My One Complaint Ahead Of Gen 9: Pokemon Battles Are Too Damn Long
Pokemon has received an outlandish amount of overhauls over the years. Given how regularly new entries launch, it’s established itself as one of the most visibly transformative video game series of all time, alongside iconic franchises like Mario and Zelda.
But there’s one thing that’s been bothering me more and more over the last few years – something that ostensible progress has actually ruined. Pokemon battles have become far too long, to the extent that I get annoyed just about every single time I have to do one.
This is something I’ve been mulling over for quite a while, but my thoughts really got into gear after stumbling across this Reddit post. According to the post, recent source code leaks have confirmed that Pokemon battles still run on the same base code designed for Ruby & Sapphire – five entire generations ago.
Obviously, the battles look a lot better now than they did when Ruby & Sapphire came out back in 2002, but that’s part of the problem. The issue with modern battles in the likes of Sword & Shield is that all of the extra bells and whistles designed for enhanced visual fidelity take about 17 years to process. Ironically enough, despite their sluggish load times, early-series battles were far punchier than the unnecessarily dragged out clashes we see today. Don’t even get me started on Dynamax Adventures, where you can be waiting for over two minutes before even getting a turn, which the enemy Pokemon will likely just tank with its annoying Substitute-esque wall anyway.
The Reddit post linked above includes pretty damning evidence of this. For example, the poster had their Scyther use Swords Dance in order to time how long a single move in an ordinary battle would take to fully process. The result:
- Text box pops up: “Scyther used Swords Dance!”
- Swords Dance animation plays
- Scyther returns to its idle pose
- “Boost” animation plays
- Text box pops up: “Scyther’s Attack rose sharply!”
- Time elapsed: 8 seconds, if I’ve timed it correctly. Then it’s time for the next Pokémon on the field to make its move.
As the post notes, it would be far better for a text box to pop up saying, “Scyther used Swords Dance to sharply boost its Attack,” while the Swords Dance animation and boost animation play simultaneously. This combines all of the necessary information into a single animation, drastically reducing the overall sluggishness of the move’s execution in order to increase the pace of the battle.
The same thing happens when a Pokemon faints – at higher levels, where Pokemon have much higher HP stats, the animations are often far more brief than the time it takes for the health bar to deplete, meaning that they just sort of stand there while their HP gradually whittles down. As the post notes, weather effects like Sandstorm and Hail still affect each Pokemon individually at the end of every turn — why not hit all of them simultaneously with a single animation? It’s important to remember that in competitive play, buffering order matches speed order, which feeds both players necessary information – although that’s not to say a text box ran in conjunction with a simultaneous animation across all affected ‘mons couldn’t just do that instead.
The thing is, the code for this is already there. If you’re in a Max Raid and the enemy Pokemon uses a Max move with a debuff effect, all of the affected Pokemon have their stats decreased at the same time. If it’s not a Max move, however, the decreases will be applied individually, as would happen in any other case. You have the move text box, the move animation, the debuff text box, the debuff animation, and finally the idle animation before moving on to the next part of the battle – it’s laborious.
As an example of when this is downright ridiculous, go to 6:04 in the video below. This show’s Wolfey’s Lucario Beat Up team, where a single turn can take over 30 seconds to fully transpire. Granted, this strategy plays on a special gimmick, but by simultaneously running the turn’s effects in a single animation, you’re talking about a time reduction of at least 90%.
It’s not just move execution, either. There are separate animations for Pokemon’s abilities at the beginning of a battle. If your Pokemon has a high friendship, it will do a little giddy bounce. It usually takes about ten seconds from the beginning of an encounter before the battle UI even appears, which also applies to wild encounters, meaning that the bulk of your time playing Pokemon is now just spent in the non-active parts of battles you probably don’t even really care about in the first place (which is something that could be partially rectified by committing to the open-world of The Crown Tundra).
The issue is especially obvious when you look at other games. Temtem doesn’t use text boxes for “It’s super-effective” – instead, the attack lands and a 2x symbol shows up over the Tem. Their HP also decreases simultaneously, and if they’re knocked out, the animation and text box occur at the same time. Similarly, status buffs and debuffs are communicated via the character models, both in terms of each Tem’s own animation and a “SpD up” symbol superimposed over it.
Persona 5 is even better, and achieves an incredible amount of style without ever sacrificing substance. Every animation looks fantastic, but the text box/animation divide is coordinated in such a way that sluggishness never becomes an issue, despite the fact that every detail of what happens in each turn is communicated just as effectively as it is in Pokemon – if not even more so. Every element of an action is tied to the same dynamic animation, making fights feel fast and punchy, as opposed to making you pull out your phone to scroll through Twitter until it’s your turn again in four hours’ time. Persona 5 is equally complex as Pokemon, and yet it is remarkably faster.
Pokemon has come a long way since the original Red & Blue, and it’s amazing to see how much it has improved over the years. As it stands, though, its ever-increasing investment in unique animations and visual fidelity is actively problematizing its outdated battle code, to the extent that every throwaway battle feels like a tedious marathon. I’m excited for Gen 9, but if Game Freak continues to draw out battles instead of cleaning up the clutter of a code long past its expiration date, I’ll probably just switch to a game where I can finish more than one battle a decade.
Read next: Pokemon: Twilight Wings Proves That Game Freak Dropped The Ball With Sword & Shield
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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