Pokémon recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, so perhaps this is an ideal time to go over what the series might represent. Even with some of the darker content alluded to in the games, it’s an overall upbeat experience. Wholesome, you might say. Pretty much every person who has experienced it has an opinion about it, and with twenty years of content to work from, there’s a broad range of stuff we could discuss here. That said, there are some things that remain consistent across the games. You are a young boy or girl, leaving home for the first time, with the aim of becoming the Pokémon league champion. On the side, you are tasked with filling out an encyclopaedia of Pokémon who are native to the region. You invariably cross paths with a rival of some kind, good or bad in nature, depending on the game, and also have to deal with a nefarious team of miscreants who wish to misuse Pokémon in some form or another.
With some differences dotted throughout the series, that is the formula that the series has stuck to for twenty years now. Whether you started on the first generation and remained involved for the following six, dipped in every so often, or are a newcomer, the description above is likely something you can relate to. That said, with a twenty year history, it goes without saying that people will have different experiences, and undoubtedly have different favourite Pokémon.
There is, of course, more to the series than what I have mentioned above. The original tagline, which has presumably been dropped due to the sheer number of Pokémon in the most recent games, was “Gotta Catch ‘em All!”. With a little over 700 to catch and more on the way, it’s perhaps just as well that this is no longer the imperative; it was enough of an achievement in the original generation with a mere 150 available to catch. Now, with multiple games required and with exclusive Pokémon in each version of the game, it is more akin to an investment.
It is interesting to note that while that particular tagline (and in turn, the lofty goal it tasks you with) has taken a backseat in recent times, the series has hardly shied away from introducing new things to sink your time into. Behind the scenes, there is an almost overwhelmingly complex system that determines how your Pokémon will develop, which sequentially can have an effect on their offspring, should you choose to start breeding them. Should this more mathematical aspect of the games fail to interest you, you can explore the Pokémon world’s more creative side, enter your Pokémon into beauty pageants, or even play a variety of games together to tighten your bond. If that’s not enough, in some of the games you have the option of building and designing your own base, or travelling around to different boutiques and changing the look of your own character. This is only scraping the surface, and I can hold my hands up and say that there is still a lot I have yet to personally experience. Yet, it seems important that so many of those things are not necessary to complete the game, they are simply additions that help you develop an attachment to the in-game world and of course, your Pokémon. Indeed, in an interview in 1999 with Time magazine, series creator Satoshi Tajiri stated that to him, what is important in the series is the human aspect. With this in mind, what does Pokémon mean to you?
For me, Pokémon is a game where the real charm comes from living in the moment. Yes, the aim of the game is to become the champion, but what about everything that leads to that point? There are endless quotes to be found about how you should enjoy the journey and not just focus on your destination – in some ways, Pokémon is the embodiment of that concept. With certain challenges to deal with, you will most likely have to put your progress on hold at one point or another to strengthen your chosen team. Each time I reached a roadblock of sorts, usually through having too weak a team to progress along the game’s main path, it inspired me to return to areas I had already visited and explore in greater detail, occasionally encountering new Pokémon who ended up playing an important role in allowing me to move forward. The idea that taking your time and approaching a challenge in many different ways is always a good one – an idea contained in the very ethos of Pokémon – is certainly a style of progress that can be applied to many aspects of life.
That said, there are so many other things it might mean to you; perhaps you simply enjoy focusing on the core aspect of the game’s concept, collecting Pokémon and developing a team of your choosing that you want to own. That can mean ignoring all of the ‘legendary’ Pokémon and instead simply choosing the ones who appeal to you visually, or ones who have an interesting description in the ‘PokéDex’, the in-game encyclopaedia that develops as you catch Pokémon, providing you with facts and biological information about each creature that further enriches the game’s world and the place of each of the collectable monsters within it. Maybe you’re attracted to the opportunity to explore in each game, progressively coming to understand how everything links together and even learning more about the world itself, such as which Pokémon are native to each area – including the regional differences that were present in certain games.
Alternatively, for many Pokémon can serve as a brief bit of escapism, to return to a more innocent time in your life. Thanks to not only the recent digital re-releases of older titles, but a steady supply of remakes that re-invent older titles with new features, you can return to simpler times with a fresh coat of paint. It’s entirely possible that this sort of escapism is part of the intended experience – the protagonist is always young and is seemingly embarking on their first adventure as they find their place in the world. Taken further, each adventure could even be considered you developing your own independence.
Of course, most of this is making assumptions about what the designers have intended, and there is certainly room for this type of exploration when discussing the game’s concepts. This touches upon something else; present in the games are hints to a grander story, a sequence of events that occurred before the player’s adventure takes place. There is often reference to surprisingly realistic elements such as wars, and many a theory has been crafted by fans about what happened prior to your adventure. Interestingly, several of the plot-lines revolve around mankind striking some kind of balance with nature, living alongside it, sharing the world together. For a series about training monsters to fight, taking the stance that it carries an anti-war message would certainly be an interesting angle to take.
In fact, there is a very real possibility that we have only scraped the surface. That said, what does Pokémon mean to you? For a topic such as this, I found it difficult to call on my own experiences. It was only during a personal visit to the Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions concert performance that I realised just how broad an appeal the series has, and the breadth of different things it seems to mean to people. For those who are unaware, Symphonic Evolutions is an orchestral performance of a selection of music across the series’ history. I have not played each game, but it was interesting to hear surges within the audience as different sequences played out on a projector to accompany the music, and the entire show had clearly been directed with the intent of provoking reminiscence in people by reminding them of certain moments throughout the series. Even after 25 years, Pokémon is clearly something that is going to be present for the foreseeable future, as a series and in the hearts and minds of gamers. On the verge of a set of brand new titles in the form of the highly anticipated Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, as well as a new generation discovering the franchise through the wildly popular augmented reality game Pokémon GO, it’s hard not to get excited about seeing how the series will grow, as well as what it will mean to future players around the world.
We’re eager to hear your thoughts, feelings and experiences about the Pokémon series 20 years on. Feel free to share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.