How Pokémon Needs to Evolve to Maintain its Relevance
I’ve had a lifelong love affair with Pokémon, beginning when I was four years old when the walls of my room where plastered with Pokémon stickers. I am now 19, and I still play each new entry in the monster catching series. While the franchise finally made the jump to 3D in Pokémon X and Y, the games haven’t truly evolved in years. While this isn’t an issue for fans, many are clambering for some sort of dramatic change. Some think that we need a multi-region console game, with fancy graphics, expansive online features and every Pokémon that has ever existed. While this would surely please millions of people, and maybe even boost console sales, the series has always been focused on portables, and with the release of Yo-Kai Watch on the horizon, there will be more competition in the monster collecting space, specifically on the Nintendo 3DS. With this in mind we have to look at how the series can evolve from its currently model, as opposed to taking on an entirely form.
Pokémon has always followed the same pattern. You start off in a small town in a remote corner of the region, bump into a nutty professor and receive a starter Pokémon from them. After a tearful goodbye with your mom you are off on your great adventure, going from gym to gym, stopping occasionally to lay the beat down on a team bent on world domination. After collecting all eight badges, wiping out the criminal organization, and training a team of deadly, elemental monsters, you head to the elite four. After decimating the four final bosses and the champion you then wander the land, catching more Pokémon and seeking new thrills.
This is how it was in Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998 and it hasn’t changed since. The series obviously can’t flip the formula on its head, that would turn away fans who have come back generation after generation. Instead of presenting such straightforward progression, maybe change the layout of the game. Instead of starting in a small town maybe you’re a city kid, raised among the sky scrapers, and when you finally leave the bustling metropolis you will come across the series usual forests and grassy trails. This little change wouldn’t drastically alter the game, but it will simply make the familiar feel new again. But I know what you’re saying right about now; “just changing where the story starts won’t keep away the repetition that’s setting in”, and you’re right. The formula is starting to become contrived, so keep the basics such as the eight gyms and the dastardly criminal syndicates, and open them up. Allow players to choose how they want to tell their story. Maybe gyms don’t have a specific order, or maybe side quests are embraced and the main path isn’t the only reason for continuing. I’m not a game developer, but I realize that, from a programming perspective, this is all a little difficult given that the series is an RPG.
These changes would ensure that the DNA of the series remains intact, while simultaneously creating an experience that stands apart from the rest of the franchise. All of these changes might sound like something that should take effect immediately, but in order for a change in a series of this caliber to work it must not be rushed. For this very reason Pokémon needs to take a break. This year will mark the first year since 2010 that we have not seen a release in the creature catching series, and this is undoubtedly to make room for Yo-Kai Watch, and Pokémon Z will probably rear its monster filled head in 2016, maybe Pokémon should wait till 2017 to return to the gaming market. Fans will clamber for a new title, drool over the new features, and sing the praises of this game they have waited so long for.
Pokémon is an incredibly important title for Nintendo. It consistently sells millions of copies, still has a thriving media empire, and appeals to gamers of all ages. In order for the series to truly thrive in the coming years, it’s going to need to evolve (pun intended). With Nintendo’s library constantly expanding, they need to make sure that nothing grows stale or repetitive. Mario and Zelda are inherently different with each new entry, but Pokémon is the one franchise in the big N’s pantheon that needs to prove why it’s still relevant. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that Pokémon will start to make some changes, and return as the epic, monster collecting romp we all know and love.