A slew of E3 2019 announcements worked Pokemon fans up into a frenzy. Things were looking pretty damn good and, honestly, they still are. But one announcement revealed that they’re not as good as they could be and, in fact, some are worried about what that recent decision means for the future of the franchise. The announcement I’m referring to, in particular, is the news that the upcoming Nintendo Switch games, Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield, would not feature every Pokemon from the previous generations of games. I have no doubt that the games will be good--they look amazing. It’s easy to understand where the grumpiness comes from, though.
The thing about Pokemon is that people get attached to their virtual friends for a variety of reasons. For starters, the games and their narratives actually put a focus on the camaraderie between “trainers” and their Pokemon. Then there’s the fact that a lot of us have refined our teams for competition over the years and that might have involved some significant investments of time. We also all have favorites and it’s good to see them represented. The people I, perhaps, feel the most sorry for are the collectors who try to acquire as many rare “shiny” variants of Pokemon as possible. Shiny Pokemon are different colored versions of the regular ones we’re used to, and shiny, legendary Pokemon can be very hard to come by. This is also true about event Pokemon that could only be acquired through certain means and promotions over the years. I have a Marowak that is around 15 years old. My point is that people have become pretty attached to their Pokemon and moving them around from game to game has a substantial impact on the experience for people.
The reason that I found it easy to invest that much time over the years is because I was operating on the assumption that I’d be able to use this team for a long while. That was the impression the franchise had been giving since some of its earliest titles. There was always the anxiety that one day that pattern may come to an end but, over time, it eased. When Pokemon Bank, a subscription service that basically future proofed our collection, was released that anxiety nearly disappeared. When Pokemon Home, a similar service, was announced a couple weeks ago, the future seemed super bright. I even wrote a piece postulating that Pokemon was going to seriously improve its longevity because the relative permanence of our virtual friends would make people even more passionate about collecting. The idea of a service that collected the Pokemon from the main games, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee!, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, and Pokemon GO into one place was so full of potential. It’s perhaps that potential that I am mourning the most.
The strange thing about all of this is that Pokemon’s tagline, which has been plastered on countless pieces of merch for two decades, is “gotta catch ‘em all.” Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are games where that is literally impossible to do. Perhaps catching them all will have to mean acquiring every available Pokemon within Pokemon home. It’s going to have to for now, anyway.
This also changes the way battles work. Old strategies could become antiquated which, really, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like a game with a changing meta. But now the developers are choosing, through whatever process they want to use, a select group of Pokemon we can use. What factors are they using? How are they balancing this? And is there a bias in choosing which Pokemon will be in the game?
It’s all understandable, though. The roster of Pokemon will swell to over 800 with the new titles. I honestly can’t even identify all the Pokemon at this point and I love these games. I can only imagine how hard it would be to account for all of them in battle and then subsequently get them animated. But does that mean the roster is becoming unwieldy? And with the expectation that each new game will add new Pokemon, how can this problem be reconciled? Especially if we are also now expecting these games to be released on consoles. If I had to guess, I’d guess multiple entries per console generation will ease the workload over time but then won’t the problem just occur all over again on each subsequent generation? There’s a lot to consider here and, because we don’t actually know how many Pokemon will be available in the new games, this is probably all premature. But all that anxiety I mentioned before is back and I can empathize with the more civil commenters out there in the interwebz that have chosen to express disdain over this revelation.