A Hearty Send Off to Pokémon

September 14, 2013 by

So what is the problem with Pokémon anyway? If it aint broke, don’t fix it, right?

When I was eight years old, I got my first Pokémon card: a Pikachu. Did I understand what that was? Did I know how to play the game? Did I even know of the franchise at the time? Not at all. In fact, hardly anyone did. It was just this card game that blew up (weirdly, before the video game did around my area). But what blew up after the cards, now… that was special. Pokémon Red/Blue was released in Europe on June 10th, 1999. It was virtually non-existent, a kid without a Game Boy that is. If they didn’t, they went out and bought one specifically for this game. It wouldn’t be jumping the gun to say that this franchise was a phenomenon… and yes, I said franchise. It wasn’t just the game. After the popularity Pokémon Red/Blue gained worldwide, there were side-games, trading card packs, a commercially genius cartoon show… this thing was huge. Whilst adults understood close to nothing of the series, kids bought into the franchise like they never had before. Pokémon was the defining pop-culture reference of the 1990’s. Pokémon Red/Blue remains one of Gen-Y’s favorite games of all time.

Pokemon Red

So where did the games go from there? Well, Gold/Silver were just as good as the original (perhaps because we got to transverse the Kanto region again), with as inventive Pokémon, some left over from the original game(s). Ruby/Sapphire were… pretty good, I mean most of the Pokémon still look decent and Pokémon’s synonymous storyline for every game hadn’t run its course yet… and then it just… kept happening. Pokémon kept happening. Problem most people seemed to have with that however, is that Pokémon never changed. The mechanics, the look, the feel… it never changed. To the people who grew up around Pokémon and continued to evolve with the gaming-culture, Pokémon became a joke. Pokémon ‘s shtick grew tired and before we knew it, there were six generations of Pokémon… six.

So what is the problem with Pokémon anyway? If it aint broke, don’t fix it, right? This is a legitimate argument if you are a Pokémon fan. Pokémon has hardly changed in the years it has been around. The combat has practically been left unchanged since its inception, the graphical style (aside from some anime-style flourishes) continues to remain stagnant and the sound… well, actually I have a soft spot for the compositions in the series, first-generation or otherwise. I guess the point is this: If you enjoyed Pokémon’s first games and don’t mind the same experience every few years, Pokémon is perfect. But in all honesty, the problems I mentioned prior aren’t even game breaking for the people who understood the shortcomings of the later games, it’s the way the games play out. You have a rival, you will see said rival many times during your journey, there is a terrorist group out to use Pokémon to their advantage… it’s the same notes, time after time. Once worse, the flow is hardly changed either, with these tropes generally taking place within the same point of each game. In terms of progression and evolution, Pokémon is a problem.

Pokemon Red

And yet… we come back. Sure, it might only be for a generation every now and then, but we come back. We want to know whether anything changed, whether we can enjoy it again. Well, this is my stand. Guys, we have to stop. We can’t be fooled again. Much like the Sonic-cycle, Pokémon has a cycle we are all too aware of, but for some reason we aren’t very vocal about. Sonic has been vocally-scrutinized, Final Fantasy too… but Pokémon? Somehow dodged that call. Why? Why are we so adamant to leave Pokémon outside of scrutiny? I guess my most educated guess is that we don’t want to face the music. Go into your garage and look at those old Pokémon cards, go watch an episode of the first season of the show, go play Red/Blue or Gold/Silver again. Why would you ever want to attack a franchise that consumed so much of your childhood? So in a way, it depends on how much reality means to you. Pokémon can only become a negative thing to you if you look into it. I guess once again, ignorance is bliss if you allow it.

In Pokémon Blue, I would always be named Luke, with my rival being named Matthew. This was because a friend of mine from childhood was called Matthew and his brother was named Luke. In Viridian Forest, there is a stretch of land with grass in it and every time I’ve EVER played the game, I’ve gotten past it without encountering Pokémon. These are just some of the few memories that, regardless of how minor they are, mean an incredible amount to me. I have built memories on these games, I have developed my gaming-style and preferences around this series as well as others. I remember seeing the first movie in the cinema, I remember GMTV (UK folks, represent) talking about the movie pre-release… you know, the more I think about it, the more my meaning for this article changes. At first, I was willing to just discuss how Pokémon has failed to evolve since its inception and how we shouldn’t allow it, but now… it’s different. Instead of blaming Nintendo for its continued commercial whoring, I want you all to look back on Pokémon and just… understand how much of an impact it’s had on you. Memories, friends, childhoods have been made on these games.

Pokemon Red

The smallest details of these games mean something to me. I preferred Blue to Red, Silver to Gold, Sapphire to Ruby, Diamond to Pearl… when picking one of two games that are practically identical means something to you… it must have ALL meant something in some way. Instead of looking at Pokémon’s faults, I want to cast the cynicism away for a while and just remember the good times. Getting your first starter Pokémon, what you named your characters, did you get Blue or Red? Beating the Elite Four, remember finding Missingno? Remember finding out how to catch Mew? Remember the rumor about the truck next to the SS. Anne? I remember all of these and they hold incredible significance to me… distant, nostalgic, warm memories that will last forever. Heh… kinda weird, this article ended up being less of a critique and more of a subconscious heartfelt goodbye to a series I just cannot enjoy in its present day form. But sometimes, if it calls, I’ll find my old Blue, pop it in the Game Boy and start my own Pokémon adventure again.

About Jonathan Moore

Jonathan lives in the seaside town of Lowestoft in Suffolk, England. He digs all games but has a history with Nintendo and enjoys cartoons to an unhealthy extent for a grown man.
  • Keiji Miashin

    “So in a way, it depends on how much reality means to you. Pokémon can
    only become a negative thing to you if you look into it. I guess once
    again, ignorance is bliss if you allow it.”

    Or maybe some of us have looked and… we honestly don’t mind. Could you not just dismissively refer to people as ignorant without a second thought?

    There is a certain appeal to familiarity, and although the structure of the games has hardly changed (as you’ve pointed out) there’s always something new in them. The surface of the battle system may not have changed, but the mathematics has over time. That’s for metagame folk.

    Some of us just like playing through the same story but with new critters. Or to see what the game is doing with new tech/presentation. There is also generational-ism. I would not be able to get my sister or nieces/nephews into the older games. They don’t have the tech, and if they played those at they’re age the old graphics and system would put them off.

    But I can play the new games with them. It’s a point at which we can build a connection across generations. I can use the familiar story, the high and low points that are now so easy for me to predict, as teaching tools. I can open myself for them to show me their excitement for something fun. For a video game. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a kid go from a dull ‘school was fine’ to bright bouncing excitement as they tell you about how they finally managed to accomplish XYZ. Or about how they passed a skill or did a thing because your discussion of a game, or just the act of playing the game itself, prepared them for it. It’s amazing. Literally like a light turning on.

    So no, I must humbly disagree with you. There is NOTHING wrong with the pokemon franchise. You’ve just moved on from it; and that’s not a bad thing either. But please don’t think badly or negatively of those of us that are still fans. Many of us have very good and logical reasons for still being fans.

    • Kayleigh Maijala

      Great points, I came here to excitedly inform the author that X/Y is addressing a lot of the issues they brought up– with new battle types, different evolutions for older Pokemon (fan service), and even more side quests/events to enjoy spending time on.

      I think the author may be right in that it’s their own personal “goodbye” to Pokemon, as many people feel like the Pokemon series is too surface compared to open world titles that have seemingly infinite appeal and neverending updates/DLC.