This place is so old.
There’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, and with recent speculation that the upcoming Pokemon game on Nintendo Switch may be a reboot of the 1st gen games, it gets a new sense of urgency. That concern is that Pokemon has been doing a bit too much to attempt to relive its past.
I do understand the strong attachment to the Kanto region, its pokemon, and the characters associated with it. After all, that’s the place where the Pokemon franchise got its start. My concern is that, if 1st gen elements are over-represented, they can wear old, especially for faithful players that have been playing Pokemon for a long time.
One of the main concerns that Pokemon’s development team has had over the years is that Pokemon can be perceived as a game that one can “graduate” from, and move on to other games. This is an understandable concern, as Pokemon’s more complex strategic elements may not be immediately evident. This being the case, I question the effectiveness of continually returning to Kanto as a means of appealing to players that were involved in the early stages of the franchise but moved on to something else, or as an appeal to nostalgia.
For one thing, a continual return to Kanto and repeated nostalgic appeals can create the impression that Pokemon hasn’t been doing much since its early days. A person who hasn’t played Pokemon in a long time might see continual returns to Kanto and over-representation of 1st gen pokemon, and think the franchise isn’t really doing anything new. And if it doesn’t give us an experience we haven’t already had, that makes it easier to skip it.
We’re still hoofing through Viridian Forest, on the way to Pewter City to get a Boulderbadge. We’re still taking on Team Rocket at Silph Co. and having repeated battles against Giovanni. We’re still going through several consecutive routes packed with trainers that have either Normal/Flying or Grass/Poison pokemon, with little variation. We’re still battling a rival for the championship.
Is it really necessary to buy a new game for the same experience we’ve already had in several games we already own?
That question is not hyperbole. Consider for a moment just how many core Pokemon titles have included the Kanto setting:
First Generation: The Red, Green and Yellow versions all take place in Kanto. I’m not including Blue in this tally, since it’s pretty much the same game as Green.
Second Generation: Gold, Silver and Crystal each include the Kanto region.
Third Generation: Ruby and Sapphire take place in an entirely new setting, but we see the first Kanto remakes in FireRed and LeafGreen before we see the Emerald version.
Fourth Generation: Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum all take place in a new region, but Kanto is included in HeartGold and SoulSilver.
Fifth Generation: Four new games, all taking place in the new Unova setting.
Sixth Generation: Two games taking place in the new Kalos region, and two rebooting the Hoenn region.
Seventh Generation: Four new games in the new Alola region.
Considering this information, there are a couple noticeable trends. For one thing, it’s that we’ve gone three generations without treading in the Kanto region. While this can be viewed as a sign that Pokemon has been moving forward and not leaning too heavily on nostalgia, this could be used as an argument that we’re somehow overdue for a Kanto reboot.
The second noticeable trend is that nine-fourteenths of the core games have included Kanto, which comes to nearly one-third! This wouldn’t be that much of a big deal if the franchise were still young, but considering that it’s at over two dozen core games, that’s a massive over-representation of an old setting!
Even during more recent times, we’ve been noticing a certain favoritism towards more nostalgic concepts. In the Kalos games, we got a choice between the three Kanto starters before long into the game, and they received mega evolutions. One of the early areas is a very close recreation of Viridian Forest, and one of the Gyms even reused the layout for the Saffron gym in Kanto! That’s a pretty obvious use of throwbacks.
What’s more, in the seventh generation, we were treated to special variants of Kanto pokemon. While this was a breath of fresh air in its own sense and gave us some great designs (such as Alolan Raichu), it’s notable that only Kanto pokemon got this special treatment.
And while speaking of the Alola region, the recent games (Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon), featured a team called Rainbow Rocket, which was a new Team Rocket. This team had Giovanni as it’s head, and saw the leaders of the other teams serving under the Team Rocket banner. That all these leaders with their conflicting visions could be united under Giovanni and Team Rocket are a clear expression of favoritism to the franchise’s more nostalgic concepts!
Another point to bring up is the release of the virtual console games during the 6th and 7th generations. These re-releases gave us access to the old first and second generation games. And, as noted above, this is a handful of games that each featured the Kanto region. This means that the 6th and 7th generation actually did see games with Kanto in them! What’s more, this recent over-representation of a single region would blunt any nostalgic feeling one would get from yet another Kanto game, such as the theoretical Kanto remakes for Switch.
This retreading of the 1st gen isn’t something that’s limited to the video games, either. We see it in the trading card game, as well. Within a few years of the debut of the initial Base Set expansion, we saw the release of Base Set 2, which mainly contained reprints of cards from the Base Set, and was widely regarded as a rip-off. More recently, we saw the release of the Generations expansion. While the cards were mostly redone with the game’s power creep in mind, that it was intended to be a throwback to the original Base Set is obvious.
As far as the anime goes, one needs only look to the more recent movies to see the nostalgic appeal. Last year’s movie was a retelling of Ash’s first departure from Pallet Town with Pikachu. This year’s movie will have a story featuring Lugia, who was a staple character of the second movie. Even the main anime recently had a story arc with Ash making a short visit to Kanto to visit Brock and Misty.
Pokemon is a great franchise, but it spends way too much time living in the past. And if GameFreak is going to be leaning on the same feelings of nostalgia that they have been for the upcoming installment on Switch, I might not be feeling very strongly about it. Considering that Pokemon was one of the most innovative and creative games of all time when it made its debut, I think it appropriate that the game’s maker, GameFreak, continue to demonstrate that they’re capable of innovation and forward-thinking. After all, we saw a watch with a touch screen in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl about a decade before they became commercially available!