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No, Palworld is not the Pokémon Game That We've Always Wanted

21:00, February 15 2024

Pokémon needs to do better. But it’s not by adding guns, nor is it by an openworld game with AAA aesthetics.

This is more of a review of Switch-era Pokémon games than a review of Palworld.



Yes, Switch-era Pokémon sucks, but that’s not the point

It’s been a trend among gaming YouTubers and Twitter-ers to praise Palworld and gang up and shit on Pokémon. I know where it’s coming from, and I’ve also been frustrated by Pokémon’s recent releases. Heck, I’ve been saying “10/10 because it’s a new Pokémon generation” up till Gen8, but Scarlet and Violet’s initial release was the first case against this (as I said in my review on my JP blog). But it seems like to me, these gamers are pushed into saying everything about Switch-era Pokémon is shit, lest they face cancellation from the gaming community. Everyone praising Palworld does not have to defend themselves first that they’ve been a Pokémon fan since their childhood. It’s actually that, you’ve never been a Pokémon fan at all, that you don’t understand what makes Pokémon special.

Speaking of how Switch-era Pokémon sucks, I don’t think the graphics is the main reason. I have been saying, “If you think Pokémon not having AAA graphics is the reason Pokémon sucks these days, go f**k Detective Pikachu or Sonic the Hedgehog in the movie” (also from my JP blog). I would like to see better quality graphics in Pokémon series, but the Chibi-aesthetic is not the reason BDSP is a horrible game. BDSP is a remake of a failed entry of the mainline Pokémon series Diamond and Pearl, that they somehow remade the failed parts faithfully. Why do I consider DP as a failure? Because it (not just performs horribly but) fails to deliver the essence of what makes Pokémon Pokémon.

Pokémon is a JRPG

I genuinely think that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet has the best storytelling in the entire series, and Scarlet and Violet could have been the perfect Pokémon game if it weren’t for the performance issues, and let me reiterate, not the fidelity of the polygons, but performance issues such as load times, frame rates, and clunky camera angles1. I have to say that SV’s storyline is a masterpiece, and anyone who says it does not stand up to other mainline Pokémon entries either have bad taste or haven’t played the game at all.

Let’s forget the Champion Road for a while because it doesn’t have much of a story at all, like Red and Blue. Path of Legends and Starfall Street tells stories that doesn’t go off the path of the school theme but has a deep theme and character building. Team Star is lacking as a “villain team?” Who has been complaining that evil teams of Pokémon seem too unrealistic, that an organization scheming to destroy the world can be crushed by a mere teenager? Instead, here we are diving into each character’s history and helping them find their “treasure”, which is the theme of the whole game. Then after beating all three main stories, we get the best of all, The Way Home. This whole section is “four friends adventuring to find a secret that they will keep for the rest of their lives”, which is exactly the plot of “Stand By Me”, which is played on Red’s family TV when Pokémon Red and Blue starts. All of this, with a twist that your Professor was actually dead and was an AI. Yes, finding the dead body part is also the same from Stand By Me!

Is Pokémon’s story too dumbed down for kids? There is a list of tropes called 本当は怖いポケモン (lit. Actually Scary Pokémon), which lists dark themes that Pokémon includes in its main entries. The Teal Mask DLC is a very good example of this. The main story revolves around a village where the people believe in the wrong version of the history, where the villain in the legend (Ogerpon) was actually the victim, and the protagonists in the legend (The Loyal Three) were actually the aggressor. Even after we catch Ogerpon, Kieran is driven mad because Ogerpon chose the protagonist over him, drawing over the trope of BSS/僕が先に好きだったのに (lit. “I loved him/her first”). It’s these dark touches in an otherwise cutesy games that grown-up Pokémon fans are drawn into.

Pokémon Masters EX digs deeper into the lore of the Pokémon world by telling additional stories related to the trainers. Its continued service shows that there is demand for more storytelling and world-building material.

So yes, Pokémon is a JRPG, a device that is used to tell stories. Nobody complains that FF7 is not an openworld survival-craft game, because FF7 is a game that we relive the perspective of Cloud and go against Sephiroth, not be a random guy in the FF7 universe. It could be that we didn’t need the openworld aspect in Pokémon, because romhackers (who are avid Pokémon fans themselves) recreate the gym-badge-collection model, which is a common point of complaint for “repetitive/uncreative gameplay loops” among non-Pokémon fans. We want a better Pokémon game, but it does not necessarily come in the form of openworld gameplay.

On the topic of why Diamond and Pearl is not good, Diamond and Pearl’s storyline is awfully paced, and some story elements didn’t find a conclusion until Platinum came out.

And also, if there’s anything lacking about Pokémon as a JRPG, it is the fact that they don’t include closures to some story elements presented in the game. Where did Zygarde’s story go in Pokémon X and Y? X and Y clearly had elements that were left to be explained in Pokémon Z, but they didn’t release it, so there were a lot of loose ends to the story, only to be partially amended in the anime.

Pokémon is a “trading card game”

I came back into Pokémon at Heart Gold/Soul Silver thanks to a player called もこう who uploaded a series of Pokémon battle videos where he attempts to beat Tier 1 teams with Pokémons considered to be low tier. His videos showed the endless possibility of Pokémon team builds, though varying in effectiveness, that could lead to taking down the best Pokémons in the competitive environment.

