With the rapid approach of the Pokémon series’s 20th anniversary, The Pokémon Company International is pulling out all the stops. For every console or device the company has been allowed to publish on, there is something new and fresh coming out. Just looking at the list, it continues to grow with each day. For the Nintendo 3DS, gamers were surprised and a bit skeptical about the newest announcement in the lineup, with the sudden reveal and release date of Detective Pikachu: Birth of a New Duo (February 3, 2016 on the Japan 3DS eShop). For the Nintendo Wii U, a Pokémon fighter is rapidly approaching its March 18th release date: Pokkén Tournament. Taking inspiration from the Tekken series, Pokkén is quickly shaping up to become a strong title for the Wii U this spring, with many classic Pokémon jumping into the fray. Through observation, fans are lauding the visual splendor that the game has revealed thus far, and the diversity of cast. For mobile users, fans can look forward to Pokémon GO, a title that takes inspiration from Niantic’s Ingress; players are to take on the role of a Pokémon trainer, and capture Pokémon in real life locations, through the use of an accessory. The anime continues its journey into Kalos, with fans praising the series for its direction, a strong reversal from the slump that viewers had to endure in the Black and White saga. Furthermore, the trading card game makes strong advances with new mechanics in its BREAKthrough booster pack set.
Therefore, the question that remains is, what is going on with the main series games? A new main series Pokémon has not been revealed or released since Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, back in November 2014. Fourteen months have passed since the release, and although the title still goes strong with new events and tournament cups, fans are already getting anxious about The Pokémon Company’s, and Game Freak’s radio silence. If I had to place myself in their shoes, I’d continue to enforce that radio silence.
Before you pull out your pitch forks, and demand my head on a pike, just make a quick note that this comes from a huge Pokémon fan. This is the guy who still owns a mighty fine collection of those 18-karat gold carved cards from those Burger King meals, the marble Pokémon ball collection, and the original Pokédex in all of its gritty, bitty glory. Don’t even get me started on my collection of trading cards. Having played through all of the main series and all of its respective spinoffs like Pokémon Ranger, this is me telling you right now that I’m not speaking a bunch of garbage. The last main series entry, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, fell short of my expectations. A fact that is highly significant, because OR/AS were both predecessors of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire on the Game Boy Advance. The GBA versions were, essentially, the prime of my childhood. I remember getting to play Pokémon Sapphire on the morning of my tenth birthday, a sunny day in July. You know, parents are picky and the game was purchased for that special occasion! At that age, this was me finally starting to go into the mechanics of the game and play, rather than picking the strongest and coolest looking moves. The games were huge for their time — Pokémon had finally moved itself into higher-quality sprites. Facilities actually looked cool and things like the vast ocean environments of the Hoenn region looked impressive.
Fast-forward to 2014. In May, I remember waking up on a random morning, and from simply browsing through my regular gaming websites as part of my routine, I found that the internet was freaking out about a new Pokémon remake, this time for the titles that I desperately wanted to see: Ruby and Sapphire were finally making their way into the realm of 3D on the Nintendo 3DS. The next few months were some of the craziest months and I remember the excitement and the joy that both my brother and I shared at the prospect of going back to our childhood. Yeah, the nostalgia glasses were on full blast here, I won’t deny that.
The day finally arrived, and I remember lamenting that my brother had to go in for work that day; we made the decision that we’d begin once he returned. Cue several texts back and forth through the day, nudging him to come home a bit earlier. After he finally got in, the journey started right away, with a humorous moment where I accidentally halted the evolution of my starter. This prevented my Combusken from learning his Double Kick and I quickly reset the game, and found that I forgot to save. After quickly catching up again since I recalled, with great detail, the lay of the land, we started to really pick up speed through the title, and were surprised to find that a lot of the elements had been “dumbed down.” Pokémon had fallen victim to a more mainstream audience. While the visuals were at their best and the soundtrack phenomenal, changes like the obtaining of Latios/Latias early into the title as a mandatory scene and reducing travel time through story events that teleported players to their destination made things way less complicated. With the plot being as whimsical as ever, the game does deserve credit for the addition of the Delta Episode, which brought forth some questionable theories regarding parallel universes, one in which Mega Evolution did not exist, or events that potentially involved mass extermination from scientists. It was one of few occasions where the series actually took some darker changes.
Since then, it’s been a relatively bleak fourteen months with little main series information revealed to date. We all know that Pokémon Z is inevitable. The games usually take a third game (or two, in the case of the rare sequels Pokémon Black and White 2), and flesh out some details that could not be fleshed out the first time. Many hypothesize that the new title would occur in 2016. Some signs even point to the introduction of Generation VII. The series really needs this break, though, and even a longer one that extends through 2016 and into 2017. Why? The main series has gotten incredibly stale.
The main series has lost a great deal of its charm. Repetitively whimsy stories, dumbing the game down for younger audiences to the point that it becomes possible to steamroll the title with ease, and introducing some fairly lackadaisical Pokémon designs (the ring of keys, the ice cream, and the garbage bag, anyone?) shows how little the series is doing to really innovate. I personally was hoping that the main series would return to form with the Battle Frontier making a comeback in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, but the games ended fairly quickly after the events of the Elite Four. It’s why the main series needs a desperate break. I get that the series is for children. You guys could call me out as simply becoming older. I totally get that. But at the same time, they did it before; adding a means to change the difficulty back in Generation V’s Pokémon Black and White was a huge first step that Game Freak chose to never touch again. The series always had a filthy habit of taking one step forward and two steps back. Why not actually take a few steps forward this time around with either the sequel to X & Y, or with Generation VII?
Just recently, too, Pokémon’s commercial for the 2016 Superbowl was announced. It brought awareness to the series, and the general message was to be hyped up for the series. I saw it as a sign, a rather too hopeful sign, that the series may be returning to form. Of course, I’d also like to say again that this was merely my opinion. I’m a hugely optimistic person by far. That being said, we don’t know what else it is, given its broad strokes. However, given that fourteen months have indeed passed since the release of another mainstream title, this could be a great chance for Game Freak to clean house and get the ball rolling on a more mature take on the series. I want to yearn for the new titles, and not be quickly bored over them when they come out, which was probably the leading issue for me with the yearly release cycles. I don’t know how many people would love to see a more gritty take on the main series, bringing forth the creativity found in titles such as Pokémon Conquest or Pokkén Tournament. That raw creativity is there when we least expect it. Given the deluge of titles coming out in 2016 for the series, maybe the series just needs that downtime to come up with something great. Even if I say that the series has gotten stale, I’m still going to play any new game that comes out. I’m just hoping that the eggs are all in the right basket here.