Pokemon Let's Go Has Convinced Me That It's Time for Pokemon's Random Encounters to Die

A glimpse of what's possible for the series going forward.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

Roughly four years ago, I sat down with Pokemon producer Junichi Masuda to talk about the then-upcoming Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. One of the key issues that arose was random encounters. Was the Pokemon team planning to stick with them despite being seen as outdated in many quarters?

Masuda was adamant that they would. "Random encounters go back to the idea that different kinds of play exist. I think there's these core categories of play: you have competition, imitation, and the element of surprise or excitement. I think Pokémon lets you choose between competition and the element of chance, and with the random encounters it's a kind of lottery as you enter the tall grass and you don't know what's going to appear. We think that by removing that, we'd be removing one of the big categories of play from the game, and we don't think that's a good idea."

In other words, Masuda saw random encounters as a core part of Pokemon-maybe even the secret to its success. It made me wonder if I was wrong to question the presence of such a successful mechanic. Random encounters certainly haven't stopped Pokemon from selling millions of copies over the years.

But after getting a chance to play Pokemon Let's Go at E3 last week, I'm now more convinced than ever that there's a better way. And maybe Game Freak itself is starting to see it as well.

I suddenly want to catch 'em all again.

Pokemon Let's Go, if you haven't been paying attention, is a hybrid remake of the original Pokemon and the mobile megahit Pokemon Go. It puts even more emphasis on the accessibility that defines the mainline RPGs, adding in a co-op component and a friendly one-button Pokeball controller (which will run you a cool $50 on Amazon if you decide to get it separately from the game). Even compared to the famously friendly Pokemon it feels simple in the extreme, but it's nevertheless close enough to the core games that it doesn't feel like a total departure.

The area that I got to see was the Viridian Forest-one of the first real "dungeons" in the game. As in Pokemon Red and Blue, it's a relatively small area populated by a handful of bug catchers, Weedles, Caterpies, and the odd Pikachu. But compared to its forebears, Pokemon Let's Go's version is positively teeming with life. Bug Pokemon of all different shapes and sizes can be seen running around in the grass, mixed in with the occasional Pikachu and even the odd Butterfree. It's a similar feeling to opening up your phone and seeing that there are new and interesting monsters nearby in Pokemon Go. It's immediately enticing.

I've written in the past about how Pokemon feels oddly lifeless compared to the likes of Monster Hunter. For a series with such a massive menagerie, the monsters themselves don't feature nearly as much as they should. This even goes for the recent Pokemon Sun and Moon. I blame the random encounters, which hide the monsters in the grass and out of sight.

It's totally the opposite in Pokemon Let's Go-Pokemon are everywhere. Stepping into the grass to chase after them, I found myself flinching in expectation of the familiar flash of the battle screen. But then I remembered where I was, and I felt a weight I didn't even know I had slip off my shoulders. It wasn't just that stepping into the tall grass was no longer annoying—it was exciting.

In the space of a few moments I caught a Caterpie and a Weedle, then spotted a Pikachu and gave chase. In the original game, catching a Pikachu in Viridian Forest was a pain because they were relatively rare, and you had to go in and out of battles waiting for them to appear. Pokemon Let's Go instead has you going, "Oh man! A Pikachu! I need one of those!"

It's a feeling that suddenly has me wanting to complete the Pokedex, which is something I haven't done since Ruby and Sapphire. At some point the simple act of collecting Pokemon became too much of a hassle, and trying to catch 700 of them felt ludicrous. I opted instead to focus my efforts on catching legendary monsters instead.

Pokemon Let's Go's throw mechanic is currently kind of awkward.

By contrast, filling out the Pokedex feels much more doable in Pokemon Let's Go. Just seeing them hopping around in the grass makes me naturally want to start capturing them and adding them to my collection. It's the freshest and most energetic Pokemon has felt in ages.

Even the surprise element that Masuda and company value so much remains intact. Often you will see a monster spawn right at the edge of the screen, which is surprising and exciting. If you're not fast enough, it may exit the area just as quickly. But even if you miss out, there are more to be found elsewhere with a bit of patience.

