*Note: This article was written before the release of Pokemon: Legends Arceus*
Ah, the world of Pokemon! So many different creatures, locales, games, and adventures to be had in its ever-expanding universe! It seems like a no-brainer to be excited to go on another adventure in this fantastic world. Yet I’ve seen growing animosity towards upcoming Pokemon games as of late. Even I found myself harping on the games at one point. The most common argument I see nowadays regarding the Pokemon games is their perceived lack of graphical quality.
It is true that the Pokemon games have a wide range of different visual styles, some more appealing than others. This article focuses on exploring the graphical prowess of the “mainline” Pokemon games. Games that I count towards a mainline game include Pokemon Sword and Shield, Let’s Go Pickachu and Eevee, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, etc. These don’t include spin-off games like Pokken Tournament DX or New Pokemon Snap, but I might compare those games for argument’s sake. Without further delay, let’s explore the supposed fall-off of Pokemon’s graphical prowess.
What People are Saying
Let’s start by what prompted me to write this article: people seem obsessed with critiquing the game’s visuals. I’ve started to notice this trend with Pokemon Sword and Shield’s announcement. At the time, I thought the visuals looked bland, like someone turned down the saturation on the monitor. Those with a keener eye than mine noticed the archaic texture job of the environments (particularly of an infamous Nintendo 64-like tree). On that same presentation, the developers announced that they were cutting Pokemon from the Pokedex. That ruffled a few feathers online, to the point where a movement began (but went nowhere).
I believe it was then that the discourse over the graphics picked up. More and more people brought up the fact that Sword and Shield looked outdated and that, for a Switch game, it fell short of people’s expectations. At first, I threw a few jabs at the visuals, but they started to grow on me. However, many people felt differently and continue to voice their displeasure on newer Pokemon games as well.
The Root Cause
I won’t lie: I think something is missing with the visuals of mainline Pokemon games. It could be the sheer amount of creatures to model, animated, and texture. The games do use a lot of the same models from previous entries, which would give the impression that it would save time, time that the artists can use for polish, right?
I think that reusing the models from previous games gave the developers time to focus on specific areas (like adding more life to the human characters). Yet people still end up not satisfied with the end product. After the announcement of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, I started to ask: “why are people still upset at the visuals, even though, at this point, they are an obvious upgrade over Sword and Shield?” Then it hit me.
The mainline Pokemon games have the same core gameplay as Pokemon Red and Blue. That is twenty-five years of the same core mechanics for the series. At first, each game brought something new to the table. Gold and Silver introduced new Pokemon types, Ruby and Sapphire brought in two versus two battles and Pokemon abilities, Diamond and Pearl split attacks into Physical and Special categories, etc. From then on, each new entry felt more like an upgrade with new Pokemon rather than game-changing updates.
When the games went 3D in X and Y, Megas and a new Fairy type came into the picture. While the Fairy type added much-needed balance to the game, Megas, while exciting at the time, began to feel more like a gimmick than an actual game-changing mechanic. What I’m trying to say is that I think people are tired of the same old gameplay format of the Pokemon games. Sure, we could polish the visuals all we want, but if the new entry adds no essential changes to the game, it will still feel like a last-generation game, despite the fresh coat of paint.
Why Game Feel Affects Visual Feel
While pondering this point, I thought of other monster collecting games I played in the past years. A few fantastic ones that come to mind are Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, and Shin Megami Tensei V. Despite those games having anime-like graphics, their visuals stood out to me much more than Pokemon did. I realized it was because I was constantly surprised by the creatures I ran into. I never knew what waited for me around the corner. Thus, I took in the game’s sights much more than I would in most Pokemon games.
When it comes to Pokemon, I know almost every creature inside and out. There are no surprises left for me with Pokemon. A new regional variant might be added to the games, but those get announced early in the game’s production cycle, ruining any surprise. The lack of wonder dulls the experience, thus dampening everything else about the game.
How wonderful would it be to experience the evolution of the very first Pokemon acquired for the first time again! I bet new Pokemon players who see their starter Pokemon evolve for the first time get excited when their buddy suddenly looks stronger and more fearsome than its first stage—even writing that last part out put a smile on my face. I can’t help but feel envious at the prospect of finding a brand new, never-before-seen Pokemon.
Nowadays, it’s commonplace to have people harp on a game for whatever reason. Since my experience with Pokemon Sword and Shield, I tend to ask questions about the opinion I’m reading. Why do they feel this way? Why do I feel this way? It is okay not to like something so long as the argument is presented respectfully. Is there a point I missed in this article? Do you have your own theories about why people are so critical of the Pokemon games’ visuals? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!