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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Is Pokémon’s Success Holding It Back?

A couple of weeks ago, Gamescom: Opening Night Live took place. The now annual event hosted by Geoff Keighley highlighted some of the biggest upcoming titles. Audiences knew that some games like the Saints Row reboot would be present, yet there was one title that took everyone by surprise. The South Korean game DokeV shocked audiences with a trailer that showcased gorgeous graphics, scenic locales, and most notably, incredibly detailed character animations. It left a number of viewers scratching their heads, wondering how a game from a largely unknown studio was able to suddenly become the game that captured everyone’s attention.

The title comes from Pearl Abyss, the developer behind the MMORPG Black Desert. This was a game that also took many by surprise when it was released, as its in-depth character creator is still an aspect of the game that people talk about to this day. There hasn’t been a trailer in a long time that has shocked people in the same way that DokeV did. This wasn’t even the game’s first public showing, but for many, it was their first introduction to the game.

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Not even a week before this electric debut from DokeV, the latest Pokémon Presents took place. In it, the Pokémon Company highlighted a number of games that they have in the pipeline, most of which were updates on already announced titles. Many of these games, namely the three major upcoming titles, the remakes Pokémon Brilliant Diamond, Pokémon Shining Pearl and Pokémon Legends: Arceus. From the moment they were shown, it was clear that each game was having a better outing than when they were first revealed. With that being said, after seeing that DokeV trailer, one can’t help but wonder what exactly is going on with Pokémon as a game franchise, as at times it feels like they’re making titles that appear years behind.


The noise online coming from outspoken fans in regards to a number of issues surrounding the then-upcoming releases of Pokémon Sword and Shield were all but forgotten when the game came out. Serebii reports that the two titles would end up selling nearly 21 million copies as of December 31, 2020, a first since Gold and Silver. It’s this type of news that leaves one wondering if no matter the outrage or misgivings fans have about the series, is Pokémon a franchise that’s so big, that whatever feedback critics or the general public have against it is simply useless?

There’s a looming question that needs to be asked: is Pokémon’s own success holding it back? It’s easy to look at a Pokémon game and forget that when you’re discussing it, you’re talking about the most profitable media franchise in the world. Not even including the console games, it’s a franchise that has multiple mobile apps, a television show, movies, a card game, and an absurd amount of merchandise. With all of that, one would hope that some of the mainline titles would continue to be a shining example in the gaming space, just as they were early on in the franchise’s life.

Instead, when some fans saw the latest trailers for the Diamond and Pearl remakes, they were left disappointed with the visual direction and ambitiousness that the remakes seem to be carrying. Of course, the end product could be completely different, but so far it hasn’t provided the same “wow factor” as some other remakes or even remasters. This is in direct comparison to other remakes/remasters for Nintendo games for the Switch, like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, or Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, which saw a massive visual overhaul. Though Arceus looked rough during its first showing, there’s no doubt that its second trailer and the deep-dive that followed was a step in the right direction. It actually looks to be fulfilling a little bit of that “Breath of the Wild style” that Sword and Shield looked to be promising.

Even if you don’t want to compare Pokémon to something like DokeV, a game that could essentially amount to nothing and which might have just been a great trailer, there are still a number of titles out there that fill a related void. However, many of those games appear similar in the same way that throughout the 2000s and 2010s, everyone was looking for the “World of Warcraft killer”. As it turns out, more than a decade after WoW’s release, that title never came along, even if things are now beginning to look dire for the game. The same has been said about Pokémon for years. Whether it’s Have got has got, Yokai Watch, or any of the Digimon titles, none have been able to capture the same massive audience.

Of course, many of the criticisms being thrown the way of Pokémon could be contributed to the Nintendo Switch itself. Fans of Xenoblade have been bemoaning the software since the launch of the game’s sequel in 2017, as it often looked like a blurry mess. We’re now four years into the console’s life, and even though it showed its age in its first year of launch, it’s becoming even worse now. With that being said, there are still first-party titles directly from Nintendo that looks great, even on the limited hardware. A great example of this is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which launched alongside the system all the way back in March 2017. Many would even consider that game to be wildly more ambitious as far as scope is concerned in comparison to something like Sword and Shield.

That once long-rumored “Switch Pro” that was said to be coming for the last couple of years seems more like a pipedream now more than ever, especially with the announcement of the system’s OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) model. With that in mind, any Pokémon fans wishing for a hardware revision to allow for improved graphical fidelity of some kind might be hoping for quite a while. It really does all boil down to that earlier fact that Pokémon is the biggest media franchise on the planet. It definitely feels like there isn’t any need to change things up for The Pokémon Company, Game Freak, and Nintendo. Why would there be, when they’re sitting atop the industry mountain?

It’s difficult to say if that’s the only thing holding the latest Pokémon entries back, or if it’s a number of other contributing factors. As much as fans bemoan and speak out about the problems they have with the current state of the franchise, the truth is that Pokémon just continues to sell. We saw similar sentiment take place when Sword and Shield were released, and it’s happening again now. Truthfully, it seems doubtful that things will change in the near future. It’s clear that most gamers want Pokémon to succeed, and it’s even more clear that they want them to lead as far as innovation is concerned. Many newer games continue to show up the long-running franchise in a number of areas, but whether it’s a nostalgia factor or special sauce that Game Freak, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company have under lock and key, it seems unlikely for another game to come around and dominate in the same way they have.

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