Is Pokémon past its prime?

Pokémon is a name that almost everyone is familiar with all over the world. This series was such a massive part of my childhood that I would spend numerous nights trying to use light provided by the streetlights outside my bedroom window so I could see my Game Boy’s screen — real gamers remember the days before backlit screens. 

Is Pokémon being held back? Is it too far past its prime? I have my personal opinion about some of the more recent games in the series, which we’ll get into later — however, Pokémon Legends Arceus, Game Freak’s upcoming game, got me thinking about just how long it has taken for Game Freak to finally make something new and different.

Pokemon Needs to Change!

The golden days

I can still remember it so vividly: my uncle getting my brother and I Game Boys for Christmas, and each of us was given a version of the original Pokémon — I got Pokémon Blue.

From this point on I was completely hooked on the franchise, and I put so many hours into that game. Thinking back, the game had become popular at an absurdly quick pace, as I remember going to school and everyone was suddenly talking about Pokémon. It’s a time I recall very fondly, as everyone was just so excited about the same thing!

After this came the second generation of Pokémon and, for me, this was the highest peak Pokémon reached. Pokémon Silver and Gold brought about a hundred brand new and never before seen Pokémon, brought back the original 151 Pokémon, introduced us to unique shiny Pokémon, allowed us to travel back to the original game’s region Kanto and take on its gyms — and finally they gave us Lugia, one of the greatest legendary Pokémon designs ever made. 

To quickly fanboy about Lugia for a moment, even the backstory of this Pokémon’s design is an incredibly fascinating tale for me. The design was originally conceived by Takeshi Shudo, the head writer of the Pokémon anime. Unlike most Pokémon designs during this time, Lugia was not based on a real animal but was instead designed solely for the Pokémon 2000 movie.

Despite Lugia’s masculine sounding voice in the film, Shudo’s original idea was for Lugia to be a maternal Pokémon that was simultaneously male and female: this dual nature was to be one of the film’s main messages — that people can be different and still coexist without conflict.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia taking over and talking for me, but these first two generations held inexplicable magic; they simply made you smile from ear to ear as you set out on these epic adventures. 

Pokemon Needs to Change!

I choose you! Third dimension!

Fast forward to 2013 and Pokémon  X and Y have just been released — and with them a breath of fresh air flowing into the Pokémon franchise in the form of 3D characters, cities, towns, and Pokémon of course. Outside of being 3D, X and Y brought us roughly 70 new species of Pokémon plus Mega-Evolution, along with welcome features such as character customisation. 

Now my memory of X and Y was quite positive. I certainly didn’t think the games were bad; in fact, I would say that I enjoyed them. However, Game Freak likes to do this sneaky thing where they will add in classic elements to slightly improve the reception of a Pokémon game that is in some way “risky” — perhaps it isn’t adding a whole new Pokédex, or it’s taking the series in a new direction.

That is exactly what they did in X and Y, by allowing the player to choose another starter Pokémon from the original trio of Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. If this wasn’t enough to get the nostalgia overflowing in older players, they also added Mewtwo to the game as well. 

Sun and Moon then tried to change things up slightly by adding the “Island Trials” in place of the Gyms, but this ultimately served the same purpose as Gyms. This generation would also get rid of “HM moves” and replace them with more interactive features such as being able to ride on a Pokémon as opposed to clicking “Fly” and then teleporting to the selected town. 

Pokemon Needs to Change!

GameFreak used First Home Console Release! But it failed…?

Now we arrive in 2019 and Pokémon Sword and Shield, the very first Pokémon games to come out on the Switch, have just released. Now, the biggest issue with this game is actually the games that came before — and I’m not talking about Pokémon games. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released in 2017 along with the Switch, and that game did things that no Zelda before it had done — to the point where many Zelda fans love the game, with some even placing it at the top of their lists. Heck, I replayed the game earlier this year and massively enjoyed my time with it again. Sure, the world isn’t the most densely populated, but the tools and freedom given to the player are so perfect that there is so much fun to have. 

Xenoblade Chronicles 2, my absolute favorite game to release on the Switch, does everything! This game has amazing worlds filled to the brim with all sorts of monsters and roaming super-bosses, quest-givers, and side content, along with the damn waifus! To top it all off, both Zelda and Xenoblade were graphically great games that make use of their own unique styles — which really helps when a game ages, as an art style can be timeless. 

These were all areas in which Pokémon Sword and Shield fell flat for me. The graphics more of the same with no real uniqueness, the new “Wild Areas” were just large open flat regions that replaced the classic routes — and finally, most devastating was the weak Pokédex at launch.

This was the time to go full force and release the greatest Pokémon game with the biggest Pokédex, an amazing world, and a brand new art style. Instead, it felt as though Game Freak had relied too heavily on the fact that the game has the name “Pokémon” — and therefore they knew that people would buy it anyway. 

So here we are now in 2021, and Pokémon Legends Arceus will be releasing in January 2022. This is the time when GameFreak needs to learn from the mistakes of the past releases and make something truly incredible using this world that people all over the world adore.

I want to feel that magic again. Pokémon needs to change, and to give us something new. Here’s hoping that Pokémon Legends Arceus will give us what we’re hoping for. And fingers crossed that Nintendo’s E3 Direct gives us reason to get excited!

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Conor Evans
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