Pokémon Video Games are Entering a New Resurgent Era

Photo by Branden Skeli from Unsplash.

Less than a month into the life cycle of “Pokémon Legends: Arceus,” Nintendo announced the next main series title in the Pokémon franchise. Returning to their usual style of game releases, the new pair has been titled “Pokémon Scarlet” and “Pokémon Violet” and will take place in a setting based around Spain. Slated for a late 2022 release, they will have a lot to live up to if they want to match the expectations set by “Legends: Arceus.”

The first trailer didn’t show us anything groundbreaking. They revealed the three starters: grass-type cat Sprigatito, fire-type crocodile Fuecoco, and water-type duck Quaxly, as well as a good chunk of other available Pokémon. I’ll give a shoutout here to Bounsweet, who I am stoked to be able to use. Seriously, its final evolution Tsareena is one of my favorite Pokémon of all time.

But the main selling point to the upcoming games is essentially a confirmation that we are entering a new era of Pokémon. “Pokémon Scarlet” and “Violet” are confirmed to have open-world gameplay once more, with the trailer going as far as implying that even the cities will be included in one big world. I wouldn’t expect Pokémon to do away with loading screens (although that would be seriously amazing), but the confirmation is that for the third straight unique Pokémon title, they intend to build upon the idea of open-world gameplay.

When the Wild Area was announced for “Pokémon Sword” and “Shield,” I wasn’t expecting too much. What we got, while disappointing to many, seemed up to par for a serious change to the Pokémon formula. You saw some Pokémon in the overworld, but you could also trek into the grass for random encounters. It was cute, but hardly a game-changer.

Meanwhile, “Legends: Arceus” took it to a level I couldn’t even fathom. Being based in the Sinnoh region long before Pokémon training was widely accepted, the premise of the game hindered around the player discovering Pokémon purely for the sake of further advancing human understanding. The idea of an overworld was massively expanded upon, with battling taking a backseat to the act of catching Pokémon, including the ability to catch Pokémon without battling them whatsoever. It made “Legends: Arceus” the most memorable and fun Pokémon title in recent memory, and it is thrilling to know that the overworld in any capacity will be making its return.

If Pokémon were to debut in 2022 as a brand new franchise, would it have succeeded in the traditional battle format? It’s remarkably tedious, and having no way to guarantee the Pokémon you find can be frustrating when hunting for rares. The joy of Pokémon came with the feeling of discovery as you learned more about Pokémon. Veterans of the series have had to watch that sense of excitement slowly dissipate as more Pokémon return to new games.

The introduction and continuation of the overworld idea feels like a conscious decision to change what people enjoy about Pokémon, rather than just expanding upon it. It gives the sense of the world being alive and ripe to explore. It makes the environments feel grounded in reality, and you have a better sense of what types of Pokémon you’ll find in different environments. Recent gaming trends have proven that worlds big enough to dive into make for successful gaming experiences. Nobody asked for an open-world Mario experience, but “Super Mario Odyssey” is regarded as one of the best games out there. “Dark Souls”-like games are entirely centered around having an open world to blindly explore, with “Elden Ring” being an immediately successful entry to the genre.

Pokémon has finally taken a step into the modern gaming world, implementing key shifts away from the original Pokémon formula. Rather than view it from my ivory tower and complain that this isn’t Pokémon anymore, it was too easy to push those doubts aside in favor of a better future for the most prominent game series to ever exist.