Frustratingly, though, the actual act of catching a monster isn't actually that fun in Pokemon Let's Go. As in Pokemon Go, you have to try and time a Pokeball throw with a ring that opens and closes. The intuitive swiping motion makes capturing monsters easy and satisfying in Pokemon Go, but I find the throwing motion in Pokemon Let's Go awkward to say the least. I wound up wasting a ton of Pokeballs on an obstinate Butterfree as it drifted lazily back and forth, screwing up my timing. Ideally the next "proper" Pokemon RPG for the Switch-which will purportedly be geared toward hardcore fans-will combine the more traditional capture mechanics with Pokemon Let's Go's lively ecosystem.

But no matter what approach Game Freak takes, I think Pokemon Let's Go is proof that it's time for the old ways to change. It is in fact possible to retain the magic of Pokemon while eliminating one of its hoariest mechanics. It might well be the single best thing to come out of what is otherwise a simplistic take on the series.

I suppose we'll see which direction Game Freak opts to go when Pokemon's eighth generation lands next year. But in the meantime, Pokemon Let's Go offers an intriguing glimpse of what's possible. It'll be out on November 16.

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Comments 35

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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #1 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    I think Masuda is right. It's not a good idea to fully embrace that something is "outdated," what you're really just talking about is trends, and trends are always changing. There is no "outdated," there is only different. Often going against the grain, against what is popular is a great idea, just because the market will then have better variety.

    Masuda says that the randomness of random encounters adds another category to play, like a lottery, and he is right about that. Whether you value that or not depends on you. I don't think it's a bad idea for the Pokemon series to change and try new things, but I DO think it's almost always a bad idea for a series to change to jump onto the current bandwagon of what is popular.

    There's definitely value to random encounters, as a system. It's a system I'd like to see stick around. We need to get away from this borg-like concept of "outdated" where games need to all change to be whatever the modern market says they should, I think it's better to have games of all types for all people. Variety is the spice of life!
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 Well I won't rehash my article, but I'll say that random encounters are tedious, and they actively detract from the enjoyment of capturing monsters. Everything that makes Pokemon great (stumbling on rare monsters, shines, etc) can be replicated on the world map. At this point I'd have a hard time seeing a return to pure random encounters as anything but regressive.
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  • Avatar for SubconianDreamer #3 SubconianDreamer 4 months ago
    Yeah, I'm definitely all for the series combining this "actually see the critters wandering the field, bump into them to start a fight" encounter style with more traditional wild battle/capture mechanics going forward.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #4 The-Challenger 4 months ago
    Cutting out random encounters had to happen eventually. Even the creators realized that. I can only assume that this approach will also extend to the Switch version. Although, I do see random encounters still existing in some form, even it's just invisible (i.e. ghost) pokemon.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #5 TheWildCard 4 months ago
    While I do think there are generally better alternatives to random battles, it's hard to imagine Pokemon moving away from it random encounters because combing grass for those rarer types is such a big part of the "hunting". Yeah, it's can be grindy sometimes, but if you can capture every type of Pokemon in a given area in a couple minutes it would lose any sense of accomplishment. Being able to walk into Veridian Forest and quickly track down a Pikachu sounds lame.

    Maybe if every area was really flooded with different Pokemon you could keep the sense of rarity, but there'd have to be 10-12 pokemon per area instead of the usual 3 or 4, and by extension a really big regional Pokedex. At this point though there's enough monster designs to pull it off if they wanted to I guess.
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  • Avatar for Mr.Spo #6 Mr.Spo 4 months ago
    It would be pretty easy to keep random battles in certain areas - in some dungeons, for example - while eliminating them from the rest of the world map. Or, reverse the way the Safari Zone works and have several Safari Zone like areas which let you battle wild Pokemon the old-fashioned way but have the normal 'Routes' use the new capture system. That way you keep a livelier, fresher capturing experience for those simply following the story routes but give those who want a deeper experience (and plenty of grinding options) optional zones and areas where they can battle and catch wild Pokemon.
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  • Avatar for ericspratling56 #7 ericspratling56 4 months ago
    Even the latest Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy titles have dropped random encounters. If they can make that transition, pretty much every other game should.

    (Random battles here defined as "you're walking around a map seemingly barren of enemies, when suddenly out of nowhere you encounter an invisible monster and transition to a battle screen. Obviously the enemies that do exist in the game still populate randomly.)
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  • Avatar for Minkukel #8 Minkukel 4 months ago
    I think not knowing what Pokémon you're gonna encounter is too essential for the Pokémon experience for me. Going after Pokémon of an advantageous type or more easily seeking out rare Pokémon (like how encountering a Pikachu in Veridian Forest is exciting in gen I) would make a series that is already becoming too easy, even easier.

    But then, I am a big fan of random encounters in the first place.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #9 mobichan 4 months ago
    So how do they level up Pokemon now? I thought there was a sort of symbiosis between random battles and leveling that basically constitutes RPG grind. If you can now just choose to ignore battles to cherry pick the missing monsters on your checklist, do you still need to endlessly battle for leveling? Seems to not really eliminate the annoying factor of random battles much.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #10 Kat.Bailey 4 months ago
    @mobichan Catching a Pokémon earns XP in addition to battling
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #11 CK20XX 4 months ago
    I'm still waiting to see the series address the late game problem of how catching pokemon becomes pointless as it gives way to trading and breeding. Trading gives you more control over what species you get and breeding gives you much more powerful pokemon than wild ones, so the only reason to head into tall grass becomes extermination. Maybe Wild, Bred, and Traded pokemon should be arranged into a weakness triangle like the one Fire Emblem uses for weapons?
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  • Avatar for nilcam #12 nilcam 4 months ago
    My hype for Let's Go Pikachu/Evie is out of control. I've found random encounters annoying ever since Chrono Trigger showed me the light.

    This game might just convince me to complete the Pokedex!Edited June 2018 by nilcam
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #13 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    How many hours have you all played pokemon before you decided that random encounters were bad? You sound like the Destiny players that are like I've played this game for 100+ hours but now please cater to all my very specific needs because this game is meh!

    I think part of the magic of that's kept pokemon what it is, is that every new game is basically the original with a few extras. Any one of them serves as a wonderful entry point for little kids to try out RPGs.

    I would be fine with more quality of life changes (for example, being able to adjust random encounters rates and battle speed at a whim like Bravely Second) that have made the games better over time (Sun and Moon doing away with HMs so good!), but I think the main series games are fine in their established format.

    That said, I'd love some more offshoots focused on appealing to poke-experts like many of you seem to be! Maybe even every other game (or every third game if you include games like Go or Lets Go, etc).
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #14 Kat.Bailey 4 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest I've put literally thousands of hours into Pokémon. I don't think they add anything but busywork
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #15 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey It's totally fine for you to say that you find random encounters tedious. There's nothing wrong with you having your own preferences and defending them. But I do still have a problem with you labeling things you don't like as "regressive." Equating your own preferences to "progress" is acting like your opinions are "right way things should be," and acting like the thing you don't like should disappear. You're basically saying "I don't like this, so it should disappear. If you like, I don't care, screw you."

    Random encounters certainly CAN be tedious, anyone can agree to that. But they also have value, because the concepts behind it have value. Randomness has value. The element of surprise (not being able to see what you're about to fight) has value. Being forced to deal with encounters rather than just being able to easily circumvent them has value. Random encounters as a concept can certainly still have value if it's done the right way.

    This doesn't mean that I think Pokemon should ALWAYS have random encounters, I'm sure it would be interesting to try a Pokemon that handles things differently. But let's just not pretend like it needs to change because the old way is "obsolete." That's a dogmatic, closed-minded way of thinking.Edited June 2018 by Flipsider99
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #16 Jonnyboy407 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 in the most technical sense (the best type of sense) they are obsolete.

    8 bit and earlier games could not handle showing enemies roaming around in an overworld or dungeon, so they don't display them. In many games, like dragon warrior, the battles aren't entirly random but use an RNG to determine when battles occur. The manipulation of thus has made for a really cool speed run of that game.

    Even some games (Zelda 2) could display those encounters on the field. But once we move into the 16bit era, the hardware was technically capable of showing encounters but the designers chose not to.

    So random encounters became obsolete 1991 or thereabouts.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #17 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey Right, that's exactly what I mean. It would be awesome if there was a version of pokemon that satisfied you and other people with an extreme long term interest in the series, but as it is, the current system kept you playing for thousands of hours more than the average time people play any given game/series.

    I truly believe you all deserve a pokemon of a new style (and I would probably be more interested in it as well than the standard entries at this point). With the profits (and cultural capital) that pokemon has pulled in over the years, they should really dedicate a team to making a more experimental game for long term fans. I'd imagine they have a pretty large cushion; use a little to try some more advanced things.

