The 3DS and the future of Pokémon

Introduction

The release of Pokémon Black and White Version 2 in my opinion marked the pinnacle of Pokémon main-series achievement thus far. The game improved upon the previous by allowing us to revisit its predecessor’s locations while revamping them and adding new ones, as well as giving us some ‘blast from the past’ Pokémon, some fantastically redesigned gyms and the maintaining of the recognisable visual style that is so identifiably indicative of the Pokémon franchise. It seems that Black 2 an White 2 are therefore the most complete and satisfying realisations of Pokémon for the console on which they are based.

Looking ahead to the future, it seems more and more certain that for Pokémon to evolve as a game, the game’s developers will have to take full advantage of the hardware capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS. Whether this means a complete reimagining of Pokémon entirely in 3D or a selective and careful integration of 3D functionality into the two-dimensional world that Pokémon has always had us inhabit is entirely up to the game’s producers. I wouldn’t mind a little bit of speculation over the possibilities of the future, however, and this article’s purpose is exactly that.


3D Battles (Obviously)

I find it hard to believe that there exists even a single Pokémon fan in the world that hasn’t envisaged the conducting of the battles with some semblance of 3D involvement. Though it may be a difficult transition for any fan to see a game that has been so resolutely consistent with its artistic style throughout the years depart from its firmly-placed two-dimensional roots, 3D battling is the obvious direction for the game to take.

 

Paris

3D is the next logical step (Image courtesy of Wired)

Having the battles take full advantage of 3D capabilities would allow for the battle animations to move away from their simplistic origins and become more comprehensive and visually impressive than ever before, as well transforming the way that the Pokémon themselves move and behave in battles. No longer would powerful moves like Hydro Pump fail make the target Pokémon move more than a millimetre, since impacts could be made to send Pokemon flying spectacularly into the air and across our visual field. I for one wouldn’t mind feeling like I have to literally move my head to get out of the way of a Magmar’s fire blast or that ducking for cover in the wake of Altaria’s sky attack was essential for my continued good health. The application of 3D functionality to the game will massively widen the possibilities for the movement of Pokémon during battle, their reaction to attacks, distinctive and creature-specific quirks and movements, and even the function and appearance of the moves themselves. The 3DS will undoubtedly create endless opportunities to develop many facets of the battles themselves.

 

The Thirst for First-Person

The next main-series Pokémon game could greatly benefit from the transformation of the very way the player sees the environment around them by bringing to the third dimension the aspect of the any game that dictates how the world is seen: the visual perspective of the player character. I’m talking about the idea of moving the perspective of the action from third to first person. While this may seem quite the radical change, it would allow the player to see the entire Pokémon world from a new perspective, as well as opening up the possibility of some fantastic 3D environments that can be explored closely.

3D

Pokémon 3D dabbled with it: Now it’s your turn, Game Freak!

If a complete first-person perspective overhaul sounds too drastic to you, then perhaps a more liberal sprinkling of the idea would sit more comfortably with sceptics, with a first-person perspective being used sparsely throughout the games perhaps during only certain areas where Pokémon wander freely in front of your eyes ready for capture, or inside gyms where the opportunity for unique and distinctive aesthetic (as well as functional) design is most prominent. It’s not too much of a leap for the action to be seen from the Pokémon’s perspective, since we already see the action from an over-the-shoulder standpoint anyhow; with the 3D models and battle moves, a first-person Pokémon perspective would be as impactful as it is revolutionary.

 

Mini Games, Possible Incorporation with Gyms

The benefits of 3D aren’t necessarily restricted to the aesthetic and the superficial, however, which is a fact that has the potential to be demonstrated in the Pokémon gyms of the next main-series game. Throughout the generations, the Pokémon gyms have offered a function that lies beyond that of simply housing the gym leaders themselves; the gyms also provide some logical challenges and puzzles which must be overcome in order to get to the gym leaders in the first place. Developing the next main-series game for the 3DS means that these mini-challenges could be a greatly improved in both their appearance and their function. Instead of the usual run-arounds that merely involve the navigation of the standard maze-like puzzles of variable difficulty, the newly-3D field will now be open for all sorts of challenging puzzles that could involve your Pokémon as well as simply your player character.

The interactivity with the warm-up trainers you compete against before facing off with the gym leader has the potential to be greatly increased in a 3DS environment, making your visit to the gyms a much more challenging affair. While we are more than used to simply beating trainers with ease and moving on, it would make sense to make these battles more challenging and incorporate them into a puzzle that relies upon you talking to the  various trainers, engaging them in 3D battles and creating a sort of adventure-within-adventure situation.

While the logical puzzles seen in gyms throughout the generations have proved adequate as a pre-leader challenge, the 3D aspect of the next game could be used to add a dimension whereby you are thrust into some platform-like action, requiring you to navigate the surroundings of the gyms in a more involving way. The silk-spun eeriness of Castelia City Gym in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 for example could have been vastly improved with 3D graphics and greater interactivity with the trainers that block your way, navigating your way through the gym in the style of a first-person adventure and traversing physical obstacles by jumping, climbing, and generally being immersed into a more interactive environment.

 

Balancing Act

The franchise has for so long been perfecting its sprite-based battle animations and its distinctly unique style that is so unmistakably ‘Pokémon’ in nature that one of the biggest decisions for Game Freak to make when removing the previously-restrictive 2D restraints from the game is the extent to which the hardware capabilities of the 3DS will infiltrate the gameplay. Put another way, Game Freak has a decision to make regarding the level of 2D features that will remain Pokémon X and Y, and which aspects of the gameplay will make the leap to the additional third dimension. I’ve read extensively through the minefield of opinions that is the internet and while they range from the wish for partial 3D integration in the surrounding environment to the advocating of a leap of faith to an environment rendered completely in 3D; what seems to be an almost universal agreement that underlies all of the opinions is the desire for at least some degree of 3D features in the next Pokémon title.

3D2

How do you like your 3D? Whether it’s fully loaded or partially sprinkled, X and Y will at very least be dabbling with the 3DS hardware (Image: Gengame.net)

A complete leap to 3D would of course be the most extreme scenario for the next Pokémon game, and it is a leap that isn’t entirely out of the realms of possibility. While the beautifully-designed environments of Black 2 and White 2 were visually stunning, you cannot help but wonder the heights of visual beauty and depth that could have been achieved should the hardware of the 3DS have been taken full advantage of. The camera panning across the southern part of the Unova region as you step on the observation platform in Aspertia City would, for example, be transformed into a perfect display of the 3D capabilities of the 3DS. A complete 3D overhaul would also include the creation of fully-fledged, three-dimensional Pokémon models in the style of the Pokédex 3D Pro.

The visual style of the main-series Pokémon games is so widely recognised that any leap to 3D will be met with suspicion by long-running fans, but I believe a balance could be readily achieved by mixing the 2D art style of previous Pokémon titles with some three-dimensional moves and functions such as Pokéball-throwing animations. Maintaining the game’s distinctive visual style whilst using the hardware capabilities of the 3DS to do away with the traditional sprite-based battle animations will enable our beloved Pokémon to perform some fully-animated and comprehensive battle moves that stand out against the partially-2D background. The surrounding environment in the next Pokémon region would greatly benefit from 3D rendering and would contrast conveniently with partial 2-D features in battles.


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