It’s often said that when you try to please everyone, you wind up pleasing no one. When it comes to Pokémon, however, the normal rules don’t always apply.
Up to this point, the Pokémon Let’s Go! series has been billed as a way to bring casual players and lapsed fans of the series deeper into the fold. Capture mechanics were simplified, the anime was referenced in both the style and the story, and the scope was limited to the original Kanto region and monsters. “Hardcore” Pokémon players were aghast: How could the franchise’s first* full adventure on a home console be this dumbed-down?
*Apparently the world forgot about Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD…
Fast forward to now, however, and we’re starting to see signs that the hardcore demographic wasn’t completely neglected:
- Nintendo’s recent Treehouse presentation of the game revealed Madam Celadon, an NPC that can force the wild Pokémon that you encounter to have a specific nature (Bold, Lonely, etc.) for a short period of time. From my experience, natures don’t have much of an effect on normal Pokémon playthroughs. (I, for example, have a habit of catching monsters with natures that contradict the Pokémon’s best stat…) However, their 10% stat boost/reduction combinations are a major part of the Pokémon competitive scene, as they are a major consideration when putting together the optimum “build” for a particular monster. Including this option makes no sense for a game geared towards casual players, but is really handy for players looking to dive into competitive Pokémon battling.
- Similarly, Serebii is reporting that the Effort Value (EV) mechanic has been overhauled for the Let’s Go! series. In prior titles, EVs were earned by battling other monsters, and earning enough EVs would eventually correspond to improved statistics (4 Speed EVs, for example, would eventually grant a Pokémon 1 extra point to their Speed stat). For Let’s Go!, however, EVs are granted by the use of special candies, and the stat boosts are granted immediately, which means that a monster “can now breach previous ceilings of stats.” Again, the impact of this change on most playthroughs will be zero (maxing out your Pokémon’s level and stats aren’t necessary to complete the game), but this could really shake up the Pokémon competitive scene, as monsters that exceed their previous stat caps could change the entire calculus of battle and throw the standard tier lists into chaos (when a PU Pokémon pops out, the opponent now has to wonder “is it a standard wimpy monster, or is the darn thing on steroids?”). Unbinding Pokémon from their normal stat pools, even by a tiny bit, would be a game-changer to hardcore Pokémon fanatics, while casual players will barely notice any change at all.
These changes force us to ask the question: Who exactly is the intended audience for the Let’s Go! series? Why would Nintendo include features geared towards hardcore players in a game that aims to be a friendly introduction to the series for new/former players?
The knee-jerk answer is, as Diddy might say, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” Nintendo is a business, after all, and if nature-choosing and stat-cap-busting are enough to convince someone to drop $60 on the game (and perhaps an extra who-knows-what on accessories), then the move is a success. Playing this kind of game with your audience, however, is not without risk:
- You’re going to have to sit through a lot of boring catch-only encounters to access these advanced features, and a hardcore player may end up getting bored/annoyed in the process.
- If you do more to cater to this audience, however, your casual fans may get confused or intimidated by all the extra depth and complexity, and they may shy away from the game as a result.
Either scenario means your player base takes a hit, which would negatively impact both present and future sales for the Let’s Go! franchise.
However, there’s also a non-knee-jerk answer to our question, which gets to the heart of the magic of the Pokémon series: “Because they always do something like this.”
Pokémon has always offered one of the more in-depth battle systems that you’ll encounter in modern RPGs (the current Effort/Individual Value system has been in place since G3), but this system is completely invisible to players who don’t actively seek it out. In this way, mainline Pokémon games have always served both casual and hardcore players, letting people go as deep into the battling system as they desired. Now, with a sizable audience playing Pokémon Go, the series is adapting by incorporating some of Go’s familiar mechanics while also leaving enough crumbs for classic console players to enjoy the game as well.
The real question we should be asking is “How many constituents can Pokémon truly serve in a single game?” Nintendo and The Pokémon Company have balanced casual and hardcore console players for decades, but with its Niantic partnership booming and mobile-only players now making up a fair chunk of its fanbase, will Let’s Go! be able to offer a satisfactory playing experience to all three factions? By showing off the game’s advanced features, Nintendo is signaling its confidence that the game is up to the task.
The target audience, like it is for every Pokémon adventure, is “everybody.” We’ll have to wait until Friday to see whether or not the game hits this mark.