Pokemon Should Grow Up…But Not Too Fast


Warning: This article contains spoilers for Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire and Pokemon X/Y. Read at your own risk!

As the end of 2015 approaches, the upcoming games for the remainder of the year are pretty much set. There will be no main series Pokemon game in 2015, and with Pokken Tournament’s release in early 2016, it’s likely we still have a bit of a wait ahead of us before the next colored pair debuts. It’s sure to be 2016, though. We already have movie clips with brand new Pokemon, and a tantalizing hint from Nintendo’s Director of Consumer Marketing. It’s Pokemon’s 20th anniversary. The Pokemon Company would be remiss not to celebrate their anniversary with proper pomp and circumstance. No time is more fitting than now for a big main series game that revises everything we know and expect from a typical Pokemon title.

As long as they don’t get too carried away.

Growing Pains

Game Freak has released a Pokemon game almost every year since 1998 (these are NA release dates), with ’02 and ’06 as the notable exceptions. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire released in November of last year, so for a Pokemon game, this is a sizable chunk of time to have our next adventure under wraps. It could mean absolutely nothing–Pokken is a lot of work, plus Mystery Dungeon and Rumble have given the Pokemon team plenty to do in the meanwhile. But it could also mean changes. Bigger changes even than the X/Y/ORAS saga offered.

From hidden legendary Pokemon, to mysterious areas, to cryptic bits of dialogue, Pokemon ORAS tantalized those of us who have been fans since the original Ruby and Sapphire. It wasn’t an identical remake–there were new secrets, new places to explore. There was an additional “episode” at the end, containing a storyline that threw our views of the Pokeverse an enormous curve ball. ORAS, perhaps more so than any other Pokemon game, has left fans wondering if there’s more to it.

And the games are growing darker, too. Older. X and Y’s story centered around a massive weapon, powered by the very lives of Pokemon, the use of which caused a massacre sometime in the past. In ORAS, Zinnia questions the player’s motives in a delightfully meta storyline involving a meteor and the possible destruction of a game world we’ve visited once before. The main character experiences both an actual romantic subplot, and the struggles of a separated family.

And Hoopa, of course. Hoopa is CREEPY.

Shifting Dimensions

By the end of Pokemon ORAS, I felt a subtle, deliberate shift in the Pokemon franchise. I believe that Pokemon ORAS is a potential turning point, and there isn’t a clear indication of what Game Freak will do next. Unwittingly or no, they have set themselves up for a glorious transition into the next generation of games, and have the chance to make Gen 7 the most memorable to date.

I have no doubt that whatever Game Freak is cooking, it’s big. My hopes are high. If the next game was just a reskinned X/Y, a “Pokemon Z”, we’d be mega-evolving our Zygardes by now. More Internet connectivity options to play with my friends? Highly likely. A longer, more involved storyline with more secrets and DLC? Hopefully. Way, way too many more Pokemon? Guaranteed. But as cool as all this would be, I cringe just a little at another eight-badge grind, with forgettable Gym Leaders and a region whose towns I won’t remember the names of a month later.

We all know that the Pokemon series’ biggest flaw is they all follow the same formula: aspiring trainer gets his or her first Pokemon, sets out on adventure with a rival and friends, collects badges, stops an evil team, defeats the Pokemon League, done. The joy of each game is seeing how that formula, in particular, plays out. But I know I’m not alone in feeling that the story is tired. I want something more, something surprising. I want to not know how it’s all going to end. I want to, just for a moment, believe that maybe my team of six Pokemon might not stop the bad guy, might not save the world.

Dreams and Adventures

The Pokemon kids have grown up. And while the next generation is falling in love with the Pokemon universe too, it’s often through different avenues. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and Rumble games offer fun, light-hearted Pokemon adventures for the younger set, while the main series games remain accessible to all ages, if increasingly more toward adults. Memes, in-jokes for fans of 1st generation games, and references to popular culture pervaded the last few installments. Game Freak is aware that its audience is growing up, and they’ve already proven they’ll cater to us.

Grow up, Pokemon. But don’t grow up too fast.

There’s a beautiful innocence to Pokemon that I don’t want to see disappear. The last two-three generations were filled with cheerful NPCs talking about how Pokemon unified everyone. How they enabled them to make friends across language barriers, or understand someone who had done them wrong. This is a world where ten-year-olds can go on adventures across the country, and where people take the words of a child very seriously. Where you’re asked to save the world from disaster, but no one pulls out guns or steals cars and the fighting is always cartoon, innocent, and not too real. Where people talk freely about love and friendship in big, idealistic terms and no one bats an eye. I love that world, and I don’t want it to disappear.

Give us more involved plotlines and more interesting characters. Give us a bigger world, full of secrets and mystery. Hide whispers of darkness, like Hoopah, just out of reach, and make our plights dire and just a tad scary. But please, Game Freak, don’t go too far. Don’t darken Pokemon beyond joy. I don’t think you will. I think you will stop short of ever making Pokemon dark or edgy or scary, though plenty of people have clamored for such a thing.

I admit it: whenever I turn on a new Pokemon game for the first time, I tear up a little when the new lab-coated greeter tells me, “Welcome to the world of Pokemon!” Since I was a child, Pokemon has been both a thrilling adventure and a beautiful escape. I’m pumped as all get out for whatever the developers are cooking up, and optimistic that it will hit just the right notes of danger and innocence.

A world of dreams and adventures with Pokemon awaits us soon. Let’s go!

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