Things sure have changed since the mid ’90s. Where once you could only hope to see a new Pokémon game every three years, of late, Nintendo seem to be subjecting us to Pokémania on an annual basis, in some form or the other. Whether it’s another Mystery Dungeon game or a Ranger game, one of the many average WiiWare games they’ve been putting out of late, or the main line of RPGs, the games have consistently hastened in their release cycle over the years.
Just in 2009, we saw news of Pokémon Platinum, Pokémon Rumble, Poképark Wii: Pikachu’s Big Adventure, Pokémon HeartGold / SoulSilver and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of the Sky. What was once a rare event meant to be cherished is now a constant barrage of average to great games that have eventually diminished the "special" feel of the franchise. We’re at 493 Pokémon now, and just recently, yet another generation of monsters was confirmed for the upcoming mainline RPG. Those, up above, are Zoroa / Zoroark from GEN-5. They’ll be in the upcoming 13th movie.
Perhaps this is why I haven’t really gotten into a Pokémon game since the days of Pokémon Crystal. The early Pokémon RPGs were my gateway into the Japanese role-playing genre in general, so they hold a very special place in my memories. Back then, 251 seemed like a vast number, but more importantly, once you let that number sink in, it seemed manageable. It didn’t feel like it detracted from the unique feel of each individual monster. Obviously, at close to 500 Pokémon, this isn’t the case anymore.
There was a real sense of discovery back in the old days, which doesn’t seem nearly as grand in the newer games. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown older. Or maybe the fact that there are about two dozen "legendaries" now has something to do with it. I can’t tell because the designs of GEN-4 in Diamond / Pearl were almost offensive to my eyes (Curse you, Chimchar, you filthy little ape), which turned me off from playing them entirely. In fact, I would probably have enjoyed them more if they’d used the same monsters they’d created up until GEN-3.
See, I don’t think Pokémon is necessarily about meeting a bunch of new monsters each time. To me, it’s about that old sense of discovery, which I’ve learnt can be conveyed using the same old monsters in a different setting. I remember the smallest things about Gold / Silver / Crystal (abbr. G / S / C) that I appreciated. Being able to go out at night, which made adventuring feel that much more thrilling. Being able to create different kinds of balls. Running into the red Gyarados. Getting on the train for the first time. Using the radio.
To this day, I haven’t even gotten around to using all 251 monsters from Kanto and Johto yet — personally, I don’t need more than, say, 50-ish new monsters in GEN-5. In fact, l generally stuck to the same team back in the G/S/C days until I watched the Raikou: Legend of Thunder OVA. That made a lot of the Pokémon I hadn’t paid a second thought to look very cool, which broadened my views on the Pokémon population a little, and encouraged me to try using different teams. I thought, "Hey, they can all be cool, depending on who you are!"
The way I looked at it, your team was a reflection of your personality. And well…since, at 16, you don’t really have a solid idea of who you are, I was training around seven different teams, each one with their own box in Bill’s storage system. Go figure.
Even dating all the way back to the originals, it was always about the discovery. In Pokémon Yellow, one of the most memorable moments for me was reading about the escaped experiment in the notes at the Pokémon mansion. Another was meeting the mysterious bird Pokémon dwelling in the Power Plant. In G/S/C, there were little bits of story that connected the legendaries, for you to piece together if you were interested. It was never forced upon you, but it was there, waiting to be discovered. Game Freak created a very "real" world, but it just didn’t feel that way after Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald, which was the last generation I squeezed some enjoyment out of.
That’s what it comes down to. Pokémon, unlike most JRPGs, is about your adventure as a player. It’s about the things you discover, the Pokémon you capture, and the way you train them. It’s a very "personal" experience. There’s something oddly emotionally moving about biking along a lonely numbered route at night, all by yourself, with only your radio and your Pokéballs for company.
It makes me wonder what they could possibly add to GEN-5 that could capture that feel once more, not for the next, younger generation of players that Nintendo target with every new game, but for those "lapsed gamers" they keep talking about. Obviously, I’m very excited for HeartGold and SoulSilver since they play on my nostalgia, but I would very much like to see some sort of indication as to the direction Game Freak are taking the next game in.
I’m slightly afraid that they’re losing track of what made the original games appealing, though, I’m also aware no one could make a better Pokémon game than them. So, since I can only wait just like everyone else, off the top of my head, here’s a few ideas I’d love to see:
- Players starting out in different cities, depending on a personality test taken at the start of the game.
- Ask the player, "Have you played Pokémon before?" at the start of the game. If the answer is "Yes," allow them to select a more grown up trainer and bypass the beginners speech from Professor [insert wood]. It isn’t "discovery" if you’re hearing it for the millionth time, guys!
- Allowing players to visit each other’s games like in Animal Crossing.
- More events and quests instead of more new Pokémon.
- Feeling connected to other "trainers" rather than to "players." Of course, the inclusion of voice chat makes the illusion much harder to maintain, but there has to be a way around this problem.
- Personalized or altered stories for different players. The tales of other trainers’ (players’) adventures being relayed to you in your game.
- More "special" versions of existing Pokémon with their own stories (red Gyarados) instead of more legendaries.
What other suggestions can you come up with? Do you still love the franchise as much as you used to? Fire away in comments…there’s no such thing as too much Pokémon talk!