Gamefreak, Can we Talk About Difficulty?

March 17, 2015

Pokemon games have always been for kids. Sure, we grown ups still really enjoy the hell out of them, but they’re still, fundamentally,  for children. The problem with games that exist across age gaps is that difficulty can be really had to fine tune. A game has to be easy enough for a child to play, yet challenging enough to be able to keep an adult’s attention. Generally, Gamefreak has been pretty good at keeping this balance in the past. Playing older games like Blue, Gold or Ruby as an adult is still fairly challenging and playing them as a wide-eyed ten year old was my first real experience with games that would repeatedly kick my arse.*

But there was something kind of lacking in X/Y and ORAS when it came to the difficulty of the main campaign. Getting through the eight gyms and the elite four was just… really easy compared to earlier games and, until I asked one of my freind’s younger siblings, I thought this was just me getting older and better at strategizing. But no, something happened along the way of development that just made the newer Pokemon games easier than the older ones.

Why this is is easy to figure out. With the added convenience of the new exp. share (exp is shared with the whole party rather than just the ‘mon holding it) and with how close together the levels of each gym leaders’ Pokemon are. An easy solution to making the games more challenging for those who want it would be to take the classic old route of tweaking numbers. Specifically, the levels of enemy Pokemon so that, even with the great new exp. share, you wont be heinously overleveled compared to your opponents.

But difficulty tuning via number tweaking is boring and therefore I hate it, so I have a better proposal.

You see, X/Y introduced a piece of end-game content called the Battle Maison, in which the player battles in order to accumulate a win streak. The larger the player’s current win streak, the more difficult the battles become. This difficulty lies directly in the enemy trainers’ AI. The further you get in the Maison challenges, the smarter the opposing AI becomes. I think the same kind of system should be implemented in the campaigns of future Pokemon games in order to allow players to tune the game’s difficulty to their liking.

With the Battle Maison, Gamefreak has already shown that they’re capable of creating trainer AI that’s smarter than what they usually use, so why not use this technology to allow players to tweak the games difficulty to their liking? With the ever-growing popularity of self-imposed gameplay challenges (like Nuzlocke, Wonderlocke, etc.) which aim to make the game more challenging, there’s obviously a demand for this kind of thing.

Just some food for thought.

*Seriously, fuck that battle with Brendan underneath the bike road.