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A discussion on pokemon gaming difficulty

how we so, chasing gold
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going to be rather brief because i feel like this can be a thing that's open to interpretation. here are some talking points o:

1. should pokemon games become more difficult, despite the argument that they're mainly targeted towards children?
2. if you were in charge of development, how would you implement a "difficulty mode"? would it be similar to b2w2, or different?
3. do you think self-induced difficulty challenges are enough (for example, nuzlockes, monotype challenges, etc)? how far would you go?

by all means, don't limit yourself to these questions in particular, but the broader question as to how everyone feels about difficulty i'm rather curious about!
 
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1. should pokemon games become more difficult, despite the argument that they're mainly targeted towards children?
I think some sort of "Hard" mode just makes sense at this point. I can understand the argument for keeping the main difficulty low, but the series has a large older demographic and younger players do enjoy playing harder games at times.
A simple "Hard" mode should work. Including a "Very Hard" could be interesting but I can understand not wanting to devote that much developer time to that sort of thing.

2. if you were in charge of development, how would you implement a "difficulty mode"? would it be similar to b2w2, or different?
I'd do something fairly simple for Hard mode.
Firstly is should be available from the start, not unlocked.

Now, I wouldn't touch things like wild Pokémon, item availability, or so on. Instead I'd simply give each trainer you can battle a "hard mode" variant. Hard mode trainers would have these types of changes:
*Additional Pokémon, especially major opponents like rivals.
*Some Pokémon subbed for their evolved forms, even earlier than available (like Lance's hacked Dragonite in GSC). Maybe a few subbed entirely, especially in cases where someone already had both the evolved and unevolved form. For instance, if I edited Surge's RB party for hard mode I'd replace his Pikachu with Electabuzz.
*Moveset enhancements. More enemies would have TM/TR/Tutor moves.
*Better IVs and more EV training. Not every trainer would be fully EV trained from early on. Balancing it could be tricky since EVs are something that can be tricky for the player to control without tedious grinding or waiting lot of real life time when they're doing the hands off EV training types.
*Hold items. So many enemies are happy with their Ace holding a berry and everyone else unequipped. It's especially notable when you can buy Oran berries in Sw/Sh and other trainers fail to take advantage of this.
 
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1. should pokemon games become more difficult, despite the argument that they're mainly targeted towards children?
I think that it isn't a question of becoming difficult but instead of getting difficult again and with the right elements, because the first games tended to be harder that the newer ones (starting with Gen. V).

2. if you were in charge of development, how would you implement a "difficulty mode"? would it be similar to b2w2, or different?
Connected to my previous answer, the difficulty isn't just by implementing modes at the start of the game, which is a good idea, but also in the world design. That said, the modes would make the start of the game different, namely in the explanation of concepts like catching and battling or instead of having it removed accordingly to difficulty or even have the option to just skip it.
In order to give the player a challenge, I'd end with the roaming nurses that heal Pkmn in the middle of hard and longer routes, NPC's that give your hand to just take where you need to go next and give if possible more AI development to increase the NPC's battle strategies.
The Trainer journey is one of strategy and planning, so let's get back to it, go to the MArt and stock up instead of having a Nurse that is conveniently placed.
As for the NPC's, Rivals, Gym Leaders and E4 their levels would be set according to difficulty. For the NPC's, there would be no need to increase their rooster, because even one Pkmn can be a headache and a challenge if used properly. Btw, just cut the 6 Magikarp guy, unless one of them is shiny and all evolve into Gyarados.

3. do you think self-induced difficulty challenges are enough (for example, nuzlockes, monotype challenges, etc)? how far would you go?
I've never done one of these with the purpose of having a harder playthrough. The first time I play a game I evaluate it as I go along and by the end of it, if I like it, I'll keep playing the same file, if not I put it aside (looking at you Moon). The only thing that I did was to have an only Grass-type team with Chespin as a starter in AS but that was due to never having a team full of my beloved type and to experience the Chesnaugh and Gogoat line since I knew that I'd never bother to buy XY due to its easiness and lack of post-game content and had a friend that traded me a Chespin and a Skiddo.
 
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I'd do something fairly simple for Hard mode.
Firstly is should be available from the start, not unlocked.

Now, I wouldn't touch things like wild Pokémon, item availability, or so on. Instead I'd simply give each trainer you can battle a "hard mode" variant. Hard mode trainers would have these types of changes:
*Additional Pokémon, especially major opponents like rivals.
*Some Pokémon subbed for their evolved forms, even earlier than available (like Lance's hacked Dragonite in GSC). Maybe a few subbed entirely, especially in cases where someone already had both the evolved and unevolved form. For instance, if I edited Surge's RB party for hard mode I'd replace his Pikachu with Electabuzz.
*Moveset enhancements. More enemies would have TM/TR/Tutor moves.
*Better IVs and more EV training. Not every trainer would be fully EV trained from early on. Balancing it could be tricky since EVs are something that can be tricky for the player to control without tedious grinding or waiting lot of real life time when they're doing the hands off EV training types.
*Hold items. So many enemies are happy with their Ace holding a berry and everyone else unequipped. It's especially notable when you can buy Oran berries in Sw/Sh and other trainers fail to take advantage of this.
Maybe it just goes without saying, but I also think you'd need to improve the AI of the average Trainer a little bit. They've been able to create a few NPC battles (not even bosses, mind) over the years that actually employ some wily tactics.

Also, you mention item availability, and personally that's probably the first thing I'd want to make adjustments to if I were designing a Hard Mode. 'Cause the thing to me is, you can buy Revives. Not just potions and stuff, but an item that allows you to resurrect a fainted Pokémon in battle, which no NPC Trainer in the series, boss or otherwise, has ever had the luxury of doing. That is a built-in unfair advantage that all but guarantees your eventual victory. Like a lot of helpful elements in the games, you have to actively impose a limitation on yourself against using them if you don't want that advantage. Which for the general gameplay I'm fine with, but for a Hard Mode, I don't think that's acceptable. Revives would have to go. At the very least, remove them from the market and only distribute them as items in the field very sparingly.

(I'm sure it would have big implications on the metagame, but I sometimes wonder about the possibility of introducing a move that can revive a Pokémon in battle at some great expense - kind of like Lunar Dance, where Cresselia sacrifices itself in order to restore the HP and status of its replacement. It could give NPCs a limited way of reviving their Pokémon organically, without using an item.)

Another thing that they actually have started doing more often that I think would be additive to a Hard Mode is "possible losses." When you battle a rival at a story point, occasionally they have made it so that you can lose and the story will still progress. I feel that this works better as a way of measuring your growth - you only get one chance to prove yourself in this battle and it's entirely possible that your rival will outperform you, rather than what is essentially just the game tapping its foot waiting for you to overcome a hurdle.
 
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Maybe it just goes without saying, but I also think you'd need to improve the AI of the average Trainer a little bit. They've been able to create a few NPC battles (not even bosses, mind) over the years that actually employ some wily tactics.
I wanted to focus on a fairly simple "difficulty mode"--better AI would be good, though I wouldn't limit it to Hard mode.

Also, you mention item availability, and personally that's probably the first thing I'd want to make adjustments to if I were designing a Hard Mode. 'Cause the thing to me is, you can buy Revives. Not just potions and stuff, but an item that allows you to resurrect a fainted Pokémon in battle, which no NPC Trainer in the series, boss or otherwise, has ever had the luxury of doing. That is a built-in unfair advantage that all but guarantees your eventual victory. Like a lot of helpful elements in the games, you have to actively impose a limitation on yourself against using them if you don't want that advantage. Which for the general gameplay I'm fine with, but for a Hard Mode, I don't think that's acceptable. Revives would have to go. At the very least, remove them from the market and only distribute them as items in the field very sparingly.
I admit I forgot revives since I don't use them in battle. Honestly my preferred solution to them is making them only usable in the field--unbuyable revives would make the Elite Four a massive difficulty spike if you aren't healed in-between like in Sw/Sh.

Another thing that they actually have started doing more often that I think would be additive to a Hard Mode is "possible losses." When you battle a rival at a story point, occasionally they have made it so that you can lose and the story will still progress. I feel that this works better as a way of measuring your growth - you only get one chance to prove yourself in this battle and it's entirely possible that your rival will outperform you, rather than what is essentially just the game tapping its foot waiting for you to overcome a hurdle.
This would be something worth seeing. I find games where the player failing diverges a bit rather than just "try again" can be more interesting. This is part of the reason I like "grand strategy" games where you can lose a battle and it's not just "game over, try again".
Edit: A few Dragon Quest games had a variant where you DID have to beat the boss but your loss actually happened so they change dialogue for subsequent fights to acknowledge that they defeated you already.
 

