Normally, when I begin these types of articles, I try to give readers a general contextual analysis of what kinds of historical info has led to the types of conclusions I try to focus on, essentially an intro of sorts with background info. While I know this is very common, I don’t feel necessarily comfortable doing that here with this one. I want to get to brass tacks and just spill my idea here and now:
Nintendo must (not just can or should) release a Pokemon RPG that is massively multiplayer.
It’s become what is easily the most requested form of entertainment that anyone has ever directed toward Nintendo. In fact, it’s right up there with the Final Fantasy VII HD remake in the “most wanted video game in history” argument. We all hear about how gamers (whether they’re fans or not of Nintendo) say that the company reuses many elements from their franchises repeatedly. We hear about how Nintendo is behind on technological stamina. We hear how the Nintendo infrastructure is so riddled with deviations from traditional gaming values (aka “they use too many gimmicks”), But the Pokemon MMO argument is by far the most potent and, more importantly, the most profitable all over the board. It’s not something limited to just giving the gamers what they want; it’s also a no-brainer to making Nintendo’s future in the console race much more stable and respectable.
Pokemon has always been one of the key franchises for Nintendo, but it also remains one of the most commercially successful. Over 200 million games in the Pokemon franchise have been sold since 1996, which is unquestionably strong for any company’s properties in video game history (only surpassed by Nintendo’s even greater franchise, the Mario property). Pokemon reached out to the collectible-happy generation of the late 90’s. When the OCD-level of young gamers saw Pokemon, they were hypnotically reeled in, constantly trying to catch every monster in the series. Even more than 15 years later, we’re still seeing Pokemon games being released year after year and while they’re shockingly addictive even after all this time, the generation of gamers who grew up with Pokemon are actually the ones who still play them. The younger crowd of the 2010’s are more into social gaming and mobile gaming, where Pikachu isn’t the mascot to follow, but the Angry Birds are.
But the generation of gamers who love and still revere Pokemon, they’ve grown up. They’ve become much more conscious of the gaming ecosystem, and even they have begun to branch out past Nintendo and into the realms of Sony and Microsoft. But even if they’re investing more of their outspokenness on Elder Scrolls and League of Legends, Pokemon is their guilty pleasure. You just can’t get rid of a love of something so accessible and family-friendly when it’s also so deep and offers so many ways to approach the overarching design.
When Pokemon was released, the Game Boy Link Cable was, interestingly enough, a social link. You could actually ignore the NPC battles for once and battle with a friend. Trading became something valuable too. It was social and you truly felt like you were interacting with another live human being within your game. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl set the bar even higher, allowing for online battles and trading through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. It was what many gamers were praying for in the DS world. Finally! A way to gather social connections without face-to-face interaction! It took more than 10 years for Pokemon to finally transcend the physical and move into the digital. Online play became a staple in future games in the franchise.
But since the beginning of the MMO boom, Pokemon has always kept to its own devices. RPG greats like Final Fantasy and even non-RPG’s like Warcraft ambitiously moved in a huge world where millions of gamers could play and fight together. Pokemon never made that step onto the rickety bridge, and while it never fell through, it never got to see the other side. Nintendo has insisted that the franchise is best suited for portable systems, leaving a majority of the console games in the franchise as spin-offs. The major exception was the Pokemon Battle Revolution game for Wii, which despite having online play, was basically a carbon copy of the handheld online play format. It didn’t have any ambition behind it, leaving the critics and fans in confusion and general disapproval.
Fans have cried, prayed, and petitioned for years now, but the vision remains the same. Think of a Pokemon MMO where every Pokemon region in history is available for exploration. Think about having a massive world to explore with other Pokemon trainers, along with wide open fields, caves, and seas to catch the Pokemon. Think of the game having gamers from all over the world meeting each other and beginning their own Pokemon PvP battles. It’s not an uncommon idea; this is something that any Pokemaniac has dreamed of, yet it hasn’t come to fruition.
Nintendo’s reluctance to break that mold into massively multiplayer territory has become even more frustrating due to the company’s insistence on destroying the projects of outside sources that fulfill this dream. Fanmade incarnations of Pokemon MMO’s, generally on the PC, have been taken down quickly after release. Nintendo doesn’t want anyone but themselves making the Pokemon MMO, but this would be a much more reasonable argument if…you know…they were actually making one. But no. Nintendo has insisted on keeping the franchise’s true RPG essence on the handheld system, which has disgruntled fans and potential buyers alike.
But considering Nintendo’s most recent records of catch-up, all signs point to the company eventually releasing something of this caliber. Their denouncing of online play was eventually banished with the release of the Wi-Fi capable Nintendo DS. Their reluctance to move to HD was eventually resigned with the release of the Wii U. If the company caved with the culture on those concepts, what’s keeping them from eventually realizing the value in an MMO using one of their most profitable properties?
This isn’t just about the money, however. Nintendo needs to re-establish confidence in their brand and the best way to do that is with this. The Wii U’s struggle to become relevant has been a consistent problem for the company since 2011. With a Pokemon MMO, Nintendo wouldn’t only be using the franchise in a fresh way, but their notoriety with sticking to their reservations could very well be ousted. Nintendo could prove that they listen to their resolute Pokemaniac fans and also show that they aren’t afraid to think outside the proverbial box. It really is a win-win on every front.
It’s this ambition that Nintendo has been panned for lacking. The Pokemon MMO has every element on its side; there is absolutely no reason that this shouldn’t happen. Any complaint of the online infrastructure or the difficulty of maintaining such a project is irrelevant. Hundreds of MMO’s have been pushed since the genre’s advent, so this argument is something of unquestionable speculation. This isn’t about the Wii U alone, either. Nintendo needs to establish a major project that can be a long-term growth for them, one where the fans will stick around and shell out money for subscription fees long after they purchase the retail copy.
While it might not happen for years now, this isn’t something that will go away. The Pokemon MMO, like the legendary Pokemon Dialga, is timeless. Until Nintendo realizes the sheer positive nature of the Pokemon MMO, gamers will request it over and over and over again. And when Nintendo does realize it (whenever that is), they’ll release it, and every gamer who’s ever touched a Pokemon game will buy it. I sure as hell will.
[Insert overused closing Fry “Shut Up and Take My Money” meme here]
Any ideas on a Pokemon MMO? Leave your own ideas in the comments below!
It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.
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