Five Burning Questions About The Future Of Pokémon

Image from Nintendo Soup

“Everything that has a beginning has an ending.” Jack Kornfield

“…unless it prints money.” Kyle

The Company just dropped a few more nuggets from their upcoming Sword and Shield releases, and…honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to unpack. Galarian Weezing may resemble EpicLloyd’s J.P. Morgan costume, Marnie may throw out her Poké Balls like she’s Bob Gibson, and a stadium full of Team Yell members may be a tough place to play on the road, but really, there wasn’t really anything unexpected or surprising in this reveal. (Poké Jobs may be new to this series, but the idea of sending “extra” characters on separate quests has popped up a fair amount in other RPG series, from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to  Xenoblades Chronicles 2, so I wouldn’t call it an earth-shattering addition.) Pokémon Sword/Shield is shaping up to be a standard mainline Pokémon game, and there isn’t much to say beyond that.

Instead, I’d like to dig out my crystal ball and try to peer into the future of the series, and see what some of these recent developments might lead to in Pokémon games down the line. Let’s start with the freshest controversy first:

  • What is the future of Pokémon creation? The latest word on the National Dex seems to be that it’s not coming back, and while the door was left open for Pokémon to rotate in and out of future generations (what’s here in G8 might be gone in G9, and vice versa), the fact is that Pokémon has a scalability problem that’s going to pop up from here on after.Since getting rid of existing monsters really seems to upset the Internet, one strawman proposal would be to simply stop creating new monsters and put a hard cap on the National Dex. However, even if we set aside the fact that the scaling issue is already present at current monster levels, this solution is infeasible because new Pokémon play a big part in driving interest in new games. Cycling back through previous starting Pokémon and legendary monsters just wouldn’t be as exciting, and older players wouldn’t have much of a reason to play GN when it’s essentially G(N-1) with a tweaked storyline (although that’s essentially what happened with Ultra Sum and Moon…). Pokémon needs to have new creatures for players to meet, even if they’ve already got 800+ options to choose from.What I expect, therefore, is for The Pokémon Comapny to limit the number of new monsters each game introduces in the future. No one will lament the loss of something they don’t know exists, and it would (hopefully) keep this scaling problem at a somewhat-manageable level. (I’m also curious to see if the company leans more on making new forms of old Pokémon, although maintaining something like Kanto and Alolan Exeggcute seems just as onerous as maintaining two separate monsters.) In others, the days of having a G5-esque explosion of new creatures are definitely over.
  • What is the future of Pokémon combat? Let’s see, we have Single Battles, Double Battles, Triple Battles, Rotation Battles, Sky Battles, Inverse Battles, Mega Evolutions, Z-Moves, Dynamaxing, Gigantamaxing…is anyone else getting a “feature creep” vibe? We’re having debates over which Pokémon will be supported going forward, but the franchise faces the same problem with battle mechanics.I’m a bit torn on this one. I think The Pokémon Company would like to keep pushing the envelope to keep battles from being “spam the same move until something faints” affairs, but where do you go after blowing up creatures like Godzilla? (The only way I can see TPC topping this is by turning fights into free-range, semi-open-world affairs like PokkénTournament, and that would be a very disruptive change.) In other words, I see a period of relative calm for battle mechanic changes after G8, simply because there isn’t a whole lot more that can be done with the current system.Then again, The Pokémon Company may have a bit more license to be creative, because the Luddites among the fanbase have another option…
  • What is the future of Let’s Go remakes? I feel like the hype for the Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee series fizzled out pretty quickly, as it was caught in the mushy middle between Pokémon Go and Pokémon Sword/Shield. The titles still had strong sales, however, and if the mainline series starts getting a bit more experimental, these games could fill a niche for older/lapsed fans who just want a nostalgia trip and don’t want to be bothered withe a bunch of newfangled ideas. (In other words, it could become the Mario & Luigi to the mainline games’s Paper Mario.) Throw in the fact that the Pokémon scalability and mechanic feature creep issues above are mostly mitigated by the limits of previous generations (at least until we get to Pokémon Let’s Go! Togedemaru), and yeah, I’d say we’ll be seeing a lot more of these coming out in the future.
  • What is the future of mainline Pokémon remakes? Unfortunately, the emergence of the Let’s Go! series leaves the mainline remake series without much of a target audience. Sinnoh, Unova, and Kalos don’t seem to have nearly to emotional grip on players that earlier areas did (G5 gets more credit than the others for its story, but no one seems to be itching to go back to that region specifically), their presumed support of G5, G6, G7, and now G8 monsters means the Pokémon roster and battle mechanic issues remain a problem, and the translation of large regions like Sinnoh and Unova to the G8 art style would be a massive undertaking. As much as I would love to revisit Sinnoh, I have a feeling we’re not going to get that chance.
  • Finally, what is the future of Pokémon regions? In some respects, Pokémon areas are getting as formulaic as the Mario universe: You’ve got your grass, your mountains, your deserts, your snow, your ghost houses, etc. Even with the overall tropical theme of something like Pokémon Sun/Moon, you’re forced to go to the same sorts of areas in every generation to catch certain types of Pokémon. Is TPC ever going to change this up?Believe it or not, I actually hold out some hope that the answer may be “yes.” Nintendo isn’t big on social commentary, but it likes to slip some subtle messaging in from time to time (note that humanity getting destroyed by rising sea levels is part of Splatoon 2‘s lore). With the way things are changing (and not for the better), perhaps The Pokémon Company might explore more dynamic environments and how those changes might affect what Pokémon you might see and how they might behave. I’m not expecting the Ice apocalypse that I mentioned earlier, but I wouldn’t rule out a few of our own problems influencing those that appear in-game.

You could throw a sixth question in here (“what is the future of the franchise’s popularity?”), but frankly, that doesn’t seem like much of a question. Pokémon is a craze wrapped in a phenomenon wrapped in a movement, and I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon. I wouldn’t have predicted in 1998 that we’d still be talking about Pikachu and friends in 2019, but right now I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still talking about them in 2040. I don’t know exactly what the future of Pokémon is, but I’m reasonably confident that it has a future. 😉