A curious thing happened to me last year.
I bought a 3DS to finally play Pokemon X. But I never finished it. I gave up before even earning Kalos’ eight gym badges.
As with many millennial gamers, I have so many fond memories of playing Pokemon. In the time it took me to catch the 251 critters the game offered, I probably could have learned a new language (I still feel like I made the right decision).It started with 1998’s Red and Blue, but hit an apex with Gold and Silver two years later. I played the hell out of Pokemon Silver.
I played subsequent titles — Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl and Black and White — and enjoyed them. But they weren’t as good as the first two generations, something I didn’t want to admit. I regarded my time with the older Pokemon games so highly that part of me couldn’t acknowledge that each new game brought with it a little less magic.
And until last year, Friday’s release of Pokemon Sun and Moon would have had me ultra hyped.
But playing Pokemon X shattered the illusion that the post-2000 games were even close to as good as the ones that came before them. It made me realise that new graphics and features aren’t enough to offset the increasing amounts of lustre the franchise was losing with each release.
As with other Nintendo properties, like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, the core game has remained largely unchanged in 20 years. That’s not the problem though, since — as is the case with both Zelda and Mario — the core game is still great. The problem is the Pokemon themselves.
Each new iteration has brought with it between 50 and 100 new Pokemon. This presents two issues. Firstly, there are now 721 Pokemon. 721! Ain’t nobody got time for that. Even with the advantage of being able to trade online, this is dishearteningly less achievable than the good ol’ 151 that many remember lovingly.
There are now 721 Pokemon, and not all of them are winners. This is Doublade. Would you capture and raise a Doublade?
Photo by Nintendo
Secondly, and more importantly, each generation brings with it fewer memorable Pokemon and more questionable ones. X and Y contained perhaps the most egregious example of this in the Honedge family tree, which are all variants of a floating sword. There’s a chain of Pokemon from Black and White which are literally just ice cream with eyes. Increasingly, the creatures found in these games look more like monsters you slay for experience in a Final Fantasy game and less like something you’d want to catch and raise for yourself.
As a result, I found myself playing the last few generations of games with the same group of Pokemon, made up of critters from the first two generations. I realised I was trying to use the new games as an opportunity to recreate the experiences of the old ones. After acknowledging that, I can no longer pretend that playing the new titles is any more fun or meaningful than playing Red or Silver.
My decreasing appreciation for the Pokemon games could be a result of my ageing, wearying eyes. But these issues would serve as a similar hamper on the experiences of younger gamers. Kids often have much more spare time than adults, but the immense and growingly-uninspired roster of Pokemon will surely deter many youngsters from trying to catch ’em all.
And though they’re clearly designed for a younger audience, it’s not just kids playing these games. X and Y are the highest selling games on the 3DS, for instance, with a combined 14.7 million in sales. There are millions of teenagers and adults playing these games, but ask yourselves, Pokemasters. Are you just playing Pokemon for the sake of it?
I know my answer. So, for the first time in my life, I intend to not bother with the new generation of Pokemon games. Sun and Moon may be upon us, but I won’t be dusting off my Pokedex this time.