As committed readers of TheGamer will know, I have been exploring Kanto slowly, week by week, in an attempt to soak up the stories that make the region so special. Today's entry whisks us all away to the peaceful, joyful, Pokemon loving port city of Vermilion, which we promptly destroy with our selfish ways. That's not what I'm here to talk about though – the point is soon, I'm going to make a choice. While there is a 'canon' way to approach Kanto, the gym leaders 4th-7th can be approached in a variable order. There are some caveats to it – certain gyms unlock HMs that grant access to the next in the queue – but for the most part they can be mixed and matched. In future games, this mechanic was removed for linear progression, but perhaps it's time to go back to where it all began, back to Kanto.
I only learned recently that this mechanic was removed from future games, and by recently, I mean yesterday, when the news hit me like a Hyper Beam to the face. While discussing Pokemon games past and present, I mused that next time I dip into HeartGold, I might hunt out an alternative route. I can't, I was swiftly informed. Only Kanto has that system, and it seems to have come about via players finding loopholes as opposed to a deliberate choice. That's no real surprise: Pokemon Red & Blue were essentially held together with sellotape. For example, if you didn't have a Thunderstone but wanted to evolve a Pokemon that needed it, if you switched in Growlithe in battle and won, the game would read Growlithe's code as that of a Thunderstone and the evolution would occur. Onix was the Water Stone, Exeggutor the Moon Stone, Psyduck the Leaf Stone, and, in a double glitch, Missingno was the Fire Stone. Nothing in Pokemon Red & Blue was deliberate.
While the Growlithe glitch needed to be fixed, and despite its charm I'm glad the Rare Candy cheat hasn't reappeared to make the already too-easy games even more straightforward, the gym system needs to come back. Okay sure, I've played every game since then and have never noticed its absence, but now that I've been made aware, it's retroactively become one of my biggest bugbears with the recent Pokemon games.
It feels emblematic of how empty some of the modern world-building is. Ballonlea is possibly the best a Pokemon town has ever looked, but it's soulless and devoid of any character whatsoever. Hulbury had all the ingredients to be one of Pokemon's best locations in any game, but it undercooks them into a watery slop. Is the fact the game leads you through each town step by step part of the reason the game is so determined to take away your freedom? Is the fact the game knows you can never really explore it in your own way part of why the towns are so empty?
Hopefully, this could all change with Scarlet & Violet. The Iberian region has some open world exploration that looks to pick up where Legends: Arceus left off, introducing a newfound freedom. Legends has no gyms and story progress is fairly linear, but unlike other Pokemon games there's also plenty to do if you completely ignore the main quest and work on the litany of side quests – something Pokemon traditionally only has a select few of per game. Legends is very different in its structure, and Scarlet & Violet is likely to have the regular eight gyms then final showdown (whether an Elite Four or a new gimmick that the last two games have toyed with), but the fact it encourages you to go out into the big, wide world might mean that we get to choose our gyms again.
I only found out we couldn't select our gym order yesterday, and I already feel like I've been missing it for 20 years.
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