I could start this piece about Pokémon‘s historic and surprising rise to worldwide phenomenon, but I bet you’ve heard that told ’round the campfire a few times. Instead, I want to talk about something else entirely.
When I was a child, liking video games was considered a niche thing. Very few classmates of mine were as big a gamer as I was, and fewer would ever talk with me about it (both from a lack of interest and a hesitation in myself to bare myself to the world). To some extent, it almost seemed as though enjoying video games was a sort of exclusive conduct reserved for nerds and those with a particular appetite for technology. Almost like how people consider fetishes now. It’s just one of those things that some people have and it wasn’t particularly fancy to flaunt. Pokémon‘s arrival likely cracked the surface of opening video games to a wider reach of audiences, but I can offer no insight as to how it affected my specific community: I was young and unobservant.
Not until 2007-ish, when Nintendo released the Wii, had I noticed any change in the way video games were presented by the mainstream. Wii Sports opened the floodgates to average families owning their first Nintendo console because doing random, common activities in the comfort of their home seemed neat. Motion controls were soaring in popularity—Nintendo uncovered a way to transform video games from a nerd’s club into a general thing, though it would take more time to evolve to today’s standards of saturation. Video games became as much of a topic of conversation in everyday life as movies, books, TV shows, or whatever else fell within the visual medium.
From my perspective, currently, it’s almost weird not to play video games. They’ve become so accustomed to my interpretation of the world that only Amish people are probably out of the loop. Mario is just as recognizable as Mickey Mouse, or the billions of superheroes that flourish in cinema. More children are being born into this world playing things like Call of Duty, the video game-sports tie-ins, or most things Nintendo, and seeing it as just another thing to be interested in and be inspired by. With the industry becoming more open to substantial amounts of people, game companies are going to want to appeal to as many of those newcomers as possible.
Which is why we will never get a Pokémon game like Gold & Silver ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever again. Probably.
I’m 26-years-old. Not incredibly old, but old enough to understand the way this world works, particularly when run as a business. I live in the United States, essentially a giant commercial glazed in the latest trends, flair, and excitement that hide the darkness that drools incessantly as it draws people into its gaping mouth. I exaggerate, obviously, but many things become painfully obvious to me in their intentions that some people can’t seem to grasp. I have a saying that I came up with a little while ago while out to lunch with my brothers. It’s not very creative, though it serves its purpose with as blunt a message as possible:
“Think like a business: Do you want to go down the path with more money? Or less money?”
Why is this movie getting a sequel? More money. Why run this TV series into the ground? People still watch it—more money. Why are video games slowly edging towards becoming as accessible as possible, disregarding complicated mechanics and new possibilities for common tropes and easy-to-pick-up rules? More money. It has, and will likely always be, that simple. The whole Blizzard controversy recently? Where the company decided to ban Blitzchung for speaking up for Hong Kong in light of China’s bullshit? Done for more potential money, as doing nothing would make China quite mad, and Blizzard doesn’t want to lose that sweet playerbase.
This article’s intention isn’t to get that serious, however. What this is all leading up to is the Pokémon franchise’s slow change from good (albeit general) RPG fare with a focus on competitive battling to a neat-looking adventure where the player is strung along by thousands of characters, given every opportunity and more to succeed, and are provided stories of legendary proportions. If a young fan of the series were to play Sword & Shield from beginning to end, then immediately go back to Red & Blue, they’d be in for quite the culture shock.
Before continuing, I’d like to note that this is not an attack on Pokémon‘s current course. While I do not prefer it, as I have made clear otherwise, I’m trying to explain why I believe we’ll never get another Pokémon game framed like those released prior to Gen 5 (or so). This is a difference in preference more than anything, and should you like the games from Gen 6-7 onwards, there’s no issue with that. You likely just have different priorities.
Silver & Gold are my favorite titles in Pokémon‘s vault of mainline games. Much of this has to do with two things: simplicity and challenge (alright; nostalgia, too). Opening the game, the player is not treated to a year’s worth of dialogue (outside the opening introduction from the professor), nor are they given a friend character to guide them along. Instead of pulling, the game merely nudges, whether in the introductory sequences or in the cave leading to the Elite Four. Almost Metroid-esque, I vastly prefer the feeling of discovering things on my own, to experience every emotional trigger to the ups and downs of adventure. With each new town discovered, some scripted scenes played out, but it was never at every corner. I felt in control of my adventure, not the other way around. I determined how well I would do based on the choices I made and anything more was generally done at my pace.
Some months ago, I played through (some of) Pokémon White, and I was shocked to discover how many times the journey was interrupted by scripted events. Someone calls you, or someone bumps into you to talk, or another person gives you a quick tour of a big city, etc. It seemed like every time you were about to go out on your own, something stopped you, bombarding you with filler talk that hardly mattered or was obvious. On top of this was the constant amount of pro-player benefits, whether Audino-farming for higher experience rates (which is honestly a blessing), NPCs restoring your pokémons’ health at every turn, or providing dozens of items “just in case.” This amount of hand-holding, which has become very frequent in current titles, acts as an insult to my skill. And this isn’t the developers’ fault or anything, it’s just that after my own history with harder games in the franchise, as well as my own competitive nature, it simply becomes a bothersome trait.
They’ll keep doing it, though, become people a quarter my age with a quarter of my mental processing will be playing this, too. And they don’t want to alienate them, lest they become hesitant to buy the sequel game. Like any smart company that makes billions of dollars a year, they want to maximize profit. Accessibility is key in this suddenly open world, which has evolved in only two decades. Video games have become a common outlet for many, and having games provide nothing but positive impressions is something to strive for, on top of easily digestible and fun gameplay inputs. It’s the path with more money; why take the less path?
Red & Blue, Gold & Silver, and to some extent Ruby & Sapphire, which set the template for legendary storytelling. These are the games that set the foundation of what Pokémon once was, like generations of old building the steps for the new to walk upon. The core concept remains the same: catch all the pokémon and become the best (generally). What has changed is the nuance and the expectation. The games are no longer for a niche of humanity that enjoy what’s almost becoming extinct in the gaming world: pure gameplay prowess. It’s for anyone and everyone that enjoys video games, which is becoming an easier description to fit. And that majority seems to take to games that are short on difficulty, but make up with in adhering to the classic feeling of catching lots and lots and lots of pocketable creatures.
Some people don’t like the way the franchise has gone, and I agree with them. I haven’t played a mainline Pokémon game since Omega Ruby, and didn’t even like it. But times, they are a changin’. Pokémon has shifted into a more casual tone that some from ye olden days don’t like. My advice? Accept it. Accept that Pokémon is no longer for you. It is a game of accessibility, with a company dedicated to taking the path with more money whenever possible. Why make a game that’s intentionally harder and more attuned to OG fans when they’re fewer? That’s bad business sense. Either adjust your priorities or stay away, because I see no possibility of change. This is not your parents’ Pokémon anymore.
For other opinion pieces on this topic, take a gander at the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.