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An earlier version of this article first appeared on UNILAD, and can be found here. Since the release of Pokémon Sword & Shield plus both major expansions, I decided it was time to revisit and update this feature.
The Pokémon franchise probably has one of the most vocal, passionate fanbases in all of gaming... which is me putting mildly. Most of us first likely had our first experience with the franchise at an early age, so those of us who've stuck with it over the years understandably feel a unique attachment to it.
With that attachment comes, perhaps, a sense of ownership. A sense that we know where we want to the franchise to go and what's best for it. As such, when Pokémon doesn't conform to those expectations, some of us can get rather... heated over changes we don't agree with, or over a lack of changes where we feel evolution is needed.
Just look at the last (and arguably biggest ever) Pokémon controversy. I'm sure I don't need to remind you about about how fans reacted to the news that Pokémon Sword & Shield wouldn't feature every single Pokémon. It's been well over a year now and I still reel from the shocking way in which some people behaved in response to this news.
Without really rehashing it again - because life is too short and I can't be bothered - the TLDR for those of you who somehow missed it is that Game Freak, for the first time, released Pokémon games in which you couldn't "catch 'em all".
While I don't agree with the childish, petulant way some of these fans handled the situation, I certainly understand their frustration to an extent.
One of the coolest things about the Pokémon titles over the years is the way Game Freak has allowed us to carry our collections over from game to game, even across different console generations. For example, I have a level 100 Salamance that I first raised in Pokémon Ruby on the Game Boy Advance, that I was able to transfer to the DS games, and then the 3DS games over the years.
I've had that exact same Pokémon across multiple games since I was ten years old. Unfortunately, Salamance ended up being one of the Pokémon that wasn't compatible with Sword & Shield at launch, ending a 15 year run with one of my favourite monsters.
While the reality of not being able to have that Salamance come over to the new games is, undeniably, a little disappointing, I got over it pretty quickly. I do love having him with me, but I don't typically battle with him, as I prefer to build up a team with newer Pokémon for more of a challenge, and don't really get invested in battling online after I've finished the single-player experience.
With that said, I totally get that there are those more serious players who have teams they've raised and trained since the days of the Game Boy Advance, teams they were probably excited to see in HD for the first time ever on Nintendo Switch and take into exciting new battles against other players online.
These new restrictions on which Pokémon can and can't work with Sword & Shield means that these players, who are so invested in their teams, might see some or all of their precious lineup stuck stranded an older Nintendo system, unable to join the new games.
Honestly, that sucks for them, especially since the announcement of the Pokémon Home transfer service suggested all our monsters from the 3DS games, as well as Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu & Eevee and Pokémon GO would be able to cross over. The announcement that this wouldn't be the case kind of came out of nowhere, which really added to the sting of it.
On the other hand, I get where Game Freak and Nintendo are coming from with what ultimately must have been a difficult decision. They certainly would have seen the backlash coming, at the very least, and wouldn't have done what they did lightly knowing how people would react. Game Freak producer Junichi Masuda explained to Famitsu that since the new games will bring the total number of monsters past 1,000, trying to include them all in one game would make for an unbalanced experience.
He also suggested that fewer Pokémon means the team can now focus on higher quality animations for the monsters that remain. Fair enough, right? Sadly, Masuda's comments about better animation and visuals inevitably opened up Sword & Shield to extra scrutiny from fans.
Because of this, and the fact that Pokémon is no longer on the 3DS, members of the Pokémon community assessed Sword & Shield in a light they might not have before. You'll remember how things like the texture on the trees in the open-world area came under scrutiny, and how memes took the piss out of characters that would randomly pop in. Of course I do get why fans were so critical of these aspects, especially when we've seen that the Nintendo Switch can in fact handle the likes of Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, and The Witcher 3.
Why shouldn't the first Switch Pokémon games have been held to a higher standard in terms of presentation? Especially when we'd been told the National Dex had been sacrificed for certain features that we can plainly see weren't there. Sword & Shield do, sadly, feel quite empty in some respects. And while the two DLC expansions offered the promise of something more, they still didn't quite do what I think a lot of old school fans were expecting or hoping they would do.
Unfortunately, I think the whole "Dexit" fiasco is representative of a shift away from hardcore Pokémon players, and an attempt to return the franchise to a simpler, more accessible time. While that might sting for longtime fans of the series, what I think we have to try and remember is that Pokémon's core audience has always been young children, and that audience should be catered to first and foremost.
The target audience of Pokémon has always been and will always be lil nippers. It's that simple. That doesn't mean adults can't still play the games and enjoy them (I know I will), but we have to understand that Nintendo and GameFreak aren't necessarily making them with us older gamers predominately in mind anymore.
When Pokémon Red & Blue released all those years ago, the majority of us fell in the love with the franchise at an early age. We collected the cards, we watched the anime, we forced our parents to sit through Mewtwo Strikes Back in cinemas full of screaming toddlers. It was our time, and it was glorious.
While what Masuda suggested about sacrificing the National Dex for better visuals is questionable, I do think his comments about a better balanced game are entirely valid. I don't know that having over 1,000 Pokémon to choose from and train would necessarily be the best or most appealing sales point for young kids. I'm honestly not so sure I would have gone near Pokémon Red back in the day if you told me there were that many of the feckers to catch.
I'd also argue that this shift away from hardcore Pokémon players isn't entirely that sudden. In fact, their desire to keep appealing to the young'uns is probably exactly why the Pokémon formula has remained unchanged for over two decades now.
There's no way Nintendo and Game Freak haven't heard the cries for a fully open world Pokémon game, or an increased level of challenge in the core games. In my opinion, the reason they haven't done this is because they want to keep things as simple as possible for their core audience. Features that we might want as older, more experienced players aren't necessarily what's best or most appealing to those ten-year-olds who had their first Pokémon experience with Sun & Moon, and are eagerly awaiting new adventures in the Galar region.
They hit on the exact right formula to do that back in 1998, and it seems to have served them well in the years since, as new generations of kids keep buying the new games as older fans start to realise that the franchise just isn't for them anymore.
So yeah, it sucks a bit to admit that we, the older fans, might be drifting away from Pokémon . You can be mad, and you complain that Game Freak isn't listening or is abandoning dedicated fans - but the bottom line is that Pokémon has always been, and will always be a game for kids before anything else, and their interests should come above ours as a result.
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