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Difficulty is subjective I feel. Some people expect Dark Souls from this and some don't.

I feel changing team compositions already goes a long way really. Most rivals have such weak team that it's not even funny. The only ones who were kinda hard were Blue, Barry and Cheren to a degree (But then you see the monkey and UNfezant and yeah...)
 
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Making the games a bit more difficult wouldn't hurt, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary either. They always go with the notion that any Pokemon game can be a person's first one, so they may not want to make it too difficult as a result.

That being said, including a Hard mode from the start would be a good solution. They can still have an easier or more standard mode, but offer a more challenging code for those interested in it. They shouldn't make it unlockable since that was such an odd choice in B2/W2. Having rivals and other NPCs with stronger teams with held items and at higher levels would probably make it more challenging than people are used to.

I've also never really been into nuzlock challenges. I wouldn't be comfortable with just releasing team members or putting them in a box forever just because they lost. That's increasing the difficulty a bit too much for my tastes. A monotype challenge might be interesting. There are so many different type combinations that I think going with a Water or Grass team would work out pretty well in game all things considered, but I still prefer to go for variety in my teams anyway.
 
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Tbh I'll never understand why some folks want the games to get more difficult. I admit that X/Y were a walk in the park and so were OR/AS to some extent but idk, it seems like that was mostly caused by the Exp. Share making leveling up too easy but it could be shut off.
 
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Tbh I'll never understand why some folks want the games to get more difficult.
Some people like for games to be more challenging because harder obstacles = a greater sense of accomplishment for overcoming them. Simple as that.

Me personally I don't really care about how difficult the games are, but I think they could fairly easily add in an optional Hard difficulty setting and make everyone relatively happy.
 
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I'd have 3 difficulty modes:

Normal: As it currently stands.

Hard: Increased Pokemon count (Rivals and Gym Leaders have 6 Pokemon by Gym 4 at the latest), improved team composition, increased held item count (all 6 Pokemon having held items by gym 6 at the latest), revives are not usable during battles at all, only outside of battle. Increased item purchase price, battle items (x-attack, and so forth) not sold in stores.

Expert: All of the above. In addition, Gym Leaders and Rival Battles (at minimum) have level floors, but can auto adjust their Pokemon's level upward to scale based off of the highest level Pokemon you have in your party. Enemies' Pokemon are EV trained to an increasing degree (both numerically and in terms of optimization) as the game progresses. Autosave can't be disabled, and the game autosaves at the beginning of every major battle, as well as upon the battle's conclusion. A flag gets set internally such that turning off the game while it's attempting to autosave and reloading it is treated as a "lost battle" result from the point at which the game was last saved.

I would also have it so that beating the game (end credits rolling) on any difficulty unlocks the option to start a "Nuzlocke mode" game, which runs concurrently with your normal save file and follows Nuzlocke rules. Pokemon which retire from your game there, or ones you wish to send across, get transferred to the box of your main save game file. The Nuzlocke mode file can be restarted at any time without impacting the main save game file.

For the record, I would play 'hard' in the setup described above. I just know some people would want to go nuts, and I'd want to have the options in place to support their preferred playstyle.
 
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i'll be honest: i've always been a bit of a "casual" (so to speak) as far as how i enjoy my pokemon games. i've felt like if i've ever wanted to really make the games difficult for myself, that's what nuzlockes and monotypes, etc were for. these challenges exist for the intentional purpose of putting a handicap on the player's team in some fashion or another to make pokemon games more challenging than they otherwise ordinarily would be. there's a lot of merit to these kind of challenges because they shake up normal pokemon gameplay by introducing different elements and ways to handicap the player and as a result, make the playthrough more flavourful.

but i've been giving it some thought as well as i'm really starting to miss organic difficulty, as well. granted, i'm more than well enough aware that these games are targeted towards children, and as such they aren't designed to grow up with the more mature audiences. because of this, i don't expect anything super hard, but at the same time, i'm remembering how friends of mine have complained about the awful johto level curve and how oftentimes they would be, at best, on par with the gym leaders' level if not a few levels below. i kind of want something like this in future games. i'll admit i even kind of cheesed my way in swsh because of the exp candies, which, although were completely optional, i couldn't help but take advantage of, so it did have an effect on me feeling like everything as a tad bit easier than it should be.

perhaps AI should also have some level of intelligence as they would be in cases like post-game battle tower as the player progresses later in the game. that'd be nice. idk, just my 002c.
 
