The Pokémon series has graced our lives for almost 20 years now, causing our Nintendo handhelds to become new appendages to our bodies and turning into a huge phenomenon in the process. While the series popularity may not be as intense as it once was, the games continue to be some of the most anticipated titles on the market, with a whopping 719 creature roster at our fingertips. However there are people who, after having “been there” at the beginning of the craze, will say things like “it should have ended with Red and Blue” or “there are only 151 Pokémon, the rest look stupid”. But with so many of our more recent favourites condemned in this way, such criticism feels unjust. However it’s not easy defending the newer generations of Pokémon against such scorn and perhaps there may be good reason after all as to why.
However it’s certainly not the designs of the newer Pokémon for despite becoming more detailed in time, there have always been good designs and bad designs in Pokémon. Putting trash bags and ice cream cones aside, every generation of Pokémon has had questionable creatures (I mean ever thought about how stupid Weepinbell looks; I mean it’s just leaves stuck to a plant with a mouth). However if I were to roll off designs that I think look bad, I’m sure others will disagree because these Pokémon capture so many different qualities in their designs that there is literally a creature for everybody. I mean we all know Trubbish and Garbodor get a lot of hate but personally I really like them, to me why are they much different from Grimer and Muk in concept, only execution (which I shall discuss soon). Regardless there are some excellent designs and strong favourites in every generation and Pokémon like Lucario or more or less become as synonymous with the series as Pikachu and Charizard. The fact is that if we were to ask newer or more die-hard fans which generation is the best there’s unlikely to be any larger preference for any one over another.
Instead the problem lies in the fact that Pokémon no longer spark the imagination as they once did because they are no longer executed into the series as they once were. It’s not the design themselves that are lacking, rather the opportunity to see these Pokémon do anything but stand around in battle has caused their unique traits to be forgotten. Ultimately there has been a shift in focus for the series towards competitive play, causing us to consider less how we visualise what these Pokémon can actually do and how they are incorporated within their environments. While we may see Lucario and Greninja become entities in Super Smash Bros. we cannot say the same for the other Pokémon. Community sites such as Smogon now detail exactly what your Pokémon can achieve and how to train them to get the best out of them, focusing very much on the statistical advantages of each creature. The result of this being that catching, training and bonding with Pokémon has become an experience we don’t connect with like we did on the Game Boy. My prime example is Grimer and Muk who appeared in the Power Plant and Celadon City because we were made to believe in the pollution of the areas, however Trubbish and Garbodor just appear on random route so we don’t connect with their designs because there’s not story behind them. We knew why Clefairy were found in Mt. Moon but why are Throh and Sawk hanging out outside a forest? Nowadays because the series concentrates more on the complexities and statistics of battle, the process of enjoying the adventure until then is wasted. This to me is where these PokéPurists are making sense and perhaps why they feel alienated from the series today; we don’t believe in the universe anymore, just want the game underneath.
Thus we have a series that’s starting to lose its soul in the face of hard core game mechanics, more akin to Call of Duty or FIFA, where each subsequent release tweaks the formula without changing what the player ultimately expects to find causing the series to safely continue without any major development. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y seem to embrace this more than ever before. With only 70 additional Pokémon there’s a sense that these new creatures are less about new designs and more about filling holes in the roster. Now we have type combos like Poison Dragon unseen before, a handful of new Fairy Pokémon to balance out the type chart and Mega Evolutions to help fix some of the older and useless Pokémon. These are great additions to the series but it all comes with the focus of cleaning up loose ends, rather than introducing an exciting development to reignite our imaginations and that sense of adventure with the series.
All in all the game the core gameplay of the Pokémon series hasn’t faulted since Red and Blue and it continues to be something I and many other dearly enjoy today. However if Game Freak are to continue focusing on mechanics like this then how long will it be until the adventure and the Pokédex become irrelevant entirely. Like many of our fighting games today such as Street Fighter and Tekken, why not give us access to everything from the start and let the mechanics work without the drag of the adventure beforehand. It would be a shame to see Pokémon take this route and while recent entries have tried to spice up the single player campaign, I for one believe that Generation VII will need to do something special for it if we’re to believe in the adventure and the designs of Pokémon again.