So as you know, in the land of handheld rpgs, Pokémon is King. It is the most well known rpg franchise around. It has a life span longer than many game companies, not to mention other games. However, why is this game so popular? Why has it endured? And finally, what factors make Pokémon the giant it is? I have made a list, in order, of these top five factors; excellent game play and nostalgia are granted.
Factor 1 The everyman (or woman)
The everyman is a character that can be any person in society and not some pre-ordained individual (i.e. the chosen one). In Pokémon, you are a trainer and the Pokémon universe is littered with trainers and does not make you special. Your skill is not based on luck of birth or circumstance, but by the effort you put into the game. This plays well with American popular culture, as it is our belief that a person can achieve greatness through determination and hard, work rather than luck. (This may be a popular Japanese belief as well; however, I am not versed enough in their culture to state this definitively.) In games like Skyrim and Final Fantasy, your character(s) are the “chosen one” or the “only one who can.” While fun, it distances us from the player, as people are not chosen ones (usually) and will likely never become a dragon born. In Pokémon, as stated, you are a trainer, who goes on an adventure, defeats Team Rocket (or variation) and becomes the best, through work and the choice to do so.
(There are a lot of trainers.)
Factor 2 The anime
The reason I started to play Pokémon was because of the anime. While the red and blue game didn’t allow you to play as Ash, it was fairly close (to me). In blue I named my character Ash and my rival Ass and I felt like I was in the anime. I would get gym badges, defeat team rocket (Jessie and James weren’t there) and become the best, just like Ash. As stated by the Extra Creditz team, the anime was used to promote and teach children how to play the game, particularly in America as the game and anime were release in the same year. When Yellow was released, many people got their wish to play Ash’s adventure and be closer to the anime. Finally, the original song for the anime explains the entire objectives of the Pokémon series and jingles have been shown as a great way for people to remember things. How many of you can remember that song, at least in part?
Factor 3 They’re Cute
When you look at any of the Pokémon (particularly generation I) it is fairly easy to see what they are base on. Pokémon are portrayed as pets that you can battle. You train your Pokémon (in later games), feed it, breed it, name it and even participate in pageants with it. This game is largely marketed to children and as such most, of the negativity of the world are either glossed over or left out entirely. Pokémon can never die in a battle or from the lack of food, the pokecenter is a simple procedure , regardless of your parties’ condition, the Pokémon cannot bread in your presence or while in your party, and Pokémon are never show hunting one another and by extension killing and feeding. Taking the breeding one step further, all Pokémon are born from eggs (reptile style eggs), no other method is implied such as live birth or budding (which jelly fish use). Finally, the lose condition is very lenient, when you lose a battle, you “white out”, lose some money (which is relatively easy to come by) and head to the nearest poke center. The lose condition does not feel like a real sense of loss, in RuneScape, when you lose, most your item are dropped and return to one are the game of the regardless location (respawn location can be changed by some quests). The lose condition here is much more grim.
(While young boys don’t go for the “cute” style, however, their concept of cool is still very cute verse other gritty games, notice there is no blood or bodily harm besides some superficial scratches.)
Factor 4 Familiar game mechanics
Role playing has existed before the dawn of both Pokémon and video games. Rpgs have fairly universal concepts that have allowed a wide variety of generic role playing systems to exist. For example, the GURPS system which has some similarity to Pokémon’s battle and stats system (I believe). When comparing Pokémon to the classic rpg style, such as Final Fantasy (pre-IX), certain elements are common. In both games, combat is turned based; “wild” enemy’s appear in random encounters, experience based level systems are used, and grinding is encouraged. I am not stating that all classic rpg are the same, however, you can load up multiple games and have a similar experience among them. This trend is similar to many modern FPS games, particularly the modern (or now near future) military shooter, like Call of duty, Battlefield and Home Front. These games are not identical but share a degree of similarity where a person familiar with one game can drop into another game without too much relearning. This is a good thing, as similar games help each other, where Pokémon player will seek out similar games like Final Fantasy and play them base on familiar elements in Pokémon and vice versa. I believe it was this familiarity factor that lead it the explosion of sales (of Pokémon) in the Japanese market and subsequent popularity in the American Markets. However, due to Pokémon’s classic style I don’t believe this factor still hold as much power, as children (primary market) did not grow up with the classic style.
(Here is a snapshot of the new 3v3 battle system from Pokémon and an old battle system from the Final Fantasy series notice anything similar?)
Factor 5 Forced connectivity
So which Pokémon did you buy red or blue? Personally, I got blue because I liked blue color at the time. Though, it is interesting, these two separate games are virtually identical, minus a few Pokémon differences and maybe some different characters. Game freak wanted people to trade Pokémon via the Game Boy’s link cable and by extension bring their friends into the game world. The only way to get all the Pokémon was to be able to trade with someone, note, some Pokémon could only evolve via trading and you were only able to acquire one of the starter Pokémon in the game. This is a similar concept to the Left 4 Dead series as friend would buy the game to play together in Co-op, as it was more fun.
For the record, if I still bought handhelds, I would definitely have a Pokémon game or Two. As always, thanks for reading and constructive feedback is always welcome.