Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are all the proof we need that the series works best with the older style of 2D Pokémon games.
A fully realized, open world 3D Pokémon has been the dream for many Pokémon players, including myself. We wanted an ever-expanding world with the ability to catch any Pokémon we wanted and live out that fantasy of becoming a Pokémon master in a realistic-looking world.
But is that dream really suitable for Pokémon? Unfortunately, recent releases in the series may be proof that 3D may not necessarily be ideal for this franchise.
Scarlet and Violet Proved That Open World Gameplay Might Not Work for the Current Pokémon Formula
While marketing for Scarlet and Violet boasted open world exploration, being able to complete the game’s narrative in multiple ways and that there was a wide variety of mons to catch, that came with many caveats.
Your ability to traverse depended on how many upgrades your transportation Pokémon possessed. The sequence you collected the upgrades often depended on what other upgrades you already had and the level of your party.
The absence of level-curving led to players being forced on a more linear path around the game map or facing higher leveled battles to forge their own way. The continued inclusion of party level caps associated with how many gym badges you have also added to the illusion that you could go anywhere you want. Leveling significantly impacted the varieties of Pokémon you could also catch at any given moment in the game.
The number of home-filled towns scattered across the large world map was made to seem like it was a living world, but most towns felt soulless and easily forgettable. Scarlet and Violet, by far, has the most extensive map of any Pokémon game. But for the first time in the series, you could no longer enter peoples’ homes or buildings outside the academy and gym-related facilities.
The selling point of the games’ custom narrative paths didn’t feel meaningful since everyone’s story ended in the same way, and there was no real payoff to completing gyms, titans, and Team Star bases in a different order than other players. However, the game’s final hours shined narratively because it took the series in a direction we hadn’t seen before. Those moments were the most linear and choreographed moments of the game. Game Freak hasn’t been known for the gravitas of their stories, but Scarlet and Violet proved that they could tell a compelling and meaningful story linearly.
There Would Be Fewer Performance Issues With 2D Graphics
If there’s one thing early Pokémon entries were not known for, it’s their performance issues. The first two generations of mainline games were presented in a simple, 2D pixel art style. The third generation of games featured a gorgeous palette of colors incorporated into a unique 2D design.
3D graphics were first introduced in the mainline Pokémon games in Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl. While it was only applied to environmental objects, it was still a big step forward for the series. The following generations slowly incorporated more and more 3D graphics into the series. With that came more and more performance issues.
Following the release of Scarlet and Violet, blame for the games’ performance issues seemed to shift from the Switch hardware capabilities to Game Freak to the overall state of the video games industry. It could be argued that less intensive graphics would be less burdensome to a development team. Recent games like Octopath Traveler and Hollow Knight can run great and look great even in 2D.
ROM Hacks and Fanmade Games Have Shown That 2D Pokémon Is Still Beloved
There are dedicated communities within the Pokémon fanbase who create 2D romhacks and their games. ROM hacks are modified versions of existing games, and Pokémon is known for having an active ROM hacking community. In addition, many substantial fanmade 2D Pokémon games have been created with original engines in programs like RPG Maker.
Perhaps fans created these games because 2D is easier to work with. In truth, some were designed to capture that 2D magic of the earlier generations. So many adult-aged Pokémon fans fell in love with the series when they were presented in 2D on handheld consoles. ROM hacks, which use existing design elements of games, can feel like full-fledged Pokémon handheld titles but with quality-of-life improvements and more nuanced narratives.
3D Isn’t All Bad
The mainline Pokémon games going fully 3D were expected. However, the gaming industry has changed since Pokémon Red was originally released in 1996.
While we’ve argued how 2D works better for the franchise in some ways, some elements of Pokémon work and feel better in a 3D space. The Pokémon: Let’s Go entries received praise for introducing the ability to see and avoid Pokémon in the overworld. It would be hard to replicate that in 2D. For example, including traversal Pokémon in a 3D overworld would also be hard to achieve in 2D.
3D helps give Pokémon more personality by way of 3D modeling and animations. It makes the world feel more alive when seeing Pokémon behaving like animals. However, some Pokémon designs do look better in 2D.
Scarlet and Violet, in addition to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, have had the bones of a great open world RPG but weren’t fully realized. But does Pokémon even need to become that dream 3D open world franchise?
The 2D Pokémon games look and run better than the 3D ones. So it may be worth it for Game Freak to return to its roots in a future Pokémon generation.
What do you think? Do you prefer the 2D or 3D Pokémon games? Let us know in the comments below. If you want more pocket monsters, check out our lists of the best legendary Pokémon and the most popular Pokémon of 2022.