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.