It’s getting to the point where I have been walking around on this planet for a long ass time, and in spite of the leaps and bounds I’ve made toward the elusive feeling of ‘adulthood’, I can’t help but squirm in excitement over the release of a new Pokémon game. It was something that used to embarrass me, but now I embraced it, I love the Pokémon series and I am counting the days until I can pick a copy of either Pokémon X or Y.
So what is it that makes me, and many like me, excited for a 15 odd year old series? What kept me picking up games in the series when many never made it past their Red version or their Silver? Well I could be here all day explaining what Pokémon does right and how it’s managed to become the media goliath it has today. Instead I’ll just break it down and explain why the first game managed to engage everyone, from the bright-eyed, snot nosed child to the disgruntled old man.
- You played a character as unassuming as any other person in the world. In Red and blue, you played a lone 10 year old buy, he was simply a kid, never spoke and he never took light away from the real stars of the show; the Pokémon. The trainer was always simply a place-holder for the player, a collection of about 12 pixels that let you know roughly where you were.
- Pokémon were adorable badasses, they came in all shapes and sizes and would often start off small and cute, before turning into huge engines of destruction, or maybe they didn’t. Each Pokémon was something it’s very own despite their simple sprites, and the strange sounds they made coupled with sometimes rather dark Pokédex descriptions helped us carve our own personalities out for the guys.
- The endless possibilities, With 81 breeds of Pokémon available in the first game, each with their own types and move sets, the composition of a squad could take nearly any form. Unlike other JRPGs (early Final fantasy games come to mind) that had a defined number of player characters, Pokémon allows it’s player not only to catch as many Pokémon as they want, it encouraged it.
As the series has evolved and progressed, these main points have been the basis for what made the series recognisable, no matter how much the graphics improved and the Pokémon changed, the series was always about a nobody becoming a somebody, and making several interesting friends along the way. This simple groundwork may have gotten you a few games, but it has taken something more for Game Freak to get their claws into us and continue gripping tightly onto our hearts, and our money. While many developers have shown that they are happy simply rubbing a little elbow grease into their game and release a glossier version of what is essentially the same product with every iteration, Game Freak have continued to add, to take away and to change what we find in a Pokémon game, and in spite of their reputation for being formulaic, have managed to keep surprising us.
There are two major aspects to the Pokémon games in this modern gaming world, there is the game that involves a trainer collecting gym badges, taking down a criminal organisation and becoming the best, like no one ever was, and then there is the metagame. Pokémon, which may come as a surprise to some, has a huge metagame fan base, a group the developers have been encouraging since the very beginning. A number of changes and things introduced into the series have been partially inspired for the sake of balancing the metagame, like the introduction of the steel and dark types in 2nd gen. I could sit here and start talking about how horribly overpowered psychic types were in the first games and how dark and steel types were necessary, but I can’t. When I first heard about dark and steel types, the foremost thought in my mind is how freaking cool they were. And while there is something of an inward cringe at Game Freak’s dogged refusal to introduce a light type in favour of fairy type, I am hyped to see yet another type added to the mix.
While battling is important though, it’s become equally important within the games to break up the time between battles by adding different ways in which we can interact with Pokémon within the world and how the Pokémon themselves interact with the world around them. What was once simply battling was increased with contests introduced in 3rd gen, the Pokéathlon and companion Pokémon introduced in the Gold and Silver remakes and now Pokémon that can be ridden around the world. The Pokémon world has become much more real and breathing place, with not only the main series, but spin off games, the anime and manga giving people more and more ways in which to view this world. None of which I’m particularly interested in, but it’s cool that it’s there, y’know.
While it’s always nice to get a bunch of new Pokémon to use, it’s also good that Game Freak continue to find new ways in which we can play the game aside from battling, they’re happy to discard ideas and come up with new ones, no matter how popular or unpopular they were in previous generations. While the meta games fans might not necessarily feel the same way about this, there are new aspects to battling that may turn the entire metagame as it exists currently on its head. The introduction of the new fairy type is already expected to finally put a huge dent in the overpowered dragon teams of the current game, not only that but the addition of a fairy type to previous existing Pokémon might bring some of them out of the lower tiers and give them new life in the high level battle tiers.
The other big change is the much talked about mega evolutions. I love the idea of mega evolutions, an opinion the internet at large doesn’t seem to share, many of them coming out with some rather dismissive comments surrounding the whole thing. Mega evolutions are a type of temporary form change that only happens during a battle if a particular Pokémon is holding a particular item. Mega evolution introduces further possibilities that alternate forms introduced in previous generations, it opens up the possibility of adding a further ‘evolution’ to third stage Pokémon or legendary Pokémon that traditionally don’t evolve. It can also make for completely new tactics in battle, given the opportunity to change one’s type, ability and base stats between battles or even in battle with attacks like fling.
Mega evolutions have really caught my interest in the upcoming titles, anyone who plays these games has their favourites, Pokémon from back in the day they love to use, and maybe in the intervening time those Pokémon have been overtaken by a newer model. Game Freak have continuously shown that no Pokémon will ever be left behind, coming back to the several generations later to give them a belated evolution. Mega evolution is one more new mechanic that can breathe life into our old favourites in ways we could have never thought of.
All this talk of new mechanics though and I haven’t even talked about the most obvious change that takes place between the generations, and it’s the one I have been the most impressed with from what I have seen of X and Y thus far; the graphics. With the improvement in technologies, each handheld console has gotten its own Pokémon game to showcase how it has improved from the previous hardware. Each new device has improved the graphics and the sounds dramatically even the 5th generation, which shared a platform with its predecessor turned heads by introducing fully animated sprites. X and Y have made what is arguably the biggest graphical step in the series history by creating fully animated 3D models for each and every Pokémon, which will number well over 700 by the time this game comes out. Not only that, we’re finally getting to break away from the tile based movement in the overworld making the game seem more realistic than ever before.
I have been incredibly impressed with what I have seen from Pokémon X and Y from a graphical standpoint, both in battle and in the over-world. This, coupled with the new type, mega evolutions and the new battle types (sky battles and horde battles) has shown me that this is the biggest jump forward in a Pokémon game since the series began. For a series that is joked about for being so formulaic, it has managed to surprise me over and over and defy my expectations and my predictions. While Pokémon certainly isn’t a series for everyone, they’re very smart RPGs that have built on very solid foundation and they have continued to innovate and give us something completely new with each passing generation. So yeah, I might be a full grown adult (at least legally) but I love me some Pokémon.