From cartoons to trading cards to toys, Pokémon has been a succesful media franchise for 25 years, with tons of fans from all over the world.
But fans of the Pokémon video games have been begging for a major shake-up to the series — and now, with the announcement of the new Pokémon Legends: Arceus, they may get one.
Earlier this month, Pokémon player ChocolateKieran — who asked us to refer to him by his username for privacy and safety reasons — was watching the company’s 25th anniversary live stream with his followers on Twitch.
“This is how they always start it off, ya know,” he told his followers. “Little nostalgia thing.”
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 things fans have come to expect.
And then something not so predictable happened: The company showed off a brand new, “open-world” Pokémon game for the Nintendo Switch. To ChocolateKieran, it looked a lot like a classic Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
“Is this like Breath of the Wild Pokémon? This is Breath of the Wild Pokémon,” he exclaimed excitedly on the stream. “Oh, you can just stealthily just catch mons? I ain’t gonna lie, that’s kinda 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 have existed for quite a while, but ChocolateKieran says this is new for Pokémon. He’s been playing the games since he was four years old, and “other than kind of small gimmicks when it comes to battle, or fine-tuning what they have, the formula for Pokémon has stayed the same,” he tells me.
That’s different that other legacy franchises that have taken big risks with their flagship versions — like Breath of the Wild. That game changed the design of a famous franchise, by giving players a big world to explore, while still retaining the sense of adventure fans loved.
Some fans want to see the same for Pokémon. “I want to see more lore, and more of a heavy focus on the story and world-building,” says ChocolateKieran. “I want it to feel like a true AAA game so that people who aren’t even interested in Pokémon can be like — what is this game?”
But making something new takes time, says video game producer Grant Shonkwiler. “It can be hard to innovate when you have a consistently tight deadline of say, Novemeber of every year.”
And Pokémon games are often made on strict — sometimes yearly — deadlines.
Shonkwiler knows a thing or two about the pressure of working on a franchise with lots of fan expectations. He worked on the 2016 remake of the first-person shooter Doom. “It’s storied, right? And there is that weight of like — I don’t want to be the person to mess it up. I don’t want to be the person who ruins 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 speaking as a fan, she says the game has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
“I remember very vividly sitting down with my older brother playing Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Coliseum, Pokémon Stadium,” she says. Those games were spinoffs — but proof that Pokémon has taken some risks with the formula over the years.
That’s why for her, what happens with Pokémon Legends: Arceus doesn’t matter all that much. Kelley sees Pokémon as a thing much bigger than just one game.
“You have your speedrunners, you have your competitive players, you have your casuals that just love playing the game. And you also have your card fanatics.” she says. “There’s so many different ways you can interact with the community that are just so overwhelmingly positive.”
Pokémon is a global media empire. It’s fair to say that whatever does happen with this bigger, more ambitious game — the Pokéball will keep on rolling.
This story was edited for radio and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.