Editorial: Musings on the Success of the Pokemon Franchise

Hi, I am Daniel Flink! You may remember me from such reviews as Portal and Portal 2! Today, I would like to discuss a little-known, obscure game series that most of our readers have probably never heard of: Pokemon. The sufficiently attentive reader may recall a few weeks ago, when I discussed the death of Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise. I had planned to write this editorial two weeks ago, but the Portal series captured my attention, so I now add this late. As a follow-up to the somewhat depressing look into the fall of Guitar Hero, I would like to discuss a more optimistic topic: the Pokemon franchise’s massive rise to success. Why is Pokemon so successful? What makes it different from all of the other JRPG franchises out there? Join me, readers, as I explore the Pokemon series and its rise to fame.

PIKA PIKAAAA!

Certainly the various adorable mascots the series has picked up cannot hurt.

The first two games in the series, Pocket Monsters: Red and Pocket Monsters: Green were released in Japan in 1996. Pocket Monsters: Blue, released a few months later, featured redesigns of the Pokemon sprites. The third game also formed the basis for Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue, the 1998 American releases of the first Pokemon games. Their massive success astounded even series creator Satoshi Tajiri, and the Pokemon series would go on to be one of the most successful in gaming history. The initial games were buggy, glitchy messes, and the battle mechanics were not particularly well-balanced. The nostalgic reader may recall a time before Special Attack and Special Defense were different stats, a time when Psychic types were not easily countered. Despite their many flaws, though, the original Pokemon games were still extremely popular, and gamers everywhere fell in love with the franchise, myself included. What separated Pokemon from other RPGs at the time was the “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality of the games: while other RPGs had, typically speaking, five to ten party members to choose from, the first Pokemon generation had 151 species of Pokemon for the player to hunt and capture.

Pokemon in Santa hats? Adorable.

Yes, I know that it is June. I like this picture.

The Pokemon battle mechanics were and still are very easy to pick up, with the player’s six Pokemon knowing up to four moves each and combat being a simple turn-based affair. As the series has developed, mastering the Pokemon games has become a more difficult endeavor, with mechanics such as EVs, IVs, and Natures becoming an important part of the Pokemon metagame. In short, the Pokemon gameplay formula works because it is easy to learn but difficult to master. The franchise’s appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers is among the chief contributing factors to its massive and continued success. While other game franchises usually appeal to casual or hardcore gamers, Pokemon was and still is one of the rare titles that manages to appeal to both.

One other contributing factor to my personal love of the series has always been the sense that the player is in control of their party and their team setup. This sense of control is another major contributor to the Pokemon success story. Unlike many RPGs, the player is truly in control of their Pokemon team. In most JRPGs, the player controls a set of characters with predefined personalities in their quest or quests to achieve a specific goal. The Pokemon player assembles the party alone, choosing from among the many Pokemon species to form a team based on the player’s own choices and likes. In this way, the main character of a Pokemon game is not the young child going on an adventure; the main character in each Pokemon game is actually the player. The adventure is the player’s adventure, and the Pokemon team assembled is dependent on the player and not the storyline of the game. The different take on the typical JRPG formula of predefined characters is among the key features separating Pokemon from other games within the genre, and one of the reasons for the franchise’s smashing success among both casual and hardcore gamers.

I was never a big fan of third generation Pokemon; Hoenn was a boring setting.

A screenshot from the third generation of Pokemon games, the GBA releases.

The Pokemon series is here to stay, and it does not look like the games will lose steam any time in the near future. The games’ easy to pick up, difficult to master battle mechanics and their player immersion continue to draw in gamers, both young and old. I personally have been involved in the series almost from the beginning, and while my interest in Pokemon constantly waxes and wanes, it is always one of my go-to game series when looking for a fun way to unwind. What about you, dear readers? Have you played any of the roaringly popular Pokemon games? If so, which ones, and what did you like or dislike about the game(s)? Why is it, in your minds, that the otherwise unremarkable game series has enjoyed such massive success? What separates Pokemon from so many other game franchises? Let me know in the comments what you think, readers! I am interested to see what the Lusipurr.com readership has to say on the matter. The Pokemon series shows no signs of losing momentum after five generations of games, and when the sixth generation is inevitably released, I have no doubt that gamers the world over will jump at the chance to play more of the wildly addictive Pokemon games.

4 Comments

  1. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2011.06.17 at 12:10 | Permalink

    The thing about the Pokemon game series that frustrates hardcore Pokemon champions is the fact that the mechanics of the game are still very heavily influenced by chance. Moves such as Double Team, Sand Attack, Flash, and Minimize often ruin a player’s chances of winning a match when used by an opponent, but they might not even work for the players themselves! The same goes for confusion and other status effects. Sleep is an effect that lasts for a random number of turns. Moves do not always deal exactly the same amount of damage each time they are used. A move that KOs a Pokemon in one turn in one match may not KO that Pokemon that quickly in one turn in the next match.

    Though GameFreak has added many breeding mechanics to pass IVs from parent to child, IV breeding and resetting is still a tedious procedure. Still, if there’s one metagame I have been able to get into, it has been the Pokemon metagame. I like the series’ competitive aspects because it does not take much to become competitive in Pokemon. You need only to know things about the game mechanics, put in a bit of tedious work, and learn to predict an opponent like you would in a chess match. That is what puts Pokemon above fighting games, such as the Street Fighter or Smash Bros. series, in my mind, competitively speaking.

  2. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.06.17 at 12:30 | Permalink

    You used the opening I suggested. I am proud.

  3. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2011.06.17 at 14:15 | Permalink

    Wow, Mr. McClure! I was a grade A moron to ever question the success of the Pokemon series!

  4. evilpaul
    Posted 2011.06.19 at 00:08 | Permalink

    Lusipurr needs to play spiritually satisfying games such as Dragon Quest V.