If you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance you’re already saying, “No! I hate Let’s Go! Boo!” If so, please reconsider your position. Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu are the best Pokemon games in over ten years, and they gave us the most impressive version of Saffron City the series has ever seen.
There’s something special about Saffron. It’s never been my favourite city – that would be Sootopolis, although that’s not even much of a city when you look at metropoles like Goldenrod. Saffron is distinct in its own way – it’s big but uniform, central but sprawling, and plain but remarkably dense. You’ve got Silph Co. here, which is massive both literally and in terms of Gen 1’s overarching narrative. You’ve got the Fighting Dojo, a peculiar challenge that rewards you with a rare Pokemon instead of a badge. You’ve got the usual suspects – a Pokemon Centre, a PokeMart, and some NPC-owned houses besides – and you’ve got some guy who just won’t shut up bragging about his stupid Pidgeot. You’ve even got a free Porygon. Best of all, though, is the fact you’ve got Sabrina’s gym, the beating heart of this noisy city.
Saffron was always fascinating to me. It’s narrative-gated in the original Gen 1 games, meaning you can’t go there immediately after arriving at Cerulean City to the north. You can’t get in from Vermilion in the south either, and when you finally arrive at Lavender to the east, you need to use the Underground Pass in order to reach Celadon to the west. Only after serving the annoying guy policing the route adjacent to the city some hot tea are you allowed into the bustling metropolis in the middle of Kanto. As soon as you finally set foot on its hallowed tarmac, you’re immediately blown away by the sheer scale of it all.
Let’s Go took the Saffron formula and dropped dynamite in it. It’s much more straightforward to get here now – instead of having to figure out where, why, and how to get tea, Brock just gives it to you. Most of the reworked cities look great in Let’s Go, but Saffron is particularly special. It’s got a sort of hustle and bustle that does its status as a city justice, and all of the new interior design for the most indoorsy narrative section in the game is phenomenal. While this obviously applies to the likes of Silph Co. and the Fighting Dojo, the real magic is visible in Sabrina’s new gym design. It’s probably the only gym in Pokemon history that’s capable of rivalling the ones in the anime.
I’ve already written about how Blaine is the best Gym Leader in Pokemon and I absolutely adore his gym, although that’s mainly contextual instead of strictly aesthetic. Sabrina’s gym is an absolute marvel in Let’s Go, a visual treat that blows its previous iterations clean out of the water. It keeps its famous gimmick – those annoying teleporter pads – but increases the overall scale to an extent where they actually make sense. The platforms are like bedazzled stages, all ascending up to the central peak where Kanto’s Psychic master looms large over any opponent who enters her midst. The first time I played, it reminded me of Sae’s palace in Persona 5 – it’s got that same sleek pizazz, like it’s the architectural manifestation of a billion dollars. It blew me away.
This is what I’m getting at when I say that future games need to take a leaf out of Let’s Go’s book. Let’s Go didn’t just say, “Gym with teleporters.” It said “let’s design a gym that looks even more impressive than the sprawling city surrounding it, complete with shine and sparkles that make it dizzyingly dazzling.” It ramped the aesthetic-o-meter to 11 and leaned heavily into the refined eloquence of a Psychic trainer. Alakazam actually belongs here, where its superior brain capacity is capable of rendering innumerable sensory inputs at once and returning wicked telekinetic blasts to add to the elegant noise of it all. It’s brilliant.
I know some of you hate Let’s Go for no reason, but you have to at least agree with me that Sabrina’s gym here is special. Show me another gym in the entire series that’s visually on par with this and I’ll quit writing and devote all of my time to learning how to telekinetically bend a spoon. I’m already basically psychic in knowing that there’s no way you can possibly disagree with me on this. Sabrina’s gym in Let’s Go makes every other one in the entire series look like a play area in an old-school McDonald’s next to a motorway junction. They’re all colour and noise for next to no reason. Sabrina’s gym, on the other hand, has real purpose – and it’s absolutely what we need more of as we inch closer to the inevitable launch of Gen 9.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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