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should pokemon games become more difficult, despite the argument that they're mainly targeted towards children?

Giving Pokemon SMT or Dark Souls levels of difficulty would be excessive, but children's games need to be challenging for them to have any entertainment value, in my opinion. Even easy mode should have times when the player finds certain battles to be difficult, such as the last few gym leaders or E4. I also agree that there are enough teen/adult Pokemon players that adding harder difficulty modes makes sense.

if you were in charge of development, how would you implement a "difficulty mode"? would it be similar to b2w2, or different?

Your save file's difficulty would be selectable at the start of the game. I would have Easy, Normal, Hard, and Extra Hard as the difficulty modes.

On non-easy modes, I would give gym leaders and important NPCs teams of Pokemon with stronger base stats, higher IVs/EVs, and better movesets (ones which can counter types that would be supereffective against it). The trainer AI would also be improved to employ strategies used in the VGC or competitive battling - weather teams, setting up Spikes, Choice Scarf/Specs/Band Pokemon, for example. The game would slowly introduce this to the player via gyms and NPCs, giving them a deeper understanding of how battles work.

Here's a quick example of what I mean:
Gym 1: Bug gym, uses Stealth Rock to counter flying-types and introduces the idea of entry hazards.
Gym 2: Steel gym, uses Spikes, and Swords Dance to introduce the idea of setup sweepers.
Gym 3: Ground gym, uses sandstorm weather conditions. Introduces weather teams.
Gym 4: Water gym. Uses entry hazards, Rain Dance + Hurricane. Has Pokemon with Swift Swim as setup sweepers. This gym acts as a recap for what was introduced in the previous three.

This would make battles much more difficult, even with quality of life improvements such as the game telling which moves will/won't be supereffective from the menu. It also takes advantage of how complex Pokemon's battle system can really be, instead of solely relying on high levels and type advantages.

do you think self-induced difficulty challenges are enough (for example, nuzlockes, monotype challenges, etc)? how far would you go?

Nuzlockes and monotype runs are popular, but I don't see the point of implementing them as a game mechanic. Nuzlockes in particular wouldn't work with the idea that Pokemon battles are not dangerous for the Pokemon involved. However, even if self-induced challenges are enough, it doesn't excuse the developers putting a lack of thought into how to make the game challenging. It shouldn't be the player's responsibility to come up with stuff to improve the game.
 
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It shouldn't be the player's responsibility to come up with stuff to improve the game.
To be fair, Nuzlockes and Monotype challenges have existed since long before people started saying the games were "too easy." I think both were invented not to make up for development shortcomings, but rather just to make the routine gameplay a little more interesting.
 
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1. should pokemon games become more difficult, despite the argument that they're mainly targeted towards children?
I feel like there's a very simple solution to this: instead of forcing people to play only the easy mode or just the challenge mode or... how about they give people the option to choose on which difficulty they want to play? This seems like the easiest way to solve a problem that's not even that complex in the slightest. Have an easy mode that's for beginners, a normal mode for people who want to play casually and just have fun and a hard mode for people who want to be challenged (and they can even do cool stuff with them, like name them after trainer classes, with Youngster being easy, Ace - normal, etc.). Don't make the modes version exclusive, don't make it mandatory to complete the game in order to unlock them... simply do what thousands of other games have been doing for years now: have there be an option to select your difficulty at the start of the game. A simple and easy solution to a very simple and not so complicated problem.

2. if you were in charge of development, how would you implement a "difficulty mode"?
Well, I would have the hard mode actually challenge the player as the game progresses. Give NPCs' Pokémon held items, give them more Pokémon, have Gym Leaders/Rivals/Elite Four use some compelling strategies (and maybe have some of them use Pokémon that aren't of the type they specialize in, but know a move of that type (like how Volkner and Flint were in DP and, to some extent, Raihan in SWSH)), have them use higher lvl Pokémon, give the Pokémon moves that complement their types, abilities and the entire team, stuff like this. Basically, have the game challenge the player to see if they've really mastered the game or not and have it make the players think about more than just type advantages and have them use more than just the strongest attacks they have.

And I think mentioned this before in another thread, but Exp. Share should also be changed back to the way it was before. The way it worked before was that it would help newly caught, which was perfect, since it would (partially, at least) eliminate the grind needed in order to raise your newest Pokémon to the rest of the team's levels. Now, however? Now, if you wanna level the new guy up, you either have to grind against low level Pokémon or rematchable NPCs that you've already beaten, waste turns in battles to switch between it and your stronger Pokémon or use the new Exp. Share and not only have your stronger Pokémon get even higher levelled (effectively make it harder for the new 'mon to catch up to them), but also have them get even stronger in the process (which would theoretically make the game easy). And it's even worse in SWSH, where you can't even turn it off.

3. do you think self-induced difficulty challenges are enough (for example, nuzlockes, monotype challenges, etc)? how far would you go?
Not really, since players have to go out of their way to make the game harder for themselves, when it would be easier to just have a simple difficulty option there. Not to mention that it's not the consumer's job to fix a game's problems. That's not to say people can't come up with challenge runs or that they shouldn't do it. But it shouldn't be up to the players to come up with fixes for a game's fundamental problem, nor should they be treated as a fix for it (since they don't actually solve the problem, they're just ways around it). And, besides, when they do stuff like "Exp. Share not only gives ALL of your Pokémon exp., but it's also mandatory and there's absolutely no way to turn it off"... yeah, it's considerably harder to self-inducedly make the game hard.
 
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I've played difficulty hacks and enjoyed some of them more than the original games. Put simply, giving the first two gym leaders 3 Pokemon, next two 4 and the last four 5-6, would already be a big improvement. Then there is the use of held items rather than regular ones, teams with actual synergy (Totem Pokemon were a nice start) and some reasonable AI. I've lost a fair amount of battles and had to reconsider my strategy rather than grind (not all hacks give you that flexibility). 2vs2 battles would probably be the best way to go, although I've enjoyed Red/Crystal hacks that obviously lacked them (well, some hack might incorporate them one day). Colosseum and XD were definitely harder than the main series games.

Ideally, Challenge Mode should encourage the player to use more than 6 Pokemon, too. Exp. Share is fine as long as it isn't forced upon you, but a stricter level cap wouldn't hurt (still using the disobedience system) so that grinding is discouraged.
 
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i think colosseum/XD were difficult because of the lack of grinding in those games, iirc. because there wasn't much in the way of wild pokemon in those games, grinding was far more of a chore than it is in the main series games, so the player's pokemon would more than likely be around the same level as the opponent in the story than anything else. the fact that it was doubles also played somewhat of a factor i think since personally i had to think an entirely different way than playing singles. makes thinking of new strategies fun and interesting and all that.
 
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While difficulty is subjective (specially in the earlier games) you can't deny that XY and SWSH are much easier than USUM. Those games make so many idiotic choices, like limiting some Pokémon's movesets to 3 moves with a lot of status moves, make most of bosses monotyped, having laughable defenses, etc.

So yeah, I'd like something harder where you have a hard time even with super effective types and good coverage, but also not something too hard that makes some Pokémon useless because they aren't in the higher competitive tiers. I understand kids become bored if they come across an impossible object, but they'll also become bored if after every battle the enemy faints in one hit so I hope Game Freak finds balance soon.
 
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While difficulty is subjective (specially in the earlier games) you can't deny that XY and SWSH are much easier than USUM.
XY? Yeah. SwoShi? For the most part I agree, especially when we're talking Totems vs. Galar Gym Leaders. I don't know why they dumped the design philosophy of Totems, it was really good, and the Gym Leaders definitely don't use Dynamax to its full potential. That said, I feel like I struggled against Bede more often than I did against any of Alola's rivals (granted, a Dark-type probably shuts him down, but I haven't used any Dark-types until later in the game), and although I liked Hau at the end of USUM, I find Leon to consistently be much more of a challenge.
 
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Put simply, giving the first two gym leaders 3 Pokemon, next two 4 and the last four 5-6, would already be a big improvement.
You mean like how they used to before 5th gen? That always felt like them fixing something that wasn't broken, which is something they did a lot of in that gen (especially BW).

That's one place to start for increasing the difficulty. The trainer rosters, especially for the major battles like gym leaders, rivals, and evil team admins have been too small. They're literally handicapping themselves by doing that. Putting more thought into Pokemon, movesets, abilities, and stats would help as well as would tougher AI. Lastly, I agree with the notion that Revives should be limited or restricted. It just feels unfair. I do like using them sometimes when I'm too lazy to grind more for a major battle such as the Champion battle, but it does take all of the difficulty out of the game.
 
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