Nothing saddens me more than a good thing over-commercialized. Actually, I don’t even mind the commercialization so much if it’s done at least mostly tastefully (instance: Star Wars; mostly good games, mostly good books, even the Clone Wars TV show was tolerable in spots). Nintendo, however, has never known how do so (instance: the Super Mario Bros Movie… and we don’t even talk about the CDi “games”). Perhaps the most unfortunate instance of this is Pokémon. After Super Smash Bros, Pokémon is probably Nintendo’s only game that I could actually call hardcore. Sure, Zelda and Metroid are incredible games that I can play again and again, but Pokémon just has so much depth and complexity. It’s because of this that I’m amazed at just how much people scoff when I tell them I enjoy Pokémon.
Pokémon has all of the makings of other good RPGs: a deep stat system, customization (both of individual Pokémon’s move set and also of your party), replayability, rock-paper-sissors weakness trees… about the only hallmark of good RPGs it doesn’t have is a deep story (“Here, take this animal, fight and catch other ones, and go defeat all of the gym leaders… oh and there’s some team who wants to do nefarious things, you should probably stop them… oh and you have a rival, you should probably defeat him/her at random intervals as well”). Sadly I think the cutsey visuals and the fact that Pokémon is associated with its anime, card game, toys, and spinoff games (please tell me we’re done with PokéPark. At least Hey You, Pikachu! didn’t get a sequel) has created the public perception that Pokémon is a game for children. Yes, the anime is pretty childish, and perhaps the primary target audience of the games is children, but the same can be said for games like Zelda and the early Final Fantasy games. It doesn’t change the fact that the main series of Pokémon games are deep RPGs that can be played either as a hardcore technical stat-counter or casually without getting bogged down in all of the dice-rolling. It even has a healthy (if past its prime) competitive circuit.
The main problem with Pokémon is its failure to innovate. And no, adding 50 new Pokémon per generation does not count as innovation. X/Y’s type re-balancing, most notably the addition of the Fairy type to check Dragon’s OPness, is welcome, but still not that exciting. To be honest, the last Pokémon game I actually played through was Gen 3 (Ruby to be exact), and every time a new game would come out, I would think about buying it, but always ended up passing it by in favor of something else. I’ve re-played several of my old games over the years (emulation works great, since the battery has died in most if not all of my Game Boy cartridges, and more recently I’ve been using emulators on my Android phone to get a more authentically portable experience) and never felt like I’m missing anything. I recently picked up Pokemon Y, and am enjoying it a lot–there are a lot of quality of life improvements, and it’s fun seeing new Pokemon types (although my party is currently comprised of 2 Gen 1 Pokémon, 2 Gen 2 Pokémon, and 2 Gen 5 Pokémon), and rendered graphics have been too long coming (though I can understand why; I wouldn’t want to figure out how to animate 718 Pokémon and their countless moves and cram it all down into a 3DS cartridge)–but I still feel like the game hasn’t changed much beyond the graphics. Honestly, though, I can’t put my finger on what I would do to make it better. There is, of course, the widespread dream of a Pokémon MMO, and we’re getting closer to that with the new Player Search System, but sadly I don’t expect anything official from Nintendo on that front any time soon. Adding too much to an already great formula just tends to weigh down the things that made the original so great (double battles, anyone?). Maybe Pokémon is doomed to have the same problem we’ve seen in the Megaman series: each game is good in its own right, but taken together, each one feels like a mod of the last one, with some graphical upgrades as console technology progresses.