Pokémon has used the same battle format for over 20 years, just adding new moves and supplemental content that kept the turn-based system fresh without deviating too much from the original.
But in an interview with Game Informer, the planning director for Pokémon Sword And Shield Kazumasa Iwao revealed that the team almost made some big changes for the newest games. He talked about how Game Freak usually focuses on fleshing out older elements from previous games and the scrapped changes the team was looking into.
“I think with the Pokemon games, you’re taking the elements that existed before and add onto them with every game, but we don’t just take the elements for granted,” Iwao said. “Each time we make a new game, we review what’s there and make sure they make sense for the project and that we’re confident we can make them fun for the next game.”
Because the current system is so integral to a lot of other aspects of the game, changing it would be a challenge. Especially since older elements are still being iterated on in Sword and Shield.
“If you make it five or even more than five (moves), that makes it so a lot of the Pokemon can really do anything,” Iwao said. “And it becomes a lot harder to read what your opponent might do because there are just that many more possibilities of moves they could use. I think that hurts the balance of the gameplay quite a bit.”
From that quote, we can gather that the main area of focus for a potential redesign was adding more move slots for each Pokémon. Since the original games, each Pokémon has only been able to learn four moves, which instilled a certain level of balance because players had limited options for coverage.
Adding the ability to know more moves creates a new element to Pokémon battles. There are several Pokémon that have large move pools that would greatly benefit from being able to carry a fifth move to counter another weakness during battle.
But that wasn’t the only option Game Freak looked into.
“At the same time, even if you reduce it by one to three (moves), you really start seeing there are haves and have nots in the Pokemon world,” Iwao said. “Like, these Pokemon are obviously way stronger than the rest of these Pokemon. We keep coming back and finding that four is the right number for the current battle system, but it is something we revisit.”
Fans have usually said that because the Pokémon formula hasn’t broken yet that Game Freak shouldn’t do anything too drastic to “fix” it. The addition of abilities, Mega Evolution, and other aspects that affect but don’t change the battle format have been a good answer so far, and one that appears to hold true in Sword and Shield.
Most of the current Pokémon meta is specifically geared towards four moves because it has been the status quo for so long. If Game Freak is going to rework how battles work in the future, it is going to involve a lot of testing and will likely require other aspects of the core gameplay to change.