in the Pokemon series. However, reading the thoughts of my colleague Jade King, who is both a major Zelda fan and deeply involved in the Pokemon franchise, brought this realization to light. Jade has been praising Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and analyzing the need for change in the Zelda series. The criticisms she highlighted, such as overlong tutorials and predictable narrative structures, resonated with the issues that plague Pokemon as well.
While Pokemon has made incremental adjustments throughout its history, such as introducing new moves, altering gym and Elite Four formats, and providing a greater sense of exploration in the game world, the core gameplay experience has remained largely unchanged. Each game still begins with the selection of three starters from the same three types, followed by a lengthy tutorial that explains mechanics familiar to longtime players, and a straightforward narrative of defeating gym leaders and becoming the champion.
It is clear that Pokemon has been spinning its wheels, delivering minor improvements with each iteration but ultimately failing to deliver the significant changes needed to breathe new life into the franchise. The series needs its own “Breath of the Wild” moment, not in terms of directly copying Zelda’s style, but in terms of embracing a bold approach and venturing into uncharted territory. The Pokemon team must be willing to break free from the formulaic structure that has become too comfortable and dare to create something truly innovative.
Breath of the Wild managed to retain its essence as a Zelda game while completely redefining its core elements. Temples and dungeons were replaced with a vast open world, the protagonist spent the majority of the game in solitude, and the traditional sense of direction and unlocking areas was discarded. The game even transformed the combat system and introduced breakable weapons, defying expectations. Pokemon has the potential to achieve similar greatness, arguably even more so than Zelda, thanks to its massive fanbase and the inherent flexibility of its concept. It is puzzling that Pokemon continues to choose the path of incremental changes, rather than taking courageous leaps forward.
The Zelda franchise has demonstrated a history of boldness and innovation. Major titles like Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword marked significant shifts in the series’ direction. In comparison, Pokemon has often played it safe. While Pokemon Legends: Arceus and Scarlet & Violet brought some openness to the series, they were held back by bugs and a reluctance to fully break away from the traditional formula. The spin-off games of the franchise have been largely overlooked, despite some offering fresh experiences. In terms of bravery, Pokemon has fallen short when compared to Zelda.
Nonetheless, there is still hope for change. Several game developers have already taken inspiration from Breath of the Wild’s individual mechanics, and Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has proven that lightning can strike twice. Scarlet & Violet, despite its flaws, showed a willingness to explore new ideas with its open-world concept. However, it was constrained by a loyalty to a formula that no longer captivates players. The game demonstrated a degree of bravery, and I hope that Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom encourages further growth in that direction. Pokemon desperately needs its own transformative moment, one that defies expectations and creates a fresh experience, even if it diverges from what people traditionally associate with a “Breath of the Wild” style game.
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