In 2022 The Pokémon Franchise Started To Evolve Past Nostalgia

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Rei and Akari are seen standing at the edge of a cliff, looking at Mt. Coronet. Rhyhorn, Ralts, Rowlet, Bidoof, Cyndaquil, Lucario, Oshawatt, Pikachu, Staraptor, and Shinx are standing behind the two humans, with PIkachu looking back at the camera.

Whereas the video games are coping with technical hassle, this yr was the freshest Pokémon has felt in years.
Picture: The Pokemon Firm / Kotaku

Pokémon is within the midst of a generational shift, and no, I don’t imply how Pokémon Scarlet and Violet simply kickstarted the franchise’s ninth era. Wanting again on the monster capturing collection’ final 12 months, it’s not possible to miss the shift in how Pokémon is presenting its world, characters, and future. Whereas the most recent sport is presently riddled with bugs and struggling to realize the bold imaginative and prescient at its core, as a longtime fan, this previous yr has me feeling extra enticed by the franchise than I’ve been in fairly a while.

Final yr was Pokémon’s twenty fifth anniversary, and it ended on a wierd notice. Pokémon Legends: Arceus was looming for January, however 2021’s massive Pokémon sport was Sensible Diamond and Shining Pearl, remakes of the 2006 DS video games. As trustworthy remakes of 15-year-old video games, they had been emblematic of a second in Pokémon historical past when the world because it was offered within the video games by no means felt fairly as massive as its promise. For a narrative concerning the gods of the Pokémon universe, Sensible Diamond and Shining Pearl really feel small in scale, solely reckoning with the realities of its main gamers in subtext and safely taking part in the hits in terms of modernizing a traditional. It was a wierd option to cap off the collection reaching 1 / 4 of a century, and is widely considered a low point in those 25 years.

A Pokémon trainer is seen holding a glowing red Pokéball, Irida and Kamado are seen behind him, watching in shock at something off camera.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus was one of many collection’ best makes use of of its personal lore.
Screenshot: The Pokémon Firm / Kotaku

With that in thoughts, BDSP is in stark distinction to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which kicked off Pokémon’s twenty sixth yr in a bold, messy fashion. Legends: Arceus was the collection’ first step into an open-world format. Sure, Pokémon Sword and Defend had the Wild Space, however structurally, that sport wasn’t constructed round exploration. This modified in Legends: Arceus, and it allowed a fluidity in exploration the collection had by no means earlier than seen (and, due shade to Scarlet and Violet, hasn’t seen since). Whereas two months prior, the DS remakes had been evocative of an easier time with less complicated tales to inform, Pokémon Legends: Arceus managed to make this well-trod universe mysterious, harmful, and value exploring.

It’s been almost a yr since I performed Pokémon Legends: Arceus to completion, and I figured I used to be going to be spending the following 25 years of Pokémon ready to recapture the highs of its remaining hours. The place so many Pokémon video games offered their lore in shallow, surface-level methods and fell into formulaic tales about evil organizations capturing highly effective Pokémon for their very own greed solely to be defeated by a 10-year-old, Legends: Arceus really dedicated to elevating its writing past subtext and broad strokes, really partaking with the unusual conflicts and contradictions that at all times lay simply beneath this world’s floor. It didn’t really feel prefer it was giving into some edgelord fantasy of what Pokémon could possibly be, it was simply extra willing to show the world as it always had been: a world of triumph and tragedy the place individuals and Pokémons’ ambitions collide.

A Pokémon trainer is seen facing Arceus in a dark, ethereal space under the night sky.

Because the title implies, Arceus performs a significant position within the story of Pokémon Legends: Arceus relatively than merely being an occasion tacked onto one other sport.
Screenshot: The Pokémon Firm / Kotaku

Legends: Arceus was the story about Pokémon gods the unique Diamond and Pearl at all times may have been. It pulled from Pokémon lore to create an isekai story by which your character was dragged by means of time to undo catastrophic injury brought on by Pokémon’s literal Devil allegory. The titular god transports the principle character into the prehistoric land of Hisui, the place the Pokémon League has but to homogenize many of the world’s tradition to be central to aggressive sport, and as a substitute helps you to see the beginnings of humanity and Pokémons’ coexistence. Pokéballs are new innovations and never everyone seems to be thrilled to see their buddies shoved inside them, and whereas its conclusions are up for debate, that it’s even prepared to ask questions on long-held traditions on this universe is commendable.

