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Where do we go now: The future of Pokemon
Pokemon has been a gaming standard for nearly two decades now. GameFreak and Nintendo seemed to have created a near perfect system in the early days. At first they would release two games with version-exclusive monsters and roughly a year later follow this up with a special edition that improved numerous aspects. However this system was changed (seemingly for the better) with the introduction of remakes into the Pokemon equation. Starting with FireRed and LeafGreen in 2004, each subsequent original Pokemon has been followed by an enhanced remake of older games (Black and White being the exception).
This system has led us to the point where we have had annualized Pokemon releases for the past five years. The question is: what’s next for Pokemon?
The obvious option is that GameFreak continues with its current system. This means that this year we will see a brand new Pokemon on 3DS (likely to capitalize on the release of the New 3DS), which will introduce new creatures, characters, and settings to the universe. This would then be followed in 2016 by a remake of Diamond and Pearl. To a casual observer this may seem perfectly acceptable; however, to Pokemon fans it should be cause for concern. As each new Pokemon introduces new creatures (which already number upwards of 700), the choices you make within the games become redundant and the will to experiment with your team will likely be replaced by ‘sticking with what you know.’ Too many Pokemon will only add to franchise fatigue, and whilst the original goal of “Gotta catch ’em all” was a challenge at the beginning of the franchise, with annual releases and an increasing number of ‘special events’ (often tied to a certain time or place), the dedication required to “catch ’em all” borders on the ridiculous.
The second problem with an annual original-remake cycle is quite simply the franchise has reached the stage where the older games do not truly need a remake. Diamond and Pearl are rarely held up alongside their revered siblings, and mechanically they are not archaic enough to justify the development time. They are less than a decade old, and whilst they lack features of the most up-to-date entries in the series they are still completely playable. What’s more, Diamond and Pearl feel modern in comparison to those that preceded them; they have Internet connectivity, they have post game content, they even have certain sequences and callbacks to the original games for the sake of nostalgia. Remaking any game in the series from that point onward would not only seem redundant, it would seem stale. What was once nostalgic reminiscing would now be nostalgia for nostalgia, a dangerous pit to fall into (especially for a gaming series).
So, what can GameFreak do instead? There are a couple of options available to the company.
Firstly, the original-remake model could continue, but on a delayed cycle. Putting a couple years between entries may help to stretch out the fatigue of remakes and allow the well of nostalgia to refill. This method would also allow the discontinued third entry (a la Crystal, Emerald, or Yellow) to make a return, thereby allowing greater strides to be made on the mechanics of the series.
The second option is that GameFreak abandon remakes altogether, instead focusing solely on creating entirely new games. Whilst previous regions could be revisited, it could be in an entirely new context (a modern Kanto, perhaps?). This option would give GameFreak time to truly work on creating a new world and improving upon the key structures of the franchise. By returning to an original release once every couple years, franchise fatigue can be dampened as new consumers can be brought in by a game free of baggage. It would also allow the company to capitalize on the most recent technologies available and ensure they develop the best game possible.
The third and final option available in order to keep Pokemon in the spotlight revolves around spin-off games. Whilst Pokemon has had a mixed history with spin-offs, there is no denying that the franchise has more room to maneuver in this category than many other beloved franchises. Games such as Pokemon Conquest prove that there is a willingness to think outside the box when it comes to the series, and spin-off or crossovers could do a great deal to make Pokemon feel fresh, as well as bring in new blood. GameFreak’s unique relationship with Nintendo opens up incredible doors for crossovers (Legend of Zelda, Fire Emblem), and in doing so GameFreak can spend more time on the core franchise, whilst still ensuring Pokemon has a continued presence on our shelves and in our gaming collections.
Ultimately, the future of Pokemon seems stable, whatever GameFreak decides to do. However, real issues are going to begin to creep in, and it is up to the studio to decide the best course of action to safeguard the future of this beloved franchise.