Of all the monster-catching games, I believe Pokémon is the only game that have succeeded in creating a competitive environment with multiple viable strategies to be played at the higest level. Even Dragon Quest Monsters have not been successful at this until pretty recently. The original DQM on the Game Boy was a grind to the perfect Golden Slime, to raise its HP as close to 999 as possible, by finding multiple monster tamers whose summon conditions were not publicized even in official strategy guides2. A competitive game, huh?

Not many trading card games have been successful in building and maintaining a healthy competitive metagame. Pokémon, even though it had some balance breakers, have mostly been successful in creating a diverse competitive metagame where creativity in team building is rewarded. The list of intricasies that go into building these teams are so vast for “a game which is merely intended to be played by children”.

Hence, Pokémon, the digital game, can be thought as a “trading card game” where you build your own deck through gameplay. The main difference with the actual card games is that you build your deck through grinding the game, not buying the cards. In that sense, Pokémon provides a competitive environment friendly to young players who cannot afford to buy the singles needed to play Tier 1 decks in other card games.

And why does DP suck again? Its national dex was very unbalanced, and its level curve becomes too steep at the end. Having to fight Garchomp is already hard enough, but when your team is severely underleveled? That is one reason why you might think Cynthia is the strongest champion in the series. The game isn’t balanced well.

What we need is Pokémon Battle Revolution 2

Pokémon was able to incorporate forms of gameplay that is not just JRPG into the franchise while being able to “catch ‘em all” using the Pokémon HOME feature. Now we can adventure in the JRPG Pokémon game with Pokémons caught in Legends: Arceus and Pokémon GO. Why could we not “be the very best that no one ever was” using this feature?

So here, I will say that, we need a Pokémon Battle Revolution 2, or a game that enables competitive play through Pokémons collected through all forms of Pokémon gameplay. If we could decouple the “trading card game” aspect of Pokémon with the JRPG aspect of Pokémon, players that want the creatures of Pokémon but not in a JRPG setting would be able to play the game in their desired format. With JRPG-ness decoupled from Pokémon, we could be seeing more experimental titles like Legends: Arceus.

One major complaint about Pokémon fans when Sword and Shield came out is that not all Pokémon were available in the game (the Dexit controversy). Pokémon HOME has all Pokémons included in them, so having a VGC platform that ties into Pokémon HOME could enable us to play with all of our favorite Pokémons. We could even play “throwback formats” where we play with a limited set of Pokémons/moves available in a specific version by introducing a ruleset in that VGC platform. No Battle Frontier in ORAS? No Battle Tower in SV? No problem, we can have Battle Frontier tied to Pokémon HOME and have it forever! If Game Freak had to cut Battle Frontier and Battle Tower due to the complexity for the players, then we could just separate these complex elements without harming the JRPG-ness (if that is their case for cutting BF/BT, that is), by shoving them in another game! That would be a “best of both worlds” situation keeping the main game simple enough for the main audience and enabling the hardcore fans to play the complex aspects separately.


I enjoyed Palworld a lot (I’ve sunk 100+ hours into it already). I enjoyed the similarities with Dragon Quest Builders 2 (which I have 200+ hours on) where you could automate your base with villagers and monsters that you met on your way. But most of all, I found Palworld to be close to Digimon World on the PlayStation (the first one, not the ones after it, they are a strict downgrade). I would admit that I wanted to play a Digimon World-esque game in a Pokémon setting. I wanted to play a game in a world where humans and Pokémons would build a village/town together and live in harmony. I also wanted to play an MMORPG set in the Pokémon world. But would I consider them mainline Pokémon games? Would I want it instead of the JRPG Pokémon game? Would I want real-time combat like Palworld to totally replace the turn-based system of Pokémon? No. I still find the JRPG format of Pokémon to be good enough on its own, and I have sunk enough hours into competitive Pokémon that I believe not many games has come close to the perfection that Pokémon VGC scene has achieved.

At the end of the day, mainline Pokémon is a f**king JRPG aimed towards kids. Deal with it. And if you think having violence and sex is the only way to appeal to “mature” audiences, Pokémon is definitely not the game or the series for you3.

At the same time, having non-JRPG genres in the Pokémon franchise is a wonderful idea that I would agree to, and could be possible if we had a game that ties all the games into the Pokémon ecosystem, and that would be a Pokémon Battle Revolution 2 or the-VGC-game. We’ve seen Legends: Arceus tied into the ecosystem, we could be seeing more with the right environment.

I want Palworld to be the “In The Groove” of monster-catching games, just as the existence of ITG has inspired the DDR team to finally create a sequel of DDR Extreme. But at the same time, I want Pokémon to keep doing what they’ve been doing right, even in the era where most fans consider it to be the rock bottom.

Some side notes

  1. Here I’m referring to the Let’s Go autobattle feature and its lock-on feature. Lock-on worked perfectly in Legends: Arceus, but in Scarlet and Violet, when you lock onto a Pokémon you will get a seemingly random camera angle that doesn’t even focus on the target Pokémon. 

  2. Referring to the bard, which raises the lowest stat of a monster by 20 points when beaten. Golden Slime will only reach around 600 HP naturally, so you will have to grind around 20 times to find this monster tamer in dungeons. 

  3. In that case, “Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth” would be a good game for you, since they have violence and sex, and even have Pok… ahem, Sujimon battles in them too! (It’s a joke but at least I liked the previous entry so much so that I commentated on the GDQ run in Japanese, and I’m looking forward to playing this too)