With recent game sales in store here, I decided to pick up Pokémon Sun. I’m the kind of fool who recognises how the series has gotten progressively worse, when the series hit Game Boy Advance with few saving graces thrown here and there, but nothing that could keep the series from falling steadily. Pokémon is, after all, mostly kept alive by its large fanbase, both in and out of electronic gaming, of which most people are have been there since the first few games. This has caused a certain kind of generational shift, where younger people see the franchise as something for their parents or the same age rather than for them. In 2014, Yo-Kai Watch‘s Jibanyan overtook Pikachu in overall popularity in Japan. This didn’t happen in the West though, despite Yo-Kai Watch being a franchise with potential. It was, as you might’ve guessed, a bit too Japanese. Pokémon overall outside few important bits, is rather global in its approach, something Nintendo and Game Freaks tend to emphasize to ensure further acceptance.
On the game front, there is now question which one is more popular, and here comes the core reason why Pokémon gains criticism with each further entry it sees and why Generation 2 is still so revered. It has everything to do with one single point; great world that supported a grand adventure.
It’s a small miracle the first Pokémon game generation even works as intended, most of the time. Under the good, the code may be rather terrible, but on the front the design of the maps and monsters was terrific. Well, to be completely fair, they weren’t the most imaginative map designs up to that point, which was partially their charm. Pokémon‘s earlier games’ maps shine because they’re mundane, everyday places you can see in your home town and surrounding it, with enough interesting points thrown here and there to add the feeling of fantasy. For example, no power plant would look or be mapped like Red/Blue‘s, but it still seemed plausible. The Burned Mansion was a place every child (and even adults) would like to wonder into, full of secrets and treasures left around. You didn’t need to info or story bit about them, all you needed was some sort of simulacrum to convey the place and a place’s name.
Second Generation had things a bit too mundane at places, making certain paths in Gold/Silver tedious, which detracted from the overall experience. However, because of the Day/Night cycle and new possible scenarios Weekday’s gave, you’d explore every nook and cranny.
The Third Generation’s overall map is terrible, slowing the progress. Fans know the drill; too much water, too much slow Surfing. That’s only half of it though, as the Ruby/Sapphire began to detract from the adventure. For Pokémon, the abandonment of adventure has been rather slow, yet in the latest entries its clear that most of advancements to the overall game play has been addition of more complex and intricate stories rather than expansion of maps and emphasize on their interesting design. We have no Friday Lapras to go around, less maps that are interesting to go through again or maps that would require returning to at later points for further venturing into outside the story or progression. The adventure of exploration has been replaced with story, to put it shortly.
Playing is an action, be it a video game, a play with toys or in bed. As much electronic games may split opinions, it is universal that when we stop an action we are currently enjoying (or finding a need to finish the act due to pressing matters) always impacts us in a negative way. However, with computer and video games having increasingly more elements that belong to films or books, the action of playing is cut and diminished. With some games nowadays, you are required to sit through a tutorial and intro cinematic that can last up to thirty minutes. While you can argue that tutorial consists of playing, this isn’t the case. A tutorial is like watching a toy in a box with a Try Me! function on it. Only when you unwrap and unbox the toy, you can play with it. What story does to this toy is that it makes you sit in front while telling you about the toy, and stops you every five minutes from playing to tell you something else.
Most developers don’t realise that you can tell a story through action, like kids do when they play, or simply refuse to consider it an option. Sometimes, like with Order: 1886’s director Dana Jan, regret that they were making a game when they could be telling a story. Just like how the use of mind and brains are valued over honest physical work, stories are seemingly only valued when we can wager the storyteller’s words, camera work or direction.
We’re at a time when adventure, or the sheer action of playing, is struggling. FMV games overall were the bane of game culture overall, yet seen as something that would enrich and truly bring something mature and irreplaceable to video and computer games. So very few succeeded to be games, how little interaction the player ultimately had with game. Games are not about taking you to an adventure like books or movies. Games are about you being on an adventure. Less so in puzzle games obviously, which is why it’s easy to see the same detrimental evolution in Zelda series.
To return to Pokémon and Yo-Kai Watch, it must be mentioned that Yo-Kai Watch too emphasizes story, though to a lesser extent than its elder competitor. Playing the two games side by side, Sun and the original Watch, the differences in pacing and how much the games take your hands off from playing. Yo-Kai Watch, while still having story segments that stop playing, are not bloated to showcase the elaborate models and character animations, or have lot of empty air or simply slow and jarring text. While both games have scenes that are unskippable, try guess which one lets you more freedom from the get-go and tries to keep things to an optimal minimum.
With time being of the essence to many nowadays, one of the worst sins a game can do is to waste your time and keep you from playing.