One of the most requested features in Pokemon games for many fans has been (and may always be) a difficulty setting. Pokemon is a franchise loved by many, spanning age ranges far more significant than most other popular IPs with the same demographic appeal. Pokemon has its roots in many people, having released in 1996 to near instant success.
With Pokemon marching into each new generation, more adult and child fans are pouring into the series, maybe not in droves like they used to, but at a steady pace. While debates about the latest Pokemon games’ quality are standard to hear, there are more than a few things to say about the features we don’t have yet and the features that need to come back in modern-day Pokemon titles.
Gone are the days when Pokemon titles were limited to handheld hardware, flying on pixelated graphics of portable consoles. Now that Pokemon has to keep up with big names like Zelda and Mario as one of the big three of Nintendo, the dip in quality shows. Game development time for a portable project doesn’t add the polish required for a game that can be played on a TV, and while there’s much to say about the features we’re missing, the features we had before would be a great place to start. Pokemon needs the difficulty feature to return, improved from how it was in Black and White.
Pokemon Has Untapped Strategic Potential Everywhere
If you’ve played Pokemon for a while, you understand how in-depth strategy can get. From abilities to moves that feel custom-made for each other to the intricacy of items and double-battles, the possibilities for a 6-Pokemon team are far-flung. So why is it that every Gym we get is four Pokemon or less? Even at lower difficulty settings, 6 Pokemon teams are much more interesting to fight than 2 or 4. For beginning gyms, it makes sense to have fewer Pokemon in the roster for those who may only just now be getting a feel for what team they want to make. For later Gyms, though, that excuse falls away quite quickly.
We could use the difficulty setting back to increase the stakes we fight for in Pokemon. Evil teams are hard to take seriously if all of their Pokemon are a joke; the same goes for the Gyms. With more Pokemon, higher stakes can be present in all difficulty levels. All they would need to do is change the levels for various difficulty settings, just as was present in Teal Mask for those who started the DLC without becoming Champion first. With bigger teams, wins feel like wins, and losses feel like something you need to train your team to get across. Having a difficulty setting solves the problem of the games being way too easy while offering a loophole for those not looking for a challenge in their cute creature-training game.
Difficulty Can Ease the Demographic
Speaking of the demographic, a difficulty setting akin to the one we saw in Pokemon Black and White could help ease some problems the massive franchise audience has accrued over the years. The Pokemon audience is a bit beyond “growing.” It’s all-encompassing, having people of all kinds of backgrounds and needs. You have ten-year-olds who got the game for the first time the other day and massive die-hard fans who have been buying the games for years and tend to do so on their spare days off. The answer for satisfaction for all parties is a difficulty setting, one that you can access at the beginning of the game in stark clarity, designed so that no amount of A-button-mashing can accidentally land you in a world of Hard Mode Hurt.
With the introduction of a difficulty setting comes plenty of ease for everyone. Those looking for a casual experience get just that. If you’re dead set on snuggling in a big warm blanket and casual-ing through the entire game on a weekend, that’s your prerogative, and Easy mode would be the perfect recipe for that. If you’re determined to take on an evil team that feels like a Team Rocket equivalent task to handle, then Hard mode would be the best move to make.
A difficulty setting at the beginning of the game would ease the tension surrounding the older demographic and give everyone a choice as to how they want to experience Pokemon. Let’s Go was a success because of the polish those games had compared to Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, but also because they were easy and lighthearted experiences. Having Pokemon make the divide between hardcore Pokemon teams and the easy experience we’ve gotten for the last couple of years is a divide that would satisfy everyone and bring accessibility to the table in one hit.
Replayability Is Already Good and It Can Be Better
Pokemon is already a replayable game. With Home in full swing now, players can upload their beloved teams and start afresh if they so choose, which was more challenging in the bygone age of portable Pokemon. Now, the games encourage replayability, but one way they can enforce this notion even more is by offering three versions of the same game within a title through difficulty settings.
While Pokemon don’t necessarily have to be different, the levels and move sets certainly can. This makes the game easier to make compared to different teams for different difficulty levels and provides that same kind of replayability at a fraction of the work cost. The difficulty adjustment present in the latest DLC, The Teal Mask for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is clear evidence of this.
The Freedom of Choice in Gameplay
Accessibility is another term to describe giving the gameplay choice to the players rather than setting it strictly within the game. Players with more choices are happy players, so if GameFreak is concerned about the retention from DLC or future games, all they need to do to give the community that extra boost is to add even the most simple of difficulty settings. The freedom to decide is an important part of a game, a direct message from the developers to the audience. Giving players the freedom of choice inherently lets them know that the developers care about their opinions and, therefore, should influence the game they’re playing.
It Would Prove That the Games Are Changing For The Better
In the modern day of Pokemon, where most games only get a year or so of development, the hope for future gens is getting a little bleak. For the online adult demographic of Pokemon enjoyers, social media is a pipeline for Pokemon that’s filled with all sorts of conflicting opinions about where the franchise is headed. With this comes a reputation, one that cannot be ignored forever.
If the lower quality of Pokemon games continues for too long, series veterans will not only stop buying them but will make it harder for younger fans to even get on the train in the first place. Adding a difficulty setting would be a transparent effort from developers to adult fans, letting them know the series is improving. Plenty of other AAA titles have this setting already, and for many games, it’s just commonplace to have from the beginning. It is unsettling that Pokemon doesn’t have difficulty setting as a consistent feature. Putting it back where it belongs is the thing Pokemon needs to help itself on the road back to quality gameplay, giving something for older fans to hold onto as the newest Generations drop.