From comics to trading cards to toys, Pokémon has been a successful media franchise for 25 years, with many fans from around the world.
But fans of the Pokémon video games have asked for a major cleanup of the series – and now, with the announcement of the new Pokémon Legends: Arceus, they can get one.
Earlier this month, the Pokémon player ChocolateKieran – who asked us to refer to him by his username for privacy and security reasons – saw the company’s 25th anniversary with his followers on Twitch.
“That’s how they always start it, you know,” he told his followers. “A little nostalgia.”
A few minutes later, the company announced remakes of two classic Pokémon games, Diamond and Pearl. It was predictable, in line with the kind of thing fans have expected.
And then something not so predictable happened: The company unveiled a brand new, “open-world” Pokémon game for the Nintendo Switch. For ChocolateKieran, it looked a lot like a classic Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
“Is this so Breath of the Wild Pokémon? This is Breath of the Wild Pokémon, “he exclaimed excitedly in the stream.” Oh, you can just sneak just catch mons? I’m not going to lie, it’s quite a fire. “
The new Pokémon Legends: Arceus promises what the company calls “a new approach to the Pokémon video game series” that “breaks new ground.”
Open World Games has been around for a while, but ChocolateKieran says this is new to Pokémon. He’s been playing the games since he was four years old, and “apart from the kind of little gimmicks when it comes to combat, or fine-tuning what they have, the formula for Pokémon has remained the same,” he tells me.
It’s different from other older franchises that have taken big risks with their flagship versions – like Breath of the Wild. That game changed the design of a famous franchise, giving players a vast world to explore, while still retaining the feeling of adventure fans loved.
Some fans will see the same for Pokémon. “I want to see more lore, and more heavy focus on history and world building,” says ChocolateKieran. “I want it to feel like a real AAA game so that people who are not even interested in Pokémon can be like – how is this game?”
But creating something new takes time, says video game producer Grant Shonkwiler. “It can be difficult to innovate when you have an even deadline to say, Novemeber for each year.”
And Pokémon games are often made on strict – sometimes annual – deadlines.
Shonkwiler knows something about the pressure of working on a franchise with many expectations for the fans. He worked on the 2016 remake of the first-person shooter Doom. “There are floors, right? And that’s the weight of the like – I do not want to be the person who destroys it. I do not want to be the person who destroys Pokémon.”
Rosemary Kelley, known as Nekkra in the Esports community, works for the Pokémon company as a commentator for competitive events and as a voice actor. But when she speaks like a fan, she says that the game has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
“I remember very vividly when I sat down with my big brother and played Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Coliseum, Pokémon Stadium“” These games were spinoffs – but proof that Pokémon have taken some risks with the formula over the years.
That’s why it’s what happens to her Pokémon Legends: Arceus does not matter so much. Kelley sees Pokémon as something much bigger than just one game.
“You have speedrunners, you have your competitive players, you have casuals who just love to play the game. And you also have your card fanatics.” she says. “There are so many different ways you can interact with society, which are just so overwhelmingly positive.”
Pokémon is a global media empire. It’s fair to say that what’s happening with this bigger, more ambitious game – Pokéball will keep rolling.
This story was edited for radio and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer.