This week marked a first for the Pokemon franchise: A Pokemon game that is a direct sequel to another game in the same generation was released in North America. Of course, I’m talking about Pokemon Black Version 2 and Pokemon White Version 2, and I can tell you right away that when this was first announced some odd months ago, I among a lot of people had questions. Probably the most noticable of those questions was concerning the “2″ in the title; The first time this has happened in the series: Was Nintendo trying to milk the franchise more? Were they being lazy? What can they do with a game that adds less than any other game in the series?
Well, let’s be frank for a second. Yes, as with every other big IP in gaming, you can be sure that Nintendo is likely milking as much as they can out of Pokemon, and why not? In a day and age where Nintendo has posted their first annual loss in over 30 years following the less than stellar launch of the 3DS, why not find a way to make a quick buck? From a business standpoint it makes sense, and I’m quite sure that there are people out there that would buy a lump of dog poo for a large sum of money simply because it is displayed in a bag with the “Pokemon” logo on it.
But, this isn’t about the corporations, or the mindless drones of consumers that live and breathe Pokemon every day. (Though I admit in my late teens I was one of those people) This is Pokemon from the standpoint of a gamer. We’re in a day and age where the mainstream series may have gotten a little stale. Pokemon Diamond/Pearl versions may have been criticised as not adding anything new to the franchise, save online battling and trading, the number of Pokemon may have gone from the first generations’s 151 to the sixth generation’s 650+, but Pokemon as a franchise has stayed strong. What is it that keeps people lining up for every new release?
Let’s put it into retrospect with my own personal Pokemon story:
Where it all began
It was June 1999 when I first got my hands on Pokemon: Red Version. I was 14 years old and had been interested in getting the game for a while now. Course, I had no money of my own so I had to wait for my mother to buy it for me as a reward, but this wasn’t a bother to me back then. Playing Pokemon almost literally changed my gaming life from the moment I turned it on; It was the first RPG I had ever played, which explains why I struggled so much to understand stats, levels and elemental (type) advantages and took six months to beat it. From that moment on, I became deeply engrossed in the franchise; I’d play it whenever I could, take my Game Boy Color to school so I can play it during my breaks, even met one of my best friends not just because of our similarity in disability, (Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes sense that his creation caught on with me so badly; Great minds think alike.) but also for our great love of Pokemon.
Of course, it was only 2 and a half years after that when Pokemon: Gold & Silver Versions came out; I remember it was the first game I had ever pre-ordered. (Since then, the only Pokemon games I haven’t picked up right away at launch were Ruby/Sapphire, because I didn’t have a GBA yet, and FireRed/LeafGreen because my local EBGames ran out of FireRed copies, which is what I really wanted.) I remember playing through my Gold version and thinking at the time that it was probably the best game ever. To this day, the 2nd generation remains my favorite out of the current five generations and is the only one where I own all three versions.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve had my ups and downs with the series. I remember after 2nd generation I kind of left the Pokemon fandom, but upon getting a GBA and buying Ruby version, I started to realize all I’ve missed all these years. Since then, it’s become the RPG that I will always come back to, even after moving on to bigger RPGs over the years such as Tales of Symphonia, various Final Fantasy games, and to MMOs such as Guild Wars 2. All of this I’ve discovered because I played Pokemon Red Version thirteen years ago.
Last Sunday, when I went to pick up Pokemon White Version 2, despite thinking that I wasn’t going to get it at launch and that it might not be what I expected. Why? Because each Pokemon game to me means more than just the same old gameplay mechanics, the stress of 100+ new pokemon in each generation, and the same old objectives of “wanting to be the very best, like no one ever was.” [Insert guitar riff here.]
What is it that keeps them lining up?
Pokemon has this undeniable charm that, even as its preteen fanbase from the late 90s has grown into today’s young adults, has left a big mark starting from the first game and continuing onto today. Back in the days, the first entries in the franchise did things that no other RPG had really done before; Rather than just simply grindning in hopes that you can beat the next boss; You were collecting. On top of being the very best you were trying to “catch ‘em all.” That, and in a day and age where online multiplayer was in its infancy, the series forced you to go out and make friends so that you really could get them all.
Though the original “Gotta catch ‘em all!” franchise doesn’t appear on the boxart of today’s games, the mantra remains true. Old gamers are kept in the series for their nostalgia of the older games and are satisfied enough with that to continue playing each game, even if the core game hasn’t changed very much over the years. (It’s not like other popular games aren’t guilty of the same thing, right, Call of Duty?) Nintendo and Game Freak just happen to add enough to look forward to, to make it a worthy competition; an eSport in its own right before League of Legends redefined eSport with the Pokemon World Championships every year. There’s enough in each package to keep formerly engrossed players of old still interested in the franchise, all while drawing in the younger crowd.
My gaming scope has evolved much since my “Pokemania” days, but with every release, Nintendo managed to catch my eye and take my money. Though it’s been a very long time since I’ve actually finished a Pokemon game, I never regret actually buying it. To me, Pokemon is a recognizable household name, one that provides an experience that no RPG before it has ever been able to do successfully, and though there have been knock offs since then, (No, I’m not talking about PETA BS here) there is nothing that would ever convince me that Pokemon as a whole is bad. Try as you might, but the franchise and its fanbase is here to stay. The number of monsters may have come to ludicrous amounts, Nintendo may be trying to milk it for what it’s worth, and there will always be naysayers looking for change, but this series will always have a place in my heart. And with that, despite being a bit misled on a few review on Black and White versions 2, I happy walked out with my White Version 2 knowing that I couldn’t go wrong with it? Why? Because come on; it’s Pokemon.
Even in 2012, the experience that this series gives is still “super-effective,” for me and for a lot of other gamers out there.