A new Pokémon game announcement is supposed to be a joyous occasion. I still remember waking up early one morning in the early 2010s to see the first trailer for Pokémon X and Y, which felt like a radical shift for the franchise at the time. I always look forward to those exciting few minutes that give me my first glance at a new adventure that will get my friends and me talking.
I didn’t quite have that same reaction when I saw the news about Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. When I turned on February’s digital Pokémon showcase, I was mostly excited to hear about new DLC for Pokémon Legends: Arceus. I got that news, but then the unexpected generation nine announcement quickly overshadowed it. Instead of eliciting a squeal of joy, it left me feeling a little disappointed.
That’s not because I don’t think it looks fun. On the contrary, I’m eager to explore the game’s Spain-inspired open-world alongside my new duck friend. It’s just that it feels like it’s releasing far too soon, giving developer Game Freak no time to take feedback from Arceus and use it to evolve the series.
When I played Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I routinely said “I can’t wait to see this feature in the next mainline Pokémon game.” From freeform catching to initiative-based combat, every little tweak felt like it was auditioning for the next big RPG. At the time, my assumption was that Arceus would allow Game Freak to put some space between Pokémon generations and test out some new mechanics in a lower-stakes game. I figured we’d see a proper sequel to Sword and Shield in late 2023 at the earliest, but with a lot of quality of life changes in tow.
That isn’t going to be the case. It’s now clear that Game Freak’s time was split over the past few years as it worked on Arceus in tandem with Scarlet/Violet. The latter will launch this year, with development likely nearing its final stages already.
That naturally means that Game Freak didn’t build the game around Arceus feedback (it only launched one month ago, so that would be a superhuman feat). The positive buzz around that game’s quality of life changes didn’t guide development, so there’s little reason to believe the new games will feel much different from Sword and Shield. Any significant tweaks won’t come until generation 10 lands in 2025.
I can’t help but feel like it’s a missed opportunity in the making. After playing Arceus, I’m not sure I can easily go back to some of the standard RPGs’ more aged mechanics. I loved that catching was as simple as throwing a ball without initiating a random battle. I was thrilled when I realized I could readjust a monster’s moves at any time without going through hoops to relearn deleted attacks. I’ve seen a vision of a modern Pokémon game and it’s bizarre to think that I could be going backward soon.
There is a chance that some of Arceus’ best features could still be present in Scarlet/Violet. Considering both games were in development at the same time, Game Freak may have built the game around some unifying changes. Even if that’s the case, there’s no guarantee that the features players actually liked in Arceus will be the ones present here. It would be a development shot in the dark, rather than a decision based on what worked and what didn’t for players.
Breaking the cycle
Pokémon isn’t exactly an annualized series like Madden, but it functions like one. With how routinely Game Freak churns out games (it currently operates on a somewhat strict three-year cycle), there’s no time to learn and change. By the time players have played through a game and formulated a list of grievances, it’s already too late. The developer is already on to the next project.
I was hoping that would change. When Game Freak outsourced development on Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond out to ICLA, it felt like a move towards sustainability. Game Freak could take more time to refine its games, while another studio kept the money-making churn going. That was wishful thinking. Instead, Game Freak was simply off making two giant games at the same time. The problem still persists and may even be worse now.
Yes, I’m excited about Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, but I’m much more interested in what’s coming after it. Generation 10 is likely going to bring the game pair I was hoping to see after playing Arceus. I’ll patiently wait for that day, but I can’t help but think that we could get one excellent Pokémon game if Game Freak wasn’t pumping out several good ones.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is set to launch in late 2022 for Nintendo Switch.
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