I grew up playing Pokemon. It’s an incredible series. The games are brilliant in many ways. Let’s just assume I’m not hating on the series and move on.
Pokemon has a simple problem: Catching Pokemon is largely pointless. Higher level pokemon gain absurd advantages over their less powerful counterparts. The game also provides better stat growth to pokemon that have been trained from low levels compared to similar pokemon caught in the wild. After all, it would feel very strange to abandon your level 50 pokemon you’ve raised for hours the moment you see a level 51 pokemon in the wild.
Pokemon has understood this problem ever since the series began. It’s why Professor Oak’s aides give you useful items for catching large numbers of pokemon. It’s why pokemon found in early level areas tend to be much weaker than pokemon encountered in later level areas. Unfortunately a lot of these incentives are fuzzy and the stat growth of trained pokemon still encourages you to focus all your experience points into one or two powerhouses.
Here’s a blasphemous solution. Yes, it goes against a lot of the core themes of companionship the game provides but we’re dealing with adorable cockfights here. The theme’s already a bit wonky.
Pokemon could have maximum levels, different ones depending on the pokemon. Pidgey should be a powerful pokemon for its level, but cap out at level 20. You would not be able to increase Pidgey’s level after that point, no matter how many experience points it gained. Meanwhile a pokemon found a bit later in the game might start at level 15 but cap out at level 35.
This is the system Warframe uses to encourage you to keep changing up your gear and it works wonders. It would cleanly force players to change up their pokemon as they progress through the game. Adding this one system to classic Pokemon games would drastically increase the variety experienced over a playthrough and keep people interested in catching pokemon and checking out their new acquisitions throughout the entire experience.
Should Pokemon add this mechanic to the series now? No. It’s been way too long and would be perceived as breaking tradition while imposing arbitrary limitations on the player base that’s been used to the unlimited freedom. However, anyone exploring Pokemon-style gameplay in a new series should strongly consider implementing this type of level-locked system. When your game is all about acquiring new pokemon, gear or similar you want to make sure players feel like they have a reason to actually do so. Left to themselves a majority of players will always stick with the default option until something explicitly tells them they need to change. Max levels are one of the best ways to do it, as it ties into the progression system players enjoy in the game.
This doesn’t solve the problem of focusing on only one or two powerhouses at a time, but at least they would be different powerhouses over the course of the game. Max Levels for an area could accomplish that goal, balancing the gym to require a team of at least 4 fully trained pokemon to beat the gym. This would encourage players to train up a full team in each area rather than power-leveling past any sense of difficulty.