Soapbox features allow our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, Pokémon fanatic Arjun talks about his recent disappointment with the mainline titles in the series, and his hopes for the upcoming Switch version.
When it was revealed that a core Pokémon RPG is under development for a Nintendo Switch release last summer at E3 2017, it’s fair to say that the news was received with smiles all round. Around this same time, we also learned that a sequel to Pokémon Sun and Moon was set to release during November 2017, which delighted some, and sort of confused many. The reveal and build-up of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon caused something of a divide among the wider Pokémon fanbase because of how quickly a sequel had arrived and how similar it seemed to its predecessor, but the mouths of many were still watering from the former news regarding a main series game gracing the home console market for the first time ever.
With all of the above said, I felt compelled to write this opinion piece. Here, I’ll aim to express my thoughts and feelings on how I think the Pokémon franchise (as far as its video games are concerned) has evolved for the seemingly worse, due to the recent games possessing several new features, mechanics, and a general sense of direction that has arguably steered the series away from the core essence and key ingredients of what once made it so special – and what the upcoming Switch arrival could learn from these games to remedy them. It's a tough topic to discuss, but I feel honesty is key when addressing a buildup of thoughts and feelings about a franchise I've been passionate about for nearly two decades – and I know I'm not alone with this mindset.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where this notable change occurred, but I think a good place to start would be 2013’s Pokémon X and Y. Being the first set of Pokémon games on the Nintendo 3DS system allowed for the developers to enhance the series’ aesthetics greatly, moving away from the traditional top-down view as well as avoiding some of the awkward 2.5D visuals we witnessed in Pokémon Black and White and Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. Keeping my nostalgia hat off my head here, this, for the most part, was a welcome change. It really showed how far the series has come, and it allowed for players to encounter Pokémon and their environments like never before. To many, it was also a tease of what a much dreamed about Pokémon console game could look like, and this fresh perspective almost became the sole selling point for Generation VI.
Naturally, however, with this art style came a slew of dialogue and cutscenes, which, to many, isn’t a problem. For me, however, this is where I feel I began to notice how these games changed, not in terms of the obvious gameplay mechanics and new monsters to collect etc., but more so their general feel and aura as Pokémon games. I think it really marked the transition of the focus and emphasis being on the game’s NPCs (non-player characters), plot, and as mentioned, cutscenes. Again, to many, this is a welcome addition as it helps add that ‘cinematic’ element to the adventure, but to me, it started to eat into the notion of me roaming and exploring the world with my trusty critters, as I felt that I had to care more about the many characters forcefully introduced and explained to me through the many presented cutscenes. It almost felt like the actual Pokémon took a backseat and were only needed as a catalyst to shift the game from event to event and from story point to story point. You may disagree, of course.
This wasn't the case previously – two notable examples off the top of my head are Lance and Eusine in Pokémon Gold and Silver, and Pokémon Crystal for the latter, where we learn a little bit about them, but not to the point where the Pokémon themselves are almost overlooked. Instead, the Pokémon are the focal point, and while not taking ample amounts of time out from the game, we still get to learn about each character's interests and motifs. I'm sure there are plenty more examples, but hopefully you catch my drift. Going back to my main point here, I’m not saying the art style is directly responsible for this, but I do feel it certainly influenced the decision of the developers to implement more of these cinematic cutscenes, which I feel didn’t always work as for me this took its toll on the flow of the game and shifted the focus away from what we, or at least I, really care about. With that said, perhaps the arriving new Pokémon game for Nintendo's latest hybrid machine will revert back to focusing on the Pokémon and not flooding players with ample amounts of dialogue and cutscenes – as well as capture an even more evolved art style due to its hardware capabilities, of course.
Moving on, I really do feel that some of the concepts introduced in the last two generations have steered the series away from an adventure about you catching and raising Pokémon as creatures in natural habitats, and more towards a Digimon-esque franchise that almost reminds me of playing an RPG like Fire Emblem due to the aforementioned focus on characters, story, and plot. Mega Evolution is a neat concept in theory, but the fact that only certain ‘Mon can do so, with a select few being able to Mega Evolve into more than one form, sort of makes me frown upon the idea. Popular Pokémon seem to have been favoured over others, which I feel can certainly influence a player's decisions during an adventure play-through. This notion also heavily impacts the competitive nature of the game, but I digress. Sticking close to the argument at hand, the fact that it’s conveyed as quite an “artificial process” stems the concept further away from Pokémon as natural creatures and more so about them as ultimate fighting machines. Of course, I’m aware that concepts such as Evolutionary Stones have been present from day one, and yes, we do have our Magnemites and Voltorbs throughout the series' illustrious history of monster designs, but it’s hard to argue that Mega Evolution takes this concept to an entirely different level, to the point where Pokémon no longer feel like innovative takes on real-world animals and objects. Since when did Pokémon become Transformers?
Now if we couple the previous point with Z-Moves and Ultra Beasts, then, well, the franchise for me has really started to feel like a game based off an anime, rather than vice versa (which is what it actually is). A standout moment for me was when I saw the release of Mimikyu’s Z-Move on the official Pokémon Instagram account. It’s called “Let’s Snuggle Forever”, and as I watched the video, I wasn't best pleased. I couldn't believe that that was the name of a Pokémon move, and even the presentation of the move's text (and all Z-Moves for that matter) irked me. Much of the comments in the video’s comment section also seemed to share my feelings. I don't think I've felt as disappointed since discovering Klefki, a Pokémon based on a set of keys introduced in Pokémon X and Y. That Pokémon still annoys me to this day, but I've learnt to accept it considering the aforementioned Magnemite and Voltorb argument. Anyway, what one thinks a Pokémon "should" be is an entirely different debate for another day. Even though we’re sticking with the video games here, the feelings I have towards Mega Evolution and Z-Moves are similar to my thoughts on the existence of Ash-Greninja in the anime – a Greninja that shares such a strong bond with its Trainer, that it grows more powerful and even takes on the characteristic look of its Trainer's attire (in this case, Ash Ketchum). As you may be aware, it's also available to obtain within Pokémon Sun and Moon. It's all just a bit weird to me really, and once again makes me feel like the games are now starting to be based off, or at least take much more influence from, anime-esque concepts.
As for Ultra Beasts, heck, I still don't know what they are exactly and why they exist. They felt so uninspired and I didn't feel compelled or excited to catch them at all – or at least even research them a bit further. And to a similar extent, for me Legendary and Mythical have lost their aura as rare and powerful beasts that the player should be concerned with entirely. Maybe that's just due to the developers constantly churning out these creatures over the years of Pokémon games – with each new one almost being depicted as the most powerful to date, rendering the previous ones somewhat second fiddle – leading to some of us feeling "desensitised" and a lack of awe when witnessing them, with no real reason to really care. Here's an idea I had, though unorthodox. How about the new main series Pokémon game for the Switch acts as some sort of "celebration" of the entire franchise, with no new Legendary or Mythical Pokémon (and perhaps even no new regular Pokémon), and instead a focus on the current ones we have, and all the other Pokémon in general? Shoot my wings down if you must, but that's what I'd like to see, instead of being forced to care about yet another pair/trio of Legendary Pokémon. I think a home console debut of a core Pokémon RPG is the perfect opportunity for this sort of game, celebrating the series' entire history from Kanto to Alola (or thereabouts), with the console's power and portability being the focal point in making up for the game's lack of new creatures and/or regions. Of course, it's unlikely – we're probably going to get Generation VIII – but that's just me.
As for how much Pokémon has grown outside of the adventure, I don't have a problem with it at all. I think it's great that Pokémon's main series games are so special and unique in that they offer many avenues for the many different types of player to fulfil their inner Poké desires throughout their main adventure and post-game. And it's never been more apparent since the past two generations of Pokémon game, and I commend these latest instalments for that greatly. Into breeding Pokémon? It's there. Love contests? Have at it. Wanna catch 'em all? That can be achieved. Enjoy shiny hunting? With enough luck and perseverance, you can catch 'em all in a second colour palette. And of course, if you simply like to outshine the competition, there's so much to learn in the competitive scene that it's an entirely different monster altogether. And I think it's vital that all of that remains captured in the franchise's new Switch outing, especially due to its enhanced power and hybrid functionality.
However, my point being is that, though I've delved in these post-game activities throughout the years, I've never been one for them to a great extent. For me personally, the importance of a Pokémon game comes in its adventure and the feeling that you're on an epic quest, with nothing but you and your beloved party of six – something I feel the generations of yesteryear captured so well, and the latest instalments have not. With this aspect of the games being somewhat dented for me personally, there hasn't been much left for me to enjoy out of a Pokémon game recently. Of course, as mentioned, if I was extremely into some of the post-game activities such as filling the 'Dex or competitive battling, the latest 3D games would've been much more worthwhile experiences for sure. After all, everyone wants different things from the games they play.
Regardless, come rain or shine, I’ll forever be a Pokémon fan, and despite me not taking the plunge with Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, I'll continue to stick with the franchise as much as I can. The past few generations introduced some great ideas and concepts, and have taken the series to new heights, but they've also veered the franchise’s main series games a little too off course for my personal tastes. Again, please don't read this and think I'm simply berating the franchise due to it not going down the route I'd selfishly prefer, but instead consider it to be an article where I voice an opinion about my disappointment in the recent direction of a series I've been a dedicated fan of for years – and that I'd like to see the new Switch title adopt the formula that won the hearts of hundreds of thousands to begin with. I've done my best to ensure that it's not simply nostalgia talking, especially as I've played through Pokémon Y and Pokémon Sun thoroughly and have felt somewhat disappointed during both occasions. Let's just see what the upcoming main series Pokémon game brings to the table on the Switch!
Are you in agreement with Arjun on this one? Has the Pokémon series lost its way? (335 votes)
I agree; I’m not happy with where the franchise's main series games have gone and what it's all become as a whole.
I partially agree; I’m not too keen on some of the new concepts, but I’m still a fan and will keep playing.
I disagree, I still love the new games and welcome any and all additions of new concepts to help evolve the franchise.
I don’t really know. It is what it is, I guess!
What’s a Pokémon? Just kidding, though I've hardly/never played these games and really couldn’t care less about the franchise.
Please login to vote in this poll.