It’s that time again. The internet is abuzz and we now know that our journey and quest to catch them all is not quite over. And though some are reluctant to continue the fun, the majority of the world has put back on their League Champion hats as the new Pokémon games, Sun and Moon, are about to be released.
It’s been 20 years since a tiny company called Game Freak first gave us Pocket Monsters on the Game Boy and with every year there’s been steady growth. You probably noticed that the prices of used Pokémon games stay high and that the new copies never drop in price. That’s all because Pokémon has established itself as a worldwide megabrand that remains popular even two decades later. The video games, the merchandise, the card games, and everything else with Pikachu’s cute face on it—it’s all only getting bigger.
But some people have put off the games over the years despite buying into the franchise at an early age with the excuse that the games remain the same. The formula goes like this: You choose a starter Pokémon, you catch more Pokémon, and you battle gym leaders, while also beating up bad guys in some world-threatening plot. Sound about right? Playboy did an interview recently with the Consumer Marketing Director for The Pokémon Company International, J.C. Smith, in which he stated, “For us, it’s really about…let’s stay the course, this is what’s cool about Pokémon…People have responded for 20 years, why change that?”
But that’s not entirely true.
Over the last 20 years, Pokémon as a franchise has grown considerably with numerous changes in game design and technological advances that have created layers upon layers of improved gameplay every generation.
Let’s start with the original games. Pokémon Red and Blue created the brand, introducing collectable and tradable monsters that you befriend and use to fight against each other in turn-based combat sequences to achieve status in the world as a trainer. The game’s simple core rules have continued:
- You can only carry six Pokémon at a time.
- They can only learn four moves at a time.
- Badges earned will make Pokémon of certain levels obey you.
- Pokémon have types that are stronger or weaker to other types.
- There’s always a champion to beat.
From there we were introduced to a larger world to explore than just a single region. Gold and Silver expanded on the type system and included Steel and Dark types to balance and mix up the battle system.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire would go on to further improve that system with Double Battles. Now, not only did you have to be concerned about your Pokémon in battle, but you had to coordinate how their area moves affected each other as well. You were also given an added wrinkle to consider when building and customizing your partners through their abilities and natures. These allowed certain Pokémon to come with different abilities than the standard versions and also grow in different aspects further than others. For breeders, this made customizing a Pokémon for battle more exciting as well as giving further incentive to catch them all in order to find the right one for the job.
Diamond and Pearl were the first games to introduce Wi-Fi for trading and battling. What used to be done tediously with a link cable could now be done through infrared recognition on the Nintendo DS. Pokémon was now literally a global phenomenon that connected its fans no matter where they lived.
On top of that, they tweaked their battle system once more by changing their Physical and Special moves from just being type representative to the Pokémon itself and instead into an inherent trait of the move itself. This made it reliant on the Pokémon’s stats in either Physical or Special Attack in order to be effective, and it added an extra layer of importance to breeding and training.
Black and White went even further and introduced Triple and Rotation battles into the mix. This made coordinating moves and area effects even harder than before. For classic trainers, this was a welcomed challenge that raised the bar once again.
These games spawned the first sequels ever in the form of Black 2 and White 2, and introduced a new concept of Pokémon fusion for its main legendary Pokémon, Kyurem. It also added a new World Tournament feature that utilized all the Gym Leaders from the previous games for new and old trainers alike to combat. All of them received upgrades and they were intentionally built to be more challenging this time around.
Finally, we just finished Pokémon X and Y, where the entire series received a visual overhaul. For the first time, Pokémon was fully rendered as a cel-shaded 3D game in all aspects. The Pokémon sprites and move animations were redone, and the top-down perspective of each game was now changed to support the look of a 3D game.
Once again we were introduced to a new type, Fairy, that would add more depth to the battle system, and now our training would be made easier through accessible growth stats called Effort Values (EVs), so you could track and grow your Pokémon more closely.
This generation also introduced the Pokémon Bank, which acts as an online storage for all of your Pokémon that you can transfer from any of your previous games. Plus, a fun new online trading feature that allowed you to mystery trade any Pokémon you want for an unknown Pokémon that someone else was sending somewhere in the world.
The Future of Pokémon
News is now trickling in about the next generation of Pokémon, Sun and Moon. We now know the starters: an owl-like flying grass type named Rowlet, a kitten-like fire type named Litten, and a seal-like water type named Popplio . The region, Alola, has also been revealed, and it appears to be heavily influenced by Hawaii.
What new mechanics or features Sun and Moon will give us are still unknown, but I can say with confidence that long-time fans will have something new to look forward to, as always. Because Game Freak will always be consistent in offering us change and that is what keeps Pokémon going as a franchise. It may be true to its core and it may be true to its brand, but more than anything else, no one can ever call the Pokémon games stale or stagnant.