In case you missed it, it was announced during Nintendo’s conference at E3 that a main series Pokémon game is being developed for the Switch. It was stated that the game wouldn’t be out until at least next year and that’s about all the information we were given. Needless to say, this announcement generates a lot of questions about the future of Pokémon as a franchise and even Nintendo as a company.
What does this mean for Pokémon?
The way Pokémon games have been released has changed over the years. It started off with the tradition of releasing two versions of the same game (think Pokémon: Red Version and Pokémon: Blue Version), only to be followed up a couple of years later by a third, definitive version of the current generation (like Pokémon: Yellow Version). This was how Pokémon games were released for the first four generations, lasting from Red and Blue‘s release in 1996 to Pokémon: Platinum Version‘s release in 2008. Then, the formula changed with the fifth generation of main series Pokémon games. Rather than a third installment, Pokémon: Black Version and Pokémon: White Version were each given sequels in the form of Pokémon: Black Version 2 and Pokémon: White Version 2. The fifth generation never saw a “definitive” third (or fifth) release. Then, the formula was changed again for the sixth generation. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y were released and that was it. No third installment, no sequels. The first games of the seventh generation of Pokémon, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, were released just last year and it was recently revealed that the seventh generation will continue in the form of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon, due for release this November. It isn’t yet clear whether Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will act as sequels to Sun and Moon, which would see a return to the fifth generation formula, or the new games will both be definitive editions to their predecessors, but split across two games rather than the third installment strategy we saw from generations one through four.
So what will this main series Pokémon game for the Switch be? Will it be yet another continuation of the seventh generation, effectively becoming a definitive fifth installment? Although improving each generation and releasing a new game or games, either as third installments or sequels, is a formula we’ve seen for nearly every generation of Pokémon (with the exception of the sixth generation), it seems a bit odd to release Sun and Moon, then release the improved versions, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, only to release yet ANOTHER improved version for a completely different console. Also, if the Switch game is meant to be an improved seventh generation game, then why work on it at the same time as Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon? If Sun and Moon were meant to introduce players to the seventh generation of Pokémon, and if the Switch game is meant to be the definitive version of the seventh generation, then what are Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon? Just filler? I suppose this is possible; after all, at the end of the day Nintendo and Game Freak are companies, and the main purpose of companies is to make money for their owners and shareholders, so if they think they can make money by releasing filler games, it would be in their best interest as a company to do so. But, who knows? The Switch and the 3DS are completely different consoles, so maybe there are things that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon could utilize, being 3DS games, that the Switch version can’t, as well as things the seventh generation Switch game could utilize that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon can’t. That could feasibly be a justification for creating a seventh generation Switch game in addition to Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
But what if it’s not a continuation of the seventh generation? What else could it be? The eighth generation? Typically, the first games in a new generation of Pokémon games come out three or four years after the first games in the previous generation. For example, Pokémon: Gold Version and Silver Version came out in 1999, three years after Red and Blue came out in 1996. If the Switch game does in fact come out next year, as was implied in the E3 announcement, it would be only two years after the release of the first games in generation seven. I suppose this isn’t impossible, but it would put in place a new precedent for new generations to come out every two years instead of every three or four, which I imagine would be hard to keep up with. It just also seems a bit off, with generation seven still feeling so new. Sun and Moon haven’t been out for even a year yet and they’re already working on generation eight? It doesn’t seem likely.
Fans of Pokémon have been asking for years for a game that includes every main series region from every generation. Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova, Kalos and Alola all in one game. Could that be what the Switch game will be? Obviously, the biggest reason to doubt this is that that game would be ENORMOUS. We know the Switch can handle a lot, seeing as how huge The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is. But seven full Pokémon regions? Maybe this dream was a bit more realistic when fans started asking for it around the release of generation three. Developing this game would also just be a gargantuan undertaking. Game Freak would have had to be working on this game for years already, only to have to add even more to it when generation seven came out last year. As much as I would love a Pokémon game with every region in it, I don’t think it’s a very realistic possibility, and it becomes less and less realistic with each new generation that comes out.
Off the top of my head, it seems that those are pretty much the three possibilities for what a main series Pokémon game on the Switch could be: 1. a continuation of generation seven, 2. the beginning of generation eight, or 3. a combination of generations. I don’t really see it being anything else. I guess it could be another remake of Red and Blue, this time in full 3D and everything, but I don’t know. Those games were already remade and the originals just came to the 3DS Virtual Console recently, so I don’t really see that happening. I mean, I don’t really see that happening even more than I don’t see my initial three options happening.
What does this mean for Nintendo?
