Pokémon Sun and Moon mark the second new generation of Pokémon introduced on the Nintendo 3DS and the third overall generation featured on the handheld, matching the long-winded DS run. While the DS featured more Pokémon games overall (a staggering nine total main series games), Sun and Moon pushed the franchise further than it’s ever been pushed, expanding upon the concept of what a Pokémon game could be, and all but pushing the 3DS hardware to its limit. All of this to say that with consideration that Nintendo has new, portable hardware on the market, Pokémon’s time on the 3DS is presumably drawing to a close. In a post-Pokémon Sun and Moon world, where