Gyms have been a staple of Pokemon since the very first game, and the formula has been the same all the way through. There are eight gyms of increasing difficulty, and you must win all eight battles to advance to the endgame. Occasionally this formula is adjusted: some regions let you take on the middle gyms in any order you want, Kanto has an extra non-badge Fighting gym, and a late game gym usually ties together a bunch of subplots. To some, it feels a little stale, but I still love the clear structure they bring to a series which can sometimes feel directionless. I don’t want the gyms to go, but I do want them to change.
Getting rid of the gyms feels a little like suggesting Call of Duty gets rid of the guns and replaces them with a snowball fight. Yes, it’s true that every game has them, but they’re what makes the series work. They’re a core part of each game’s structure, and Pokemon as a franchise has generally heavily resisted change. A Breath of the Wild-style Pokemon game with open expanses of wandering wild Pokemon, thematically compelling dungeons, and an array of challenging and narratively important quests in place of your eight gym battles sounds amazing, but it’s just never going to happen. My idea though, my tiny little tweak, just might. Masuda, if you’re reading this, please get rid of type-based gyms.
When I first played Pokemon, I didn’t really know how typing worked. I could figure out that Water attacks were going to be good against Fire types, but how was I ever supposed to figure out that Bug attacks were super effective against Psychic types? As a kid, I was happy for the trial and error approach, to just stroll up to a gym with my six Pokemon that looked the coolest and hope that between them they had enough to make me the very best, like no one ever was.
Now though, after decades of battling, the typing matchups are burned into my brain. I know that, for some reason, Fighting types do well against Dark and Steel types. Punching a steel beam in real life is a lot less likely to be super effective, unless you mean a super effective way to break your wrist. Worse, the game often tells you what type a gym is before you challenge it, either through an NPC, the obvious aesthetic of the gym and its trainer, or The Pokemon Company just telling us online before the game comes out. I’m no longer rocking up with my six favourites, I’m making sure I have the right moves, the right typings, and the right party order before I even enter. There’s no real room for surprises, because the game tells me exactly what the leader is going to do before they do it.
Even on the gyms which have difficulty spikes, the game gives you the tools to defeat it. Anyone who struggled with Whitney just needed to walk across town to the department store and get a free Machop to dispatch her infamous Miltank with relative ease. After all, it’s a Normal gym, so all you really need is a Fighting type and the difficulty spike is sanded down to a nub.
That’s why the type-based gym system needs to go. It’s too easy to counteract any strategy the gym leader may have, and it forces you to play a certain way. There are Pokemon that I’ve caught in the games midway through, but have instantly abandoned because I knew they were at a type disadvantage for the final three gyms. Yeah, I know I could have just stuck with them anyway, but why bother? Pretty soon I’ll catch something else which will make those battles a cakewalk.
I still want gyms, I just don’t want them done by type. I want a hippie-looking gym leader who only trains multicoloured ‘mons. I want an eccentric mathematician who only uses Pokemon with four or more vowels in their name. Married gym leaders who only use gender duos. There are so many options out there.
I’ve started, in an attempt to make Pokemon runs more varied, to come up with my own efforts for building my teams. Some runs, I’m only allowed all native Pokemon. Others, a 12 set, meaning six Pokemon, each of double typing, with no clashes. There’s also a Type+ team, where all six Pokemon must be double types which share one typing but differ on the other (so Poison/Flying, Poison/Bug, Poison/Dark, etc), making myself a gym leader to make it harder to defeat the real ones. I’m just one person, restricted by the Pokemon available to catch in any one game, and I’m already coming up with ways to build a varied team which aren’t just “yeah I train Ground Pokemon, me.” There must be thousands of variations of Pokemon which can be collected together around an idea, and you only need eight good ones to make a region.
Pokemon sells well no matter what it does, but the formula just can’t stay the same forever. Changing up the gym typings gives the game a much needed refresher without needing to tear down the safe, sturdy structure. Water gyms have been done to death. Give me my vowel gym, Game Freak.
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