    And I don't intend to imply the current forms of the game aren't advanced. One of my very best friends is deep into pokemon and it's awesome, but there is no way I am going to be sitting around with multiple DSs grinding out eggs so I can see a shiny pokemon with a bunch of high EVs or whatever. It's wonderful that Gamefreak hasn't introduced XP boost/egg hatching microtransactions, but even if it took a tenth of the time, that kind of gameplay was never for me.

    It sounds like after you played it for so long, it's no longer for you either. That totally makes sense. But I think Pokemon is amazing for being able to have a consistent, contemporary entry point for new players unlike pretty much any other series in videogames. It’s something special.

    So while I’m all for more options, I just don't know if abandoning the successful gameplay style of pokemon (in the main series) in order to appeal to the extremely hardcore is the best thing for all players (including future kids).
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  • Avatar for nilcam #18 nilcam 4 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest Have you played Chrono Trigger? I only ask because that game convinced me that random encounters are a waste of time. I still struggle with the whole concept after playing CT back in the mid-90s.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #19 benjaminlu86 4 months ago
    I would be ok if random battles stop in every game forever from now on.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #20 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @Jonnyboy407 That is just simply not true. 8-bit games were more than capable of having sprites, which is all you really need to display monsters in the field. The example of Zelda 2, which is an 8-bit game that you brought up, directly contradicts what you're saying. Zelda 2 is also a pretty early Famicom game, showing up in 1987. There's also an RPG for Famicom by Konami (their first RPG, I believe) called Esper Dream which is an RPG which represents enemies visibly in the field, just like Chrono Trigger. It also came out in 1987.

    It's a choice. They choose to not show the enemies on the field. So it's wrong to use the word "obsolete," because artist choices don't become obsolete.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #21 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @nilcam I enjoy both Chrono Trigger and early Dragon Quest games. They're both great, for different reasons. The more streamlined style of battles works well for Chrono Trigger. The more classical, random style of battles suits a game like Dragon Quest.

    Why not just keep having games with both? Variety is a good thing, right?
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #22 Jonnyboy407 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 many 8 bit games could not have that many displayed at once though. I brought up Zelda 2 as an exception.

    And sure, random battles can be a choice. A bad one.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #23 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    @nilcam Oh yeah for sure, Chrono Trigger is great (been forever though). However it is a very different experience than Pokemon. It is balanced for a single-player playthrough. It doesn’t have the breadth of monsters that pokemon has, nor does it expect people to have drastically different encounters in their playthrough (the type that would normally encourage trading of different ‘mon).

    Even if you can see particular pokemon before choosing to engage them while walking around, I imagine that Let’s Go (unlike Chrono Trigger as far as I’m aware) randomizes the pokemon you encounter before they appear onscreen. Otherwise people would just make online guides of where to find each pokemon, and as a result, the excitement of discovery would be dulled and trading would become pretty pointless.

    I can’t speak for Kat, but what I gather is not that she wants all playthroughs to be basically the same, but that she finds getting into a battle with a bunch of pidgeys (etc) tiresome. It seems as if she’s coming at this from the angle of not wanting a player’s time wasted (as opposed to having an experience absent of randomness). I hate walking through zubat caves! But you still have to seed the randomness at some point if you want each player to have a unique experience and encounter different monsters.

    I’ll admit it would be rad to see all the pokemon interacting with the environment when you come into a new area. But what if you don’t see the one you want? Walk out of the area and then come back in and it re-seeds and maybe you’ll see the one you want? Repeat again and again? Yes, this saves time relative to going into each battle, but it doesn’t get rid of “random” encounters at all.

    They could make some really big changes (real-time pokemon pursuit, ability to look into the sky, expanding on bait/lures, tracking via footprints, etc.) that would make a game where you see pokemon out and about all the time more interesting; but randomness is essential to a game that relies on people trading in the way Pokemon classically has.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #24 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @Jonnyboy407 There you go, now you're bringing it back to personal preference. You're exactly right, it is a choice which you consider bad. I happen to find a lot of value in random encounters. Nothing wrong with a difference of opinion.
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  • Avatar for SkywardShadow #25 SkywardShadow 4 months ago
    Yes, I think the random battle aspect, along with the lack of difficulty options, has been making me bounce off the Pokemon series for years. (I only ever finished a gen 1 game.)

