Every gamer has that one series that they always come back to no matter what. Be it the strong core gameplay mechanics, unique characters, or even just good old nostalgia, something always manages to pull us back in. For each person this series is different; some people love Final Fantasy, others go wild for Grand Theft Auto, but for me that series is Pokémon.
Since the series’ launch in 1996, Pokémon has merged turn-based RPG and collectathon mechanics into single experience that is summed up through the mottos “be the best like no one ever was” and “Gotta catch ‘em all”. The Pokémon series has always tended to follow the same formula: you – a young child/teenager – are given a choice of one of three Pokémon at the start of your adventure and then set out on your own into the open world. The player can use their own Pokémon in battles against other Pokémon to either expand their collection, or grow stronger and progress further through the game. In each game you’ll be traveling around a different region of the Pokémon world, battling and catching hundreds of varieties of the colourful creatures, and of course fighting countless other Pokémon trainers along the way. You may even disband a criminal organisation or two as you strive to become the strongest Pokémon trainer ever.
Due to this formula, the Pokémon series hasn’t actually changed that much since the days of generation 1, at least not conceptually. But there have still been some pretty big developments for the franchise over the past 2 decades so let’s go all the way back to Pokémon Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow and track the evolution up to the more recent X, and Y.
Generation 1 – in being the original – was perhaps the most pioneering of the series. It introduced the now iconic battling system – which utilised a variety of types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the original games featured 151 different Pokémon to encounter as you travelled around the region of Kanto – one of the main objectives of the games was to capture at least one of each species in order to complete the in-game encyclopaedia known as the Pokédex. However, for many that wasn’t the main draw of the original games, instead the battles where the meat and potatoes of the experience. Littered throughout Kanto there are 8 Pokémon Gyms; these facilities housed the toughest trainers in the region and it was your objective to defeat all 8 and thus gain the right to take on the Pokémon League challenge. At the Pokémon League, players had to battle with the Elite Four and then go head to head with the Pokémon Champion – the most powerful trainer in the world.
At the Pokémon League, players had to battle with the Elite Four and then go head to head with the Pokémon Champion – the most powerful trainer in the world
Subsequently players received the 2nd generation of Pokémon in 1999 with the release of Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver for the Game Boy Colour. These are widely regarded to be the best games in the series. They introduced 100 new species of Pokémon, a real-time day and night cycle, and 2 brand new Pokémon types – Dark and Steel. Also the breeding mechanics of the series, in which two compatible Pokémon can produce an egg were introduced here. Gold, Silver, and the enhanced Pokémon Crystal which was released in the year 2000, also contain the biggest surprise in the series. Once players had defeated the 8 Gyms of the Johto region and successful conquered the Pokémon League, they got to travel back to the Kanto region from the original games.
The next games in the series – Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire – released in 2002 for the Game Boy Advance, and introduced several new mechanics for the series whilst still retaining the same basic structure as the originals. 135 new species of Pokémon were introduced, the idea of each species of Pokémon having its own unique ability became a reality, and double battles – in which a team of two Pokémon faced off against another two Pokémon – also made their debut in the 3rd generation games. Pokémon Emerald, which was an enhanced version of Ruby and Sapphire, also released in 2004 and saw players travelling to the Battle Frontier. This was a new area that featured an impressive range of battling challenges for players that managed to beat the game’s Pokémon League
Over the course of the Nintendo DS’s life, Pokémon fans were treated to two generations of the hugely popular RPG series. In 2006, Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, which took place in the new Sinnoh region saw the introduction of 107 new species of Pokémon, and were the first games in the series to make use of Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. In the 4th generation: players could now trade and battle their creatures with virtually anyone from around the globe. Later in 2008, an enhanced version of the original generation 4 games, Pokémon Platinum, was released. The game re-shuffled the events of Diamond and Pearl as well as including enhanced character animations.
In the 4th generation: players could now trade and battle their creatures with virtually anyone from around the globe
The 2nd generation feature on the DS came in the form of generation 5 with 2010’s Pokémon Black and Pokémon White. Set in the American inspired region of Unova, these games introduced a whopping 156 new varieties of Pokémon. Additionally, they featured a seasonal cycle which changed the aesthetic of the game depending on what time of year players were travelling through the region. The games also shook up the Pokémon release schedule somewhat as this was the first generation to not feature an enhanced third version, but instead two direct sequels in the form of Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2 released in 2012. Generation 5, despite introducing more new species of Pokémon than any other, is often regarded as the least innovative in the series.
In contrast, the most recent generation of Pokémon – consisting of 2013’s Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, despite only introducing 71 new species of Pokémon shook things up considerably. The first in the series to feature 3D character models, these 3DS games: introduced the brand new Fairy type, allowed players to customise the way in which their avatar looked, showcased a brand new way to make player’s Pokémon even stronger through Mega Evolution, and added a range of features to enhance player’s enjoyment of the series further. Perhaps the most charismatic aspect of these games was the fact that the featured Kalos region was heavily inspired by French culture.
When looking at the Pokémon series as a whole, it truly is a wonder that the series has actually managed to stay fresh. It could be argued that every game follows the same basic plot, has the same mechanics, and does very little to differ from its predecessors. However the tale of the Pokémon series is not one of experimenting and over-ambition: it’s one of building on tried and tested mechanics and slowly perfecting the core gameplay experience over the course of multiple generations. As they say: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
So with regards to the future, we currently know very little about the upcoming Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon games. While there is no definite release date, Nintendo have stated that the games will have a holiday 2016 release. Also the official Pokémon account on twitter revealed that Sun and Moon will be ‘the next era of Pokémon games’, causing many to theorize that these next game will in fact be the first 7th generation games. This has not been confirmed however, and despite the fact that the teaser trailer for the games did tease at a brand new bird species of Pokémon, one idea is that the games will be generation 6.5 of sorts. For the longest time, fans were speculating that the next entry into the long running series would be a continuation of the X and Y lineage with a Pokémon Z game, however clearly this will not be the case. The generation 6.5 idea would explain the lack of Pokémon Z, as once the events of the main game were completed, players would be able to travel back to the Kalos region from the X and Y games – similar to the post-game content from Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal.
— Pokémon (@Pokemon) March 3, 2016
Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: I will be returning to the charming and diverse series that Game Freak and Nintendo have crafted over the last 2 decades for many years to come.