To the generation that were first exposed to Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998, its quirky and vibrant environment provided many fond memories, but youngsters nowadays don’t seem to share the boundless enthusiasm of their elders. The Pokémon franchise has shrunk from its former glory and seems to become less popular each time a new game is released. Is this just the ignorance of a younger generation or is this the game series running out of innovation as so many gaming franchises do?
There are few moments in the Pokémon universe more exciting than the trainer battle. The iconic battle music begins playing. The adrenaline starts to pump and your player slides across the screen before throwing a Pokéball and unleashing your champion, ready to destroy whatever the opposing trainer would dare to challenge you with, assuming your Pokémon has a type advantage. The type advantages/disadvantages were always fairly straightforward in Pokémon Red and Blue, fire is super effective against grass, electric is super effective against water etc.
However, for Pokémon Gold and Silver two new types were introduced: Steel and Dark. Although finding a logical reason as to why fighting moves are super effective against ice-type Pokémon is difficult at best, it is near impossible to decipher why a steel type move would not be very effective against a water-type Pokémon or why bug-type moves do double damage against dark-type Pokémon. The new advantages and disadvantages left many players baffled in the midst of battle as to how effective their steel or dark move would be against the opposing Pokémon. The two new “types” have served to slightly increase the diversity of Pokémon, but mainly they just confused existing players and have confounded new players ever since. Nevertheless, Pokémon Gold was a popular and successful game, perhaps due to the fact that you could choose your gender at the beginning, but probably due to the 100 interesting and engaging Pokémon added to the series.
Adding new Pokémon, however, was not a sure-fire method of making a successful Pokémon game. Whilst many of the 150 (151 if you count Mew) original Pokémon were loosely based on real-world creatures or objects, many of the 3rd, 4th and 5th generation Pokémon are styled on some bizarre elements of real life.
It is near impossible to decipher why a steel type move would not be very effective against a water-type Pokémon or why bug-type moves do double damage against dark-type Pokémon.
Take Luvdisc for example, a 3rd generation water-type fish Pokémon which is, as you may have guessed from its name, shaped like a love heart. There is also Vanillish, an ice-type Pokémon from the 5th generation which is strongly modelled on an ice cream cone. But, possibly the most ridiculous of all is Garbodor, also introduced in the 5th generation.
Garbodor is a living, breathing head of trash. I’m fairly sure most players would love a dragon Pokémon like Charizard or a gigantic rock Golem in their fighting party, but few would rely on a pile of rubbish to take on the Elite Four. But when ideas really run dry, you can always copy yourself right? The laziest addition to the Pokémon universe was a Pokémon called Beautifly, almost identical in design to Butterfree, an existing Pokémon. But maybe character design isn’t the only area where new ideas are at a minimum.
The plot lines of the first Pokémon games are, albeit simple, captivating enough. The voiceless protagonist receives a Pokémon from Professor Oak, with a rival who also chooses a Pokémon, and goes out into the world to battle other trainers, collect eight gym badges and eventually defeat the Elite Four, whilst scuppering Team Rocket’s plans to abuse Pokémon for profit.
Unfortunately, the plot in Gold and Silver is nearly identical. Some of the “radical” differences include Professor Elm replacing Professor Oak and the rival stealing the Pokémon rather than being allowed to choose one. So of course a new storyline was written for Pokémon Ruby and Silver? Not really. The silent protagonist is still given their first Pokémon by an academic with an arboreal surname, Professor Birch, and once again, despite the efforts of a rival Pokémon trainer, must overcome eight gym leaders and foil the plans of another Pokémon terrorist group, Team Aqua/Magma depending on the version of the game. As good as this plot is, repeating it three times in three games is too much. To date, there has been no revolution in the plot of any Pokémon game, and commercial success, despite the lack of change suggests to me that there won’t be one in any future Pokémon games either.
So what will happen next to the Pokémon franchise? As someone who has played many Pokémon games I would love to see something different to breathe fresh life into what I feel is a series that ran out of ideas a long time ago, however the current tried and tested method which brings consistent commercial success is the much more likely outcome. But with large developments not a common feature so far, I’m not sure just how long Pokémon will continue to captivate handheld gamers in the future.
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