Tuesday 8 January 2013

Why I Love Pokémon

The newest generation of the famed Pokémon franchise was announced today via Nintendo's first Nintendo Direct of 2013 - its paired versions, Pokémon X Version and Pokémon Y Version are set to be released for the Nintendo 3DS this October across all major regions. While this announcement completely caught me off guard (Generation V is not even two years old outside of Japan), I couldn't help but jizz with excitement - the new 3D visuals, dynamic battle setup and promise of a new, expansive region and 100+ new critters to capture and collect are all promising signs that Generation VI will make me play my 3DS until it overheats and explodes.

So, why am I here today? Well, with Generation VI arriving in just nine months, I feel it's time for my retrospective of one of my favourite video game franchises of all time. As usual, the best place to start is the beginning...

Generation I

Released in Japan as Pokémon Red Version and Green Version in 1996, the localized versions which would later be dubbed Red and Blue did not arrive in shops overseas until the end of 1998 - they were based primarily on Pocket Monsters: Blue, a special edition release of the aforementioned Japanese titles that featured updated sprites and dialogue. These games spearheaded the unique paired releases of Pokémon titles and the gameplay became a phenomenon amongst players - Red, Blue and Green have since sold around 30 million copies worldwide, and you can be sure they'll pop up in many best games ever lists. For me, they reek of nostalgia, but are genuinely fun titles that have aged well - my brother owned both of them but lost Red Version after a while. I myself had the third release, Yellow Version, which featured Pikachu as the mascot. I would often get stuck and confused, which is amusing seeing how linear and user friendly Pokémon really is. Everything from the fantastic 8-bit music to the expansive world of Kanto to even the hilariously odd sprites and glitches leaves a wonderful mark, and I can only hope they soon arrive on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. Make it happen, Nintendo.

Generation II

The second generation of Pokémon took over a year to reach regions outside of Japan once again, but the wait was worth it - Pokémon Gold Version and Pokémon Silver Version introduced players to the world of Johto (which was never previously discovered, despite being right next to Kanto?...) and brings 100 new Pokémon to the table. They are without a doubt part of my personal favourite generation of the series, backed by really good storylines, fantastic Pokémon designs and music which is literally heaven in audial format. The games also expanded beyond the monochrome style of Red and Blue with vibrant colours thanks to the Game Boy Colour, and this allowed for improved character sprites and more appealing landscapes. Even the third iteration of this generation, Pokémon Crystal Version, was the first to feature animated Pokémon sprites, which at the time was very impressive, and all three versions included a real time day/night feature. I was always a big fan of Lugia so Silver was my option - but either way, this generation is simply the finest of the Pokémon timeline. 

Generation III

The third generation of Pokémon still took around four months to bless shops overseas, but compared to the previous generations, this wait was fairly modest - these were the first titles for the Game Boy Advance and consequently used the improved hardware to adopt new mechanics. Double and tag battles were implemented, as well as a greater emphasis on weather and its influence on the battle, with some routes plagued by sandstorms and others by vicious rains. The storyline of these games was incredibly compelling, with the stakes raised higher than ever before as legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre are reawakened; leading to their subsequent battle which threatens the world of land and sea. A third iteration, Emerald Version, was released two years later and was the only version of this generation's original releases that I owned. Though it had a few stinkers in regards to its new Pokémon, Generation III was a fantastic entry to the canon - it makes me feel so old to remember the adverts I saw on TV for it many years ago. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, enhanced remakes of the Generation I classics, also saw a release in this generation, with beefed up graphics and music which made them an even more delightful experience.

Generation IV

Pokémon's next generation once again leapt to new hardware - the Nintendo DS. Pokémon Diamond Version and Pearl Version were released in Japan at the end of 2006 and other territories during Spring 2007 - new concepts that have since become commonplace in Pokémon gameplay include the use of online play, allowing you to battle or trade with other folks over Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, as well as improved 3D graphics, touchscreen controls and over 100 new Pokémon as always. I'll clear this up before confusion arises - I fucking love these games. But they do not leave much of an impact. By that I mean while they are very, very good, they do not build much upon the formula outside of standard hardware improvements, and the online integration is rather primitive. The story also reaches levels of absurdity and so much more could've been done with the DS in terms of visuals. The third release, Pokémon Platinum, came and went for me but the enhanced remakes of Generation II's titles, HeartGold and SoulSilver, proved to be my favourite games of the franchise.

Generation V

The announcement of the Generation V Pokémon games back in early 2010 was one that garnered much interest - having gone from colours to metals to vibrant jewels with past titles, Nintendo leapt back to a more basic contrast with Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version, released at the end of 2010 in Japan and during Spring 2011 in other countries. Not only was the monochrome title choice a point of interest, but so was the very fact that this generation did not leap to a new console - it was once again at home on the Nintendo DS, so it seems odd that they managed to improve so much upon the past releases. Black and White introduced a new dynamic camera in the battle system, fully animated Pokémon sprites, a much greater emphasis on 3D visuals and a narrative that is far more integral to the characters and Pokémon within it - and also one that is incredibly engaging. It also introduced more Pokémon than any other generation, and while it too had a few rubbish ones, the new lineup was universally outstanding. Black and White come incredibly close to being my favourite games of the series, and I highly recommend them to anyone who owns a Nintendo DS. As for their sequels, I haven't played them and am not really fussed, so I can't comment.

That brings my Pokémon retrospective to a closure - I hope you enjoyed it, and will join me and many others in the anticipated wait for X and Y this October! Rejoice!