    Maybe losing it here will help other RPG developers stop using it too. Keep it relegated to some niche titles. That said, I wish Octopath didn't have them either.
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  • Avatar for chrissugden59 #26 chrissugden59 4 months ago
    You all seem to be missing the core reason why random encounters work in a Pokémon game. Pokémon is a world that lets you recruit any monster you come across and add them to your team. By design Pokémon wants you to be surprised by new Pokémon and catch them to learn more. When you're walking through tall grass and you encounter a Pokémon you've never seen before it's exciting. If I'm walking around and I see it on the overworld I can look at it and just go 'eh.' and ignore it. Random encounters force you to interact with Pokémon you normally wouldn't the system in Pokémon let's go is there purely because it's capitalising on the Pokémon go fanbase.

    Yes, random encounters can be tedious, but so can trainer battles when you just want to progress. Shall we take them out too? Random encounters are far too important for Pokémon to be totally removed. The reason they were in this game is because it's a spin-off much the same as Pokémon colloseum took out random encounters. Don't expect this to become the norm.
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #27 Jonnyboy407 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 fair enough! To each their own. :D
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #28 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    @chrissugden59 thats literally what i wrote about 3 comments above yours but it was a really long comment so i totally understand if you didnt read it haha
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  • Avatar for docexe #29 docexe 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 I don’t disagree on principle with your points about how certain mechanics have inherent value and it ultimately depends of the type of experience that the game designer is trying to create whether or not they fit for the game in question.

    But the term “regressive” is well employed in this context: The general argument posited by Kat is that this series has used a certain mechanic without change since the beginning, yet this new spin-off changes that mechanic and improves things as a result. So, from that point of view, keeping that mechanic in the main series after this spin-off changes things would then indeed be regressive.

    You might disagree on that, but it’s frankly unbecoming on your part to attack Kat’s moral character in that respect.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #30 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @docexe Aren't you putting words in Kat's mouth? You're rephrasing what she said to: "for this series, this is a change for the better." However, I feel like Kat has made it pretty clear that she finds the *concept* of random battles to be "tedious" and "regressive." That's quite a bit different from just talking about a change for Pokemon as a series. In that context, labeling random battles as "regressive" is going too far, in my opinion.

    And just to be clear, I'm not trying to attack Kat here. I have nothing against Kat, and I respect her. However, the sentiment that "random battles are tedious and obsolete" is unfortunately very common, and I feel like it's a harmful idea for gaming in general. So that's why I feel a strong desire to push back when I see sentiments like that in a USGamer article.
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  • Avatar for docexe #31 docexe 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 Dude, you were the one who literally put words in her mouth and I quote:
    You're basically saying "I don't like this, so it should disappear. If you like, I don't care, screw you."

    She never said such a thing, you interpreted it that way. Then essentially called her dogmatic and closed minded.

    But fair enough, brion. I ultimately get it: You have strong feelings about gaming and dislike a lot of modern trends in game design, and you have the tendency of stating those feelings in a very passionate, sometimes really hyperbolic way, which at times comes as somewhat offensive or insulting. You are also a very stubborn person, so no matter what I say, you won’t admit to any wrongdoing on your part. So whatever, let’s end this conversation here and carry on.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #32 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    @docexe You're right that I can be stubborn and hyperbolic. I mean, when you're passionate about something it's hard to avoid those things, but I am aware of it. I'm not trying to offend or insult anyone, if I did then I'm sorry.
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  • Avatar for docexe #33 docexe 4 months ago
    @Flipsider99 Fair enough, dude.
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #34 Daikaiju 4 months ago
    Wait... If you were playing Let's Go Pikachu, why did you need to catch one?
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  • Avatar for bradleybodenstab94 #35 bradleybodenstab94 3 months ago
    At first, I wanted to defend random encounters. It's part of the suspense and randomness to playing the game. When you finally find that one thing you're looking for in the dozen random encounters, it feels more like a victory.

    But then I saw the screenshots and thought about it. Being able to see a living world with all the Pokemon in it and actually having to chase down the one you want in the wild is more realistic and sounds fun. Like the article said, instead of running back and forth until an event pops up, you actually see what you're hunting and want to chase it down.

    I was a huge Red/Blue fan back when I was 10, and now my 6-year-old is getting heavily into Pokemon, so this game will be awesome for both of us. I get to relive my favorite generation and he gets a cool Pokemon game experience that's not only accessible with the Pokemon Go style additions, but his first real Pokemon game experience (outside of Pokemon Go) will be with the same generation that I first played.
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