So what would each of my three options mean for Nintendo? Many seem to think that a main series Pokémon game coming to the Switch marks the end of the 3DS. Like everything else I’ve said in this article so far, I guess that’s possible, but I don’t think it’s terribly likely. For one thing, if the Switch was going to replace the 3DS as Nintendo’s main handheld console, why would they be releasing the New 2DS XL after the Switch? Clearly, the 3DS isn’t ready to die yet. Additionally, Reggie Fils-Aime, the president of Nintendo of America, has recently stated the following: “Clearly there’s a processing power difference between the different systems. You couldn’t have an experience like Breath of the Wild on the 3DS family. But on the other hand, with the two screens, with the 3D capability, there are experiences that we will create for the 3DS family that you can’t have on Nintendo Switch. By continuing to do that, we’ll drive the install base of both systems, and continue to drive the overall Nintendo business.” So yeah, I don’t think the 3DS is going anywhere anytime soon.
So what if the Switch game is a continuation of generation seven? As explained in the previous paragraph, I don’t think it marks a shift from handheld consoles to home consoles for Pokémon games. Rather, what it could set up is a precedence for third (or fourth or fifth) installments of each generation coming to the Switch, or future home consoles. Meanwhile, the initial installments of each generation would continue to be released on handheld consoles, like the 3DS. Or maybe each generation from here on out will see a version on a handheld console and a version on a home console, rather than two versions coming out on only handheld consoles. Basically what I’m getting at is that I don’t think Pokémon will shift from being a handheld franchise to a home console franchise, but it seems a precedent will be set for main series Pokémon games coming out on both handheld and home consoles from now on, rather than only handheld consoles, as has been the case.
What if the Switch game begins the eighth generation? That would seem to mark several shifts. For one thing, Tsunekazu Ishihara, the president and CEO of The Pokémon Company, stated in his E3 announcement that “Game Freak has begun developing a core RPG Pokémon title on Nintendo Switch.” Those were his exact words. Notice he says “title.” Singular. One Pokémon game is coming to the Switch. If this is the beginning of the eighth generation, could this mean the end of dual versions of new generations as they come out? Well, maybe Ishihara is referring to the two versions as one “title.” Another implication, however, is that new generations will start on home consoles rather than handhelds. Since the Switch doubles as both a home console and a handheld console, what if main series Pokémon games no longer come out for purely-handheld consoles like the 3DS? I know I just spent the last couple of paragraphs convincing you the 3DS is going to stick around for a while, but consider this: in the same article I linked to earlier, Fils-Aime also states that the 3DS is “a very important platform. It’s something that we’re going to continue to drive this year [and] next year.” This year and next year. 2017 and 2018. Ishihara says the Switch Pokémon game won’t come out for at least a year, so mid-to-late 2018. What if the 3DS is dying after all? What if the New 2DS XL is just Nintendo milking everything they can get out of the console while it’s still relevant, knowing that in a couple of years it will be out of production? If new Pokémon generations are going to start on the Switch rather than on the 3DS, maybe the 3DS will be irrelevant soon and Pokémon will become a franchise for handheld-home consoles like the Switch rather than the purely-handheld franchise it has been since its inception. Furthermore, does this mean Nintendo is giving up on the purely-handheld console market in favor of consoles like the Switch that act as both handheld and home consoles? IS THIS THE END OF PURELY-HANDHELD CONSOLES AS WE KNOW THEM? Okay, I’m getting a bit melodramatic. Obviously, this is a lot of speculation, but I’m just trying to present all the possibilities.
What if the Switch game combines all previous Pokémon regions? Again, this sets an insane precedent. If this were the case, Game Freak would be expected to release a new game of this kind every time a new generation is created. Let’s say this Switch game will come out next year. Then, in 2019, three years after the release of Sun and Moon, it’s time to release the first games for generation eight. 2020 or 2021 will see the sequels or third installments or whatever continuation of generation eight, and then a year later they’ll have to make another all-encompassing Pokémon game, this time including EIGHT regions, all with updated graphics and mechanics. A few more years pass and they have to do this again but with NINE regions. It becomes impossible. I guess you could argue that this could be a one-time thing, or they’ll only make all-inclusive Pokémon games every seven generations or so, but you know the fanbase wouldn’t be happy about that. If the Switch game does come out next year and then a new generation comes out the following year, this enormous, all-encompassing game becomes irrelevant just a year later since it doesn’t contain the newest generation. Fans would be hounding Game Freak harder than ever before. “You made a game with all the regions before, why can’t you do it again with the newest region? And then do it again when there’s an even newer region?” It’d be a lot to take.
At the end of the day…
I think it’s probably most likely that the Switch game will in some way be a continuation of generation seven. It feels too early for generation eight, plus releasing the first game of a new generation on a home console rather than a handheld console seems to me to shake up the foundation of Pokémon as a franchise too much. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t do it, though. And an all-regions Pokémon game just seems impossible. What possibilities did I miss? Write in the comments below what you hope or think the Switch Pokémon game will entail.