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As some of my readers might have noticed, I like to use these columns for good. Accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative to discuss what great and exciting things are happening in the world of nerd, and why and how things can and often are getting better by leaps and bounds.
Unfortunately, things are not always quite so smiles und sunshine. Being a “geek” or a “nerd” means being driven and passionate, and that passion can create incredibly strong bonds with things. But the cost of such devotion is that you can become somewhat… attached. And, as we all know, nothing says “I am emotionally invested in this” like rampant paranoia! Thus I’d like to welcome you all to an occasional series of columns I’ll be writing whenever I feel that old tickle of fanboy fear rise up in me.
I’ll be opening up about concerns I have over upcoming events in gaming/TV/Tech and so forth. I do this because the future can be a scary place and, like your mother, I worry because I care.
For the first instalment of this brave new venture I’ve aimed my sights on a series near and dear to my heart. What series is that? Why it’s time for some Pokémon kids!
With the upcoming worldwide release of the franchise’s first foray into full 3D, I think now is the perfect time to get my knickers in a knot about what could go horribly wrong.
Let’s start with a bit of background. I am an open and proud Pokémon fan. Check that. I’m not a Pokémon fan, I’m a Pokémon fanatic. When it comes to these fabulous critters of many colours I am EXCITE.
I love everything about Pokémon; from the games, the cards, the toys and the anime. I know the theme song lyrics, the Team Rocket mottos (yes there are several). I can also tell you how many roads a man must walk down to get his Togepi to hatch, as well as the importance of a good STAB any day.
I also genuinely think that this presents a more mature and thoughtful example of gender equality than Robin Thicke could hope to in a lifetime.
So with all this love bundled up in a completely mature and totally healthy way you can see why I may have one or two reservations about the upcoming X and Y.
What’s that you cry? Story?! How could you possibly be concerned about the story in a Pokémon game? Pre-adolescent abandons formal education with their parents’ consent to wander the world beating up family pets for money, occasionally spending an alarming amount of time with various legions of kleptomaniac cosplayers, before being crowned emperor of the known universe for being the best at making their magical fish punch dragons in the face. There, done.
Now for the most part I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. At least that was until recent years.
Nintendo and Game Freak played a blinder with Pokémon White and Black. For years we all knew the go-to joke about how Pokémon is ultimately about state-supported cock fighting. I’ve made the joke, you’ve made the joke, everybody made the damn joke. But then not only did Game Freak acknowledge this, it actually went as far as to base the entire plot on the notion, completely deconstructing the core concept of the entire series. It was a surprisingly ballsy move, with the series’ creators openly admitting to how fundamentally messed-up the very bedrock of the franchise is.
That is a level of self and cultural awareness not seen in a Nintendo franchise since the early days of the Paper Mario RPG series. I was impressed by this new found dedication to story and theme. For a series so lacking, this was a big step, and for fans worldwide a very welcome one.
And then Black and White 2 arrived. Suddenly the promise of a new and story-focused Pokémon was dashed by sequels that not only missed the memo, but got hit by a truck three blocks away from the building it was sent around. I was less-than-thrilled to see the series take one step forward and then cut off its feet and drag itself backwards ten years like that.
I consoled myself with the fact that these were simply the latest “third versions” updated games with little to offer beyond a few game-play tweaks and enhancements. Yet I couldn’t shift the idea that these weren’t just improved editions, these were canonical sequels with their own characters and scenarios. This was a whole new world, with a brand new attitude.
It felt very much like the strides made with Black and White were a one-off, and that going forward Game Freak would retreat into more familiar territory. There has been a precedent for this. After all, compare the innovations of the original Gold and Silver to the follow-ups Ruby and Sapphire. From the evidence presented so far I worry that X and Y may not even bother trying to inject fresh blood into their stories, instead coasting by on the same worn out tropes the series has followed for over a decade.
