Confessions of a Pokéskeptic
During my tenure at SwitchRPG, I will admit that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Game Freak. I’ll admit that I’ve had a waning interest in Pokémon that began back with the Generation Five titles, otherwise known as Black, White, Black 2, and White 2. While I never thought much of Game Freak’s narrative prowess, the increasing focus on a linear plot structure and world design and characters other than the playable avatar strayed from what I used to find compelling about the series: namely, going off on an adventure and forming bonds with the eponymous Pokémon themselves, not the other humans in the world.
When it came to it, though, my formative experiences with Pokémon were from a time when the personality of the series came from the monsters themselves, and not the NPCs peppering the world. As the art style for these games became more modernized and the series transitioned into 3D, however, there was an attempt to diversify these human characters, though I don’t necessarily feel that this was reflected in the writing. I also feel that the transition to 3D negatively impacted the number of dungeons and complexity of routes, which can be seen more distinctly in the seventh and eighth generation Pokémon titles. These are changes that have made me wary of buying new Pokémon games, and while I did cave to peer pressure and picked up Pokémon Shield, it is a purchase that I ultimately regret. Nowadays, you will find me playing Digimon or Shin Megami Tensei titles instead of Pokémon, as those games offer unique variations on the monster-catching foundations that appeal to my current sensibilities.
I’m not saying that Pokémon is a bad franchise, simply that the choices Game Freak is making with the game design are no longer appealing to me. And that’s okay- I’ve aged out or moved away from a number of series as their target audience has shifted throughout the years. This is why I find it all the more unexpected that I am very much anticipating the Pokémon releases coming over the next six months. For a Pokémon skeptic like myself, this recent uptick in curiosity largely has to do with the content featured in the recent Pokémon Presents video. Why might that be appealing to someone who has distanced themself from the franchise, however?
Comfort in Nostalgia
The fact that my love of Pokémon began to wane with the onset of the fifth generation of titles speaks volumes enough about my preferences, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my adoration for Generation Four. Before playing Pokémon Pearl, my last foray into the franchise had been on my Game Boy Color with Pokémon Silver. Coming back to Pokémon with so many new additions to the PokéDex, a more colorful world, and plenty of new ways to battle and share with friends made Pokémon Pearl not only one of my favorite games, but also one of the few titles in the series I can say I’ve played through more than once. In college, I was also thrilled to return to Johto with Pokémon SoulSilver, updated for the Nintendo DS with new mechanics and aesthetics.
While remakes always tread a dangerous line between remaining too slavishly faithful and not honoring their source material, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl appear to be far more tame in their ambitions than, say, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. While the point of previous remakes was to bring the original entry up to modern standards, the Sinnoh Region remakes are instead ditching the Wild Area and Rotom Bike-centric design of Pokémon Sword and Shield in favor of something that appears similar to a stepping stone between Generations Five and Six. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the original dungeons and routes remain as complex and circuitous as they previously were. It wasn’t until I had browsed the internet that I discovered the negative commentary regarding the overall game speed and limited Pokémon selection found in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, but these elements seem to be circumvented with the inclusion of new features, as well as a more diverse PokéDex.
Sure, it might lack ambition, but seeing as these are the first remakes headed by relative newcomers ILCA, it makes sense that they would play it safe. If that is the case, then a graphically updated version of one of my favorite games on the Nintendo DS is something I would actually enjoy quite a bit, and speaks to the similarly joyous experience I had replaying Pokémon Red and Pokémon Crystal on the Nintendo 3DS virtual console. Sometimes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or at least don’t make it unrecognizable in the remake.
Say what you will about my overall impressions of Little Town Hero, I did respect Game Freak’s attempt at creating a new property and using new gameplay mechanics. I will always champion new ideas, even if those ideas are reinventions of very familiar concepts. While the Sinnoh Region remakes might not be bringing the world of Pokémon forward in terms of mechanics or design, Pokémon Legends Arceus is another matter entirely. The direct comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are not unwarranted, and to be honest, I was a bit concerned when I initially heard the game would be blending action and turn-based mechanics.
The most recent video regarding Pokémon Legends hasn’t really quelled my concerns of an imbalance in regards to its gameplay features, but it does look wildly different in structure from any previous Pokémon title. While most spin-offs of the Pokémon franchise tend to end up more niche in execution, the free-form exploration and enhanced catching and battling mechanics featured here feel more like a modernization in terms of design. It’s more natural and less-domesticated Hisui Region is familiar in some ways and enticing in others. How its battle mechanics will manage to refine and reshape traditional Pokémon encounters is still up for debate, as is the notion that the player avatar will be subject to damage and natural threats, but the hope will be that the behavior of Pokémon themselves will vary the method of approach and capture. For example, with weaker Pokémon being more susceptible to a sneaking approach with a regular Pokéball and stronger and more aggressive Pokémon needing to be circumvented with precise movement and attack avoidance before engaging in battle.
No matter what the ultimate progression system and overall success of these new ideas will be, the irrefutable fact is that this is a different Pokémon title, and after having enjoyed getting lost and experimenting in other games like Breath of the Wild, Pokémon Legends seems like it could capture (pardon the pun) my interest for a time with similar mechanics.
There is still a great deal about Pokémon Legends that we don’t know, and there is a fair bit of time before the game releases during which my opinion could be swayed once more. But I think back to an era when I was just returning to Pokémon on the Nintendo DS, with little understanding of what new creatures were in store and what sort of twists and turns I would face, and I find myself nostalgic for that sense of discovery. In the same way, I may follow the promotional material for Pokémon Legends, but I have decided to remain spoiler- and leak-free for the overall experience, instead seeking to recapture that sense of exploration that I found so appealing in titles like Xenoblade Chronicles X, Breath of the Wild, and even… well, Pokémon Pearl. That is reason enough to consider myself no longer a Pokéskeptic, at the moment, and I must say, it feels very nice to be excited once again.