My Reaction to the August 2021 Pokémon Presentation

Nintendo may have a few more big titles set to launch this year (WarioWare: Get It Together, Metroid Dread), but the Pokémon series has more clout, name recognition, and money-printing capabilities than most of Nintendo’s other franchises, so naturally its 4th-generation Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes are the games that got the all-important late-November holiday shopping season slot this year. The franchise also has a much-anticipated open-world series debuting next year, and while the original announcement for Pokémon Legends was intriguing, the quality of the first trailer (or more appropriately, it’s lack of quality) made players more than a little concerned about how the game would turn out. Long story short, The Pokémon Company had a lot of questions to address, and this week’s Pokémon Presents video was the time to answer them.

So how were their answers this time around? Honestly, I can’t complain: The titles they showed off (most notably Pokémon Legends: Arceus) looked much improved from what we saw back in February, and while the 4th generation remakes are far from revolutionary, there were a couple of neat additions from other games that will be fun to mess around with. For a series whose presentations tend to provoke as many negative reactions as positive ones (if not more), I couldn’t see any reasons to not be excited about the games (at least, there were no new reasons to not be excited).

My detailed thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • Pokémon Unite: I know this is technically a spin-off game (and one I’m not particularly interested in playing myself), but given the massive success and popularity of games like DotA and League Of Legends, I think this could wind up being a bigger deal globally than the mainline series, especially with its expansion onto mobile devices next month. (I’m not ready to say this could eclipse Pokémon Go, but the potential is there.) The main problem/obstacle here is that Nintendo is notoriously bad at maintaining competitive balance in its games, especially early in their lifecycle (anyone remember the unstoppable Tri-Slosher in Splatoon 2?). There have already been complaints about monsters like Gengar and Cinderace being broken, and the late-game Zapdos appearance has gotten a lot of flak for making the game a bit too volatile (even a team’s that gets destroyed for most of the game can steal a win if they take Zapdos down, even if it’s just a single lucky shot after the opponents has worn them down). While it’s inevitable that some characters will wind up being more useful than others over time, with new characters (and potentially new legendary battles) being added so rapidly, I have my doubts that Nintendo will be able to keep the playing field level (especially with the ‘pay to win’ issue raised by items being upgradable via real money). Ultimately, I think this game is an intriguing idea with a huge upside for The Pokémon Company, but there’s a pretty good chance they wind up shooting themselves in the foot in the end.
  • Pokémon Cafe Remix, Pokémon Masters EX, Pokémon Go: I’m not terribly interested in any of them and the updates don’t look that major (even despite Pokémon Cafe’s change from Mix to Remix), but it’s worth noting that outside of Mario Kart Tour, these are the only mobile games out of Nintendo that seem to have any sustained buzz/momentum (and look for Tour to fizzle out when the inevitable Mario Kart 9 announcement arrives). Given Pokémon‘s ability to reach beyond the borders of Nintendo’s consoles, this franchise is probably the most important one in Nintendo’s stable, even over heavyweights like Mario and Zelda.
Image from Kotaku
  • Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl: Now we’re talking! The major takeaway from this presentation is that the game is going to remain steadfastly true to the original Diamond/Pearl stories, so if you’re not excited to replay those games or weren’t sold on the chibi art style being used, there’s nothing here that will be interesting enough to sway you. However, If you’re excited about the upcoming remakes, there were a couple of nice touches that were shown off here:
    • Returning from HeartGold/SoulSilver and the Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee games was the ability for your partner Pokémon to follow you around outside of battle! It doesn’t have any gameplay impact, but I always enjoyed being able to see and interact with your monsters outside of battle (playing with Pokémon in Sword/Shield camps was fun; making curry not so much).
    • I did a fair bit with the underground area back in the day, but outside of mining for items and and decorating my base, there wasn’t a whole lot to do if your friends didn’t play the game. Now, however, the developers are bringing a touch of the Wild Area from Sword/Shield by including Pokémon Hideaways, where monsters roam freely in the environment and can be challenged at your leisure. This seems like a good way to introduce Pokémon into the game that weren’t available in G4 originally, and since which monsters you encounter can be determined by the layout of your secret base, the encounter possibilities are theoretically endless. (However, given the decision to trim down the Pokédex for Sword/Shield, the question of which monsters will actually be included in the game remains open. I think G1-G4 monsters will be included, but I’m less confident about G5 and beyond.)
    • I wasn’t a huge fan of contests back in the day (and I may not mess with them much in the remake), but it’s nice to see that the presentation has been revamped to be a bit more dynamic. The same thing goes for the Poké Ball decorations: Didn’t use them before, but happy to see them brought back and made a bit more animated.
    • Character customization is now present in the game, but it seems pretty limited to me, as you can only change ‘outfits’ rather than mixing and matching items. I really would have liked to see them go farther here, but I suppose the art style would have made any changes less noticeable (exchanging one hat for another would really only be visible in battle).
    • The Union Room features have been expanded for full online play, but at this point that’s a requirement for games like this. There’s not much to say here without getting some hands-on time with the game.
    • The one notable omission I noticed was the Pokétch, but I doubt it will impact the game all that watch. It really required the second screen to be noticeable, and all I ever used it for was to watch for when my Pachirisu picked up an item (I barely even remember the other features). I think it gets left behind, and no one will care that it’s gone.
  • Pokémon Legends: Arceus: This was the big question mark going into the presentation—after the rough state of the game in the original trailer, how would things look this time around? The short answer is “much better”: Not only have the character model frame rates improved significantly, but the environments appear a bit more lifelike (and we actually saw NPCs in town this time!). The mission structure of the game seems straightforward enough, and I like how the game answers the age-old question “what if a Pokémon attacked you instead of your Pokémon partner?” You’ve got limited health and are vulnerable to wild Pokémon attacks outside of formal battles, so you’ve got to be sneaky and/or agile to avoid damage. Different wild monsters will react to you in different ways, so you’ll have to plan your approach carefully if you want to capture them. The Speed stat of a creature comes into play a lot more than in mainstream titles as well, as faster monsters may be able to attack multiple times in a row (different battle styles also allow you to trade off between having more power or more speed), which should make battling in the game much more interesting and strategy-focused. The new monsters look well-designed (and you can use some of them to travel around faster), the Pokédex now includes more information and incentivizes you to engage with monsters multiple times…I’ll be honest, I can’t find anything at all to complain about here. This really looks like the sort of Pokémon re-imagining that people have been asking about for a long time, and I’m really excited to see if it lives up to our lofty expectation next year.

After being disappointed by Mario Golf: Super Rush, not getting a ton of replay value out of Pokémon Sword, and really being worried by that initial Legends trailer, I really needed to see a presentation like this to have my faith renewed in the franchise and the companies involved. Both of the mainline games shown off here made a respectable showing, and I’m looking forward to grabbing both games when they’re released. (Yes, I know I just said we should be taking a “wait and see” approach with Nintendo, but this blog’s unofficial motto is “I suffer so you don’t have to,” regardless of whether it’s Pokémon or Brantley Gilbert.) With their time-tested formula, Pokémon games seem to have a floor that limits how much pain they put you through, and with all of the potential changes here looking positive, I think Pokémon fans both new and old will find something to enjoy here. I had a lot of fun in the the region formerly know as Hisui back in the day, and I’m hoping the eventual return trips will bring more of the same.