Pretty simple really. The main draw for me has always been discovering the many and varied species of new creatures each new game brings. Of what we’ve seen so far there are some real gems to look forward to, come October 12th (Why hello Mister Skrelp! Step this way Gogoat!). Yet Nintendo’s reluctance to say how many new species are going to appear, combined with the emphasis on Mega Evolved forms for older Pokémon have me worried that we’ll be receiving a substantially shorter roster this time around. Not the end of the world, but I just wish they’d come out and say how many newbies there will be goddamn it!
Style over Substance
This is my biggest bugbear about X and Y. In several interviews Pokémon CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara stated that one of the main themes of the games is “beauty”. It informed the decision to base the Kalos region on France, including appearance customisation on the Trainer characters and, of course, rendering the entire game world in 3D.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love all of this. I think the games look gorgeous and I can’t wait to be able to tailor my Trainer exactly to my tastes as I explore the region. However, I can’t help but stick on that “beauty” thing. To me it suggests that these games will be more focused on the surface level, lacking the depth found in previous games.
Oh sure they’ve added some great new ideas to the mix. New battle types such as Sky and Hoard; the all new Mega-Evolutions (please, no more Digimon references, we all know) and even the inclusion of the metagame-breaking new Fairy type, all add wonderful new layers to the games. Also, don’t get me started on how excited I am for Pokémon-Amie (I AM GOING TO TOUCH SO MANY FACES!). Yet, only time will tell if these are simply gimmicks or worthwhile additions. Yes, it’s fantastic that Charizard gets to become even more gloriously amazing, but will this be a bold new direction for the series or something for the competitive scene to bitch about before getting promptly discarded down the line? (I admit that worst-case scenario seeing the forums ablaze with cries of Game Freak “breaking” the game will warm my heart for years to come. I have tasted their anguish and it was sweet)
Let’s also not forget the sheer amount of space and energy devoted to creating fully animated 3D models of every single Pokémon. Even if there was still room on the cartridges, making them would probably give any developer reason to call it quits sooner rather than later. In games gone by I’ve become accustomed to discovering all the diversions and experiences that Game Freak has crafted. From the Movie Studio of Black and White 2 to the Super Contests of Hoenn, every Pokémon game has worked to add fresh and interesting ways to get more out of the series beyond the core battling mechanics. I’d hate to see those ideas strangled in future for the sake of pretty graphics. No amount of diagonal movement (drool) is worth a stripped down journey to becoming yet another Pokémon master.
The Digital Future
It seems that the old Japanese men at Nintendo have finally opened their eyes to the internet. The advent of the Pokémon Global Link and regular wifi events has breathed new life into the series, taking it worldwide like never before (Well, unless you lived in Japan).
This trend seems to be continuing with X and Y, but the recent revelation of the Pokémon Bank system has me concerned: A yearly subscription on-top of a paid app just to store my Pokémon, and allow me to gain backwards compatibility? Sam no like; bad medicine.
It sets an unsettling precedent for future “optional” services. Oh what’s that? You want to trade globally? Well, due to server costs using the Pokémon GL now requires a flat subscription per month, or maybe you want to get access to the latest downloadable event Pokémon? Better hop into the in-game store and buy some PokéDollars!
A nightmare scenario I admit, but let’s face it, if Nintendo pulled these stunts you bet your Bulbasaur people would pay. Why? Because, duh, Pokémon!
Well that’s enough gloom for one day. I have my concerns, maybe you do too! Like so many of you, I cherish this series and would hate to feel it had become damaged. After almost two decades of fandom I shudder to think of the fallout, but we have to just hope for the best, trust in a series that we’ve loved for so long and that hasn’t given us reason to stop loving it after all this time. I’m not saying we should blindly follow, but nor should we flip our collective tables over at the thought of something new. In spite of all this I’m still rushing out to pick my copy up. I’m sure plenty of you are too.
I mean let’s face it; you still gotta catch ‘em all.