Legends: Arceus paints a narrative of the franchise’s historical past onto a buggy, however fluid canvas. Its remaining hours, by which god Pokémon Dialga, Palkia, Giratina, and Arceus itself lastly play a task as forces of nature not sure to humanity, however to one another, felt like the sport I needed Diamond and Pearl to be, and was proof that the collection can and would develop up alongside me, with out forgoing the sense of childlike surprise that made it so interesting in my youth.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is all about the found family dynamic.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is all concerning the discovered household dynamic.
Screenshot: The Pokémon Firm / Kotaku

Regardless of their myriad flaws, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet really feel like an try for Recreation Freak to proceed to bridge that hole, each from a systemic facet, and a story one. It’s essentially the most “open world” Pokémon has ever dared to be, with the Paldea area being one (principally) seamless map that you may discover with buddies with few limits. It lacks the identical fluid traversal of Legends: Arceus, nevertheless it provides gamers extra freedom than ever to discover a world that feels each actually and figuratively larger than it has in any prior video games.

As you journey by means of Paldea capturing Pokémon, Scarlet and Violet comply with three main storylines, every with a definite human core on the heart. If Legends: Arceus was the step ahead for a way Pokémon offered its lore, Scarlet and Violet takes extra care with its character writing, coping with tales of grief, a surprisingly nuanced tackle a bullying narrative, and a shocking finale that manages to introduce fascinating lore whereas protecting human connection central.

Within the month since Scarlet and Violet launched, I’ve gathered in Discord servers to look at a number of buddies play by means of the sport’s finale and listen to their astonishment on the turns it takes. The character writing all through the sport had been good, nevertheless it was nonetheless a reasonably customary school-anime storyline. The shift right into a science-fiction catastrophe story with the sport’s hot professors on the heart feels earned, and possessed of the fitting stage of poignancy to resonate as soon as once more with me every time I’ve watched a pal hit the credit.

A Pokémon trainer is seen in an elevator talking to Professor Turo.

Professor Turo in Pokémon Violet (and Sada, in Scarlet) performs an enigmatic position till a intestine punch of an endgame.
Screenshot: The Pokémon Firm / Kotaku

Pokémon has at all times had the potential to achieve these narrative highs, nevertheless it hasn’t felt like Recreation Freak has ever been so laser-focused on presenting these tales with such readability as it’s in Scarlet and Violet’s remaining hours.

However what’s modified within the time since Diamond and Pearl used Pokémon’s gods as principally set dressing? Nicely, lots, because it occurs. Instances are altering over at Recreation Freak, and that was made fairly clear earlier this yr when longtime sport director Junichi Masuda moved to a different position within The Pokémon Company. New management’s spearheading the video games as of late, with Kazumasa Iwao and Shigeru Ohmori directing Legends: Arceus and Scarlet and Violet, respectively. As new leads and new visions come up, Pokémon feels prefer it’s lastly getting out of the samey rut by which the collection has been caught for a number of generations. This presents an thrilling prospect, even when it means saying goodbye to previous buddies alongside the way in which.

Ash Ketchum is seen holding a trophy with Pikachu on his shoulder. They're surrounded by Lucario, Dragonite, Gengar, Sirfetch'd, and Dracovish.

Now that Ash is a Pokémon champion, his story is full.
Picture: The Pokémon Firm

Whereas the video games are reaching for brand new heights (and maybe struggling to get there on the technical facet), so, too, should the remainder of the franchise. Final week noticed the momentous announcement that the following season of the Pokémon anime won’t star longtime protagonists Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. After 25 years, the collection will introduce new leads Liko and Roy, accompanied by the Scarlet and Violet starter Pokémon Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly. It’s a troublesome capsule to swallow, and whilst an individual who watches the anime casually as of late, it doesn’t fairly really feel actual.

Ash and Pikachu have been the face of the Pokémon present for nearly so long as I’ve been alive, and as such, they’ve been in all probability the one touchstone of the franchise that each fan, younger and previous, has felt a connection to in some unspecified time in the future.

I can ask my nephew who his favourite Pokémon is, and he’ll inevitably inform me one from Technology VII or VIII, as a result of these are those he grew up with. However he is aware of who Ash and Pikachu are, as a result of they’ve been the one fixed. Now my niece, who simply turned two, may not develop up watching the identical child from Pallet City combat to turn into the easiest like nobody ever was. As a substitute, she’ll know Liko and Roy.

Liko and Roy are seen standing in a field with Sprigatito, Quaxly, and Fuecoco.

By passing the torch, Pokémon is opening the anime to new tales.
Picture: The Pokémon Firm

Ash’s departure seems like essentially the most readily obvious signal of Pokémon’s altering instances. It’s time for brand new tales, new adventures, and new concepts to lastly make their manner into the long-conservative franchise. As a participant who’d resigned himself to loving Pokémon for the tales I wrote myself as I performed, it’s heartening to see the franchise as a complete acknowledge its personal stagnation, and begin to envision a brand new starting, even when its video games nonetheless really feel like they’re falling aside getting there. As unhappy as I’m to see a few of the previous methods die, name me Professor Turo, as a result of I’m excited for the way forward for Pokémon.

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