When my journey across Kanto took me to Celadon City, I mused about the prospect of exploring it at night, when cities really come alive. If you're confused as to what journey I'm talking about, you can catch up on it here, which catalogues every step of my adventure across Kanto as a tourist so far. Strangely, considering that the Kanto column is all about wandering far and wide in a Pokemon setting I adore, it made me think about how we need a Pokemon game set in a single place.
Last week our features editor Ben Sledge took a comprehensive look at which Pokemon city would be best to live in, but left out the notable consideration for Ryme City, the one place we have actively seen Pokemon and people living side by side. That's the kind of city I mean when I say I want Pokemon set in just one place. The likes of Lumiose and Wyndon flatter to deceive with their size, but we never quite get a feel for them the way we should.
I get that, for a lot of people, Pokemon is about exploring in the wilderness. It's one of the reasons I loved Legends: Arceus, despite its glaring flaws, and why I'm looking forward to seeing Pokemon further experiment with its formula Scarlet & Violet. I'm not saying Pokemon games should only be set in cities, or that all of the effort to push Pokemon into expanding its horizons was for nothing. I just think there's something in city-life that needs to be explored in Pokemon's world, given how often it drifts through cities and scarcely bothers to look twice at them. How empty and flat did Galar's cities feel? More like dioramas with a few buildings dotted here and there, devoid of life and soul. Pokemon always seemed more alive when it was 2D, and that's part of the reason Celadon has me thinking this way.
I imagine, if this ever to happen (which, you know, it won't), it would come via a spin-off game. They have always had the best ideas, after all. The basic idea is that we would stay in a single location for the whole game, interacting with the people there, exploring the different sides of it, and seeing how Pokemon mesh with the urban lifestyle. Galar has Pokemon being rented out for jobs, but it's too rare that we see Pokemon interacting in the world beyond just living in it. We see them sitting by their owners' sides and that's about it. Legends: Arceus has the Pokemon interact in the wider world a little more, and some side quests push this a little further, but nothing in a city. We have versions of New York, London, and Paris, but nothing that feels as if it's a city we could get lost in.
The catching is obviously an interesting part of Pokemon – despite issues around the Pokedex, 'gotta catch 'em all' remains the series motto – but it shouldn't be the only part. City life, and the stories we might discover there, has been sacrificed time and time again in Pokemon because it needs to shift us on to the next location, the next gym, the next spot where 'em all are waiting to be caught. If we remove that from the game, as would be possible in a spin-off, we'd be free to wander the different districts, the back alleys, the high street, the parks, the clubs, the restaurants, the museums. The art, the music, the culture. The people.
I wrote about wanting to see Celadon at night, but the truth is it's not really about night, or day, or anything like that. It's about knowing a place, feeling it come alive. There are so many video game cities that I feel immersed in because I have learned their stories, I have spoken to the shopkeepers and the buskers on corners, to the taxi drivers and the barmen. Pokemon, even as I walk back through Kanto slowly, never lets me have that. Pokemon needs to take me to the big city and let me stay there.
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