These last days, if not weeks, I spent in reminiscence of my child-to-teenage days. Thanks to the Epic Mickey-announcement I finally got myself the Don Rosa Scrooge McDuck-collection. There´s also the upcoming movie-adaption of Where the Wild Things Are, a book I loved as a child (did I mention that my first name is Max). This, however, brought me to another nostalgia moment of mine: Pokémon (I´ll write Pokemon for greater comfort).
The Pokemon-anime was what brought me to…well, anime. Of course, i saw some anime before that, but didn´t know that it was anime, stuff like Heidi, Niklaas or Saber Rider. Pokemon made me aware of anime, it got me interested in it. I remember how I initially hated Dragonball, but shortly afterwards got to love it. But Pokemon wasn´t just an anime. It was a phenomenon. Before the first game´s release, there simply wasn´t a single thing more interesting than this. Pokemon Red and Blue, the ultimate game-experience! At least that´s what many friends of mine and me myself thought back then in 1998. Many of my classmates got the game, and breaks between classes were filled with Pokemon-battles. Oh how awesome the GameBoy-link cable was. And I´ll never forget about how I finally managed to defeat the level 51 Digdri (the evolved worm-Pokemon), when it was unbeaten before. Pokemon was a small crack in reality.
Now, more than ten years later, the Pokemon-hype has cooled down to most of its first-day fans. Personally, that´s because of how stale the gameplay has become. Basically, the Pokemon you play today, is the Pokemon you played then. Some like that, others not so much. But although many fans don´t like the modern games that much anymore, the wish for a large-scale home console Pokemon is still there. And there´s a reason for it.
The Pokemon-world is a “feel-good”-place. There´s no real danger, except for a light adventure-tone, that just needs a little portion of danger. But nothing like getting killed (ha, you return to a Poke-center if you´re defeated) or other negative events. And who didn´t envy young Ash Ketchum, who was allowed to travel the world all by himself with a loyal, cute, little monster, when all of us had to go to school? Yeah, like totally…
Nintendo has a lot of legit reasons for holding off such a complex Pokemon-game for Wii or future home systems, though. First and foreall, the Pokemon-franchise is a handheld-series. The handheld-games are destined to sell several million units, whereas the few home system-titles failed to come anywhere close to those numbers. Of course, none of those N64- or GameCube- or Wii-titles had a lot of complexity and polish put into it, thus that´s no wonder. But it is the next point against such a Pokemon: Costs. Cost would rise to heaven did Nintendo use the same effort for a Pokemon as they´re using for, i.e., a Zelda-game. And last but not least, what kind of gameplay is right? A top-down RPG with silly random encounters probably wouldn´t be the hottest item on the market.
Despite all those reasons, I believe Nintendo both HAS TO create such a Pokemon-game one day AND owes it to us. “Us” being the long-time fans of the franchise. Sure, no company does something out of pure love, but even so, at some point Nintendo will release a handheld that´s powerful enough to force some bigger upgrades to the games. The most important aspect of bringing the Pokemon-series to the big screen, though, is connectivity.
That´s something Square Enix did with the last multiplayer-Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles-game, even when they kind of chose the lazy way. Having two different, but ultimately very similiar versions of one and the same game, thus allowing the player to enjoy high fidelity at home, while still being able to proceed on your way. I think that would be the best solution for the Pokemon-series.
Imagine my dream-Pokemon-game on the Wii: You create your own Pokemon-trainer, can choose from various goals, like becoming number one trainer, or number one contest-winner, or studying all Pokemon, or, or, or. Stuff like that. So you visit Professor Oak and he gives you your first Pokemon. It follows you around while you run. And how beautiful it looks: Gorgeous cel-shading visuals, fully interactive 3d-environments, controllable camera, and various actions for your ingame-avatar. You can climb trees or mountains, swim and dive in rivers, enter dark caverns that you need to bring some light source with you to find your way. You´ll travel past wide open green grass environments. And best of all: You see Pokemon doing whatever they´re supposed to do. There, a group of Tauros (the bull-Pokemon) is running across a field next to you. They seem to have a race against each other. You look above in the sky, and two male Pidgeons are competing for a female one. You enter a forest, hear a sound, climb a tree and find a nest of Smettbos (the butterfly-Pokemon). You´re sitting on a branch and decide to catch on of those. Therefore you take aim with the wiimote-pointer and throw a Poke-ball. It doesn´t work, and suddenly a group of Smettbos is attacking you. You jump of the tree, trying to flee from the danger. The angry Pokemon are still angrily following you, but suddenly, your own Pokemon jumps in and defends you from the enemies. You stop running an start giving commands, like “Jump into air and do xyz-attack!” or “Dodge the Smettbo´s next attack, then rush into it!” or “Climb that tree and attack from above!“. You succeed, and with both your Pokemon-partner and yourself exhausted, you lie down at a clearing, as you pat your Pokemon onto its head, saying “Thanks, xyz“, while showing a gentle smile. “Let´s look for a Poke-center, xyz!“, and your journey goes on.
THAT is my dream-Pokemon-game. Obviously, its gameplay would be very different from what the current Pokemon-games are like. First, and most importantly, the combat system. Instead of entering a separate battle-screen, all battles would take place in real-time, with no change of the environment. Battles would start seamlessly, dynamically. Also, no random battles. Pokemon have realistic (in terms of the franchises rules) behavior, and you can choose to quietly watch them, find out details or simply start a battle. Think of Monster Hunter 3 for Wii in terms of what the Pokemon would be like here. Next is how you´d command your Pokemon in battle. No silly “four attacks, repeat until win or lose”. Instead, commands are varying, changing depending on the circumstances of your current battle. Like in the anime-series, your Pokemon will permanently run around, no stale “you attack…i attack…you attack…” and so forth. The INT-value of your Pokemon finally is worth more than just deciding whore begins the fight. Instead, there´s a system like the ATB-system from i.e. Final Fantasy 7 or 8. Whenever your INT-bar is full, your Pokemon can attack again. If the difference is that high, that could result in one Pokemon being able to attack three times while the other one can launch only one. And while the fight is going on, you could still run around with your ingame-avatar. The focus in terms of player-action is on the ingame-avatar, not the Pokemon. You don´t control the Pokemon, you control the ingame-character you created. That one, though, can do many things similiar to Link in the Zelda-series. No alibi-actions like most JRPGs offer, but real interaction and exploration. Other than environment- and battle-interaction, there´d be an important section of the game where you interact with your Pokemon themselves. Not just a simple “Talk to it and the relationship-value goes up 1“, but a deep simulation-system, at least the level of Nintendogs (which isn´t that high anyway). Though Pokemon are thinking creatures unlike real animals, so there´d be more than just washing and throwing frisbees, naturally. And once you´re done playing at home, you start up your Nintendo DS, link it to your Wii-game, transfer data and can play on-the-go, with traditional top-down view and random encounters.
And that´d be what I could happily die afterwards. Which is why it´ll never come true. I´m a fanatic Zelda-fan, but I honestly couldn´t decide what I´d prefer…my dream Zelda-game, or my dream Pokemon-game. That´s how much potential the Pokemon-franchise actually has as a video game. It´s up to Nintendo to unfold it, though you could argue that in terms of sales, they already did. Maybe…just maybe…