In the Shock of All Shocks, the New Pokémon Game Looks… New
It can be hard to see, when you’re in the Pokémon community, that the main line games are sadly similar.
Part of the reason for this, I think, is that the Pokémon series gets such colorful and unexpected spin-offs. Everyone remembers Pokémon Go, of course, but do you remember Pokémon Ranger, the series of games that mostly involved drawing circles around a wild Pokémon really fast? Or that Magikarp themed tap game from a few years ago?
It’s not that Pokémon has no creativity. Each new installment has hundreds of new monsters, custom-made for that release. The worlds are new, with ten or more unique towns to explore, areas of vastly differing styles and climate. Each the harshest of critics have trouble saying that the worlds aren’t well done, with cohesive designs, colors, and styles for every generation.
It takes a break from the franchise, a step-back and a wealth of distance, for the Pokémon fans to see how utterly, completely, boringly same these games are.
And honestly? Who can blame them?
It’s working. The formula sells millions of copies, every time. It’s a winning combination, purchased by old fans and new ones alike. With moderate effort, the nostalgia factor cashes in by the billions. Nothing says there series has to change.
But I want it to.
I’ve played, though not completed, every generation of Pokémon games. Over and over I’ve paid up to $60 for their product. I’ve bought remakes of games I already owned, just to see them on new consoles and bigger screens. But I only played the most recent one for about twenty hours, which is a new personal low for the series. I don’t think I was even halfway through the storyline when I realized I was bored.
It’s always the same. I’m not the first one to say this, as the original generations of fans grow up and start seeing these games more and more for what they are. One of the biggest criticisms I saw of Sword and Shield, the newest generation of mainline games, was this. They were good, but after you got over how pretty they were, you got bored. And given Game Freak’s tight control on the reigns, I’d seen a lot of fans saddened that the games they loved would never be more.
It seems Game Freak was listening.
An open world “action” adventure, Pokémon Arceus depicts an undeveloped Sinnoh region, the land where Pokémon Diamond and Pearl will be set. Pokémon’s version of medieval Japan, Pokémon Arceus resembles the Legend of Zelda’s Breath of the Wild more than they do previous Pokémon entries.
Your character can do a gymnastic forward roll, the Poké Balls are made of wood, and there aren’t any roads to follow in the areas shown in the trailer. I hesitate to call it “open world”, only because today’s presentation never does, but at the least there are wide open areas, something fans loved in Pokémon Sword and Shield.
From the outside, this may not seem like much. While many Pokémon games are now old, each tried to include modern technology for their time. Some of my first Pokémon games gave me a phone with which to call my mother, something I wasn’t even old enough to have in real life. Pokémon main games have gone to other dimensions, have made Pokémon giants or shine like stars. For the number of fans they have, the power they have, the amount their games are played on YouTube and Twitch… I can still say most fans did not expect to be surprised today.
In fact, the other part of today’s announcement, a remake of the Diamond and Pearl Pokémon games, surprised no one. Most fans called that weeks ago, and expected something else, smaller, to go with it for the big “twenty-fifth anniversary announcement” today. Most people had their money on a few crossover items for Animal Crossing.
Can you see how it would be a problem that a company this large couldn’t surprise (and excite) their fans?
Sure, millions of copies of that Diamond/Pearl remake would still be sold. But today may genuinely be a turning point for the Pokémon franchise, at least in their public’s opinion. Even the Diamond/Pearl remake announcement had a surprise:
It’s another thing that must seem trivial, to those outside the Pokémon community. A game developed by another company? But Game Freak, the success that it is, has never seemed to loosen their control, even a little. Allowing another company to do an update to an existing game is so much more than they seemed willing to do before, and it is probably the reason that the new Pokémon Arceus could be developed by 2022. Game Freak has been accused many times of wasting years redeveloping the same games for the nostalgia money grab, and it counters a lot of negative opinion to see them open up like this.
Now, will Pokémon Arceus be a good game? I don’t know yet. It speaks to Game Freak’s previous reputation that I’m cautiously optimistic. A part of me doesn’t fully believe that they could pull this off, commit to something new fully, and develop a new concept into a fully fleshed reality. And I should keep in mind that it doesn’t fully change the formula, with basic battling elements still intact as always.
Still, they’ve surprised me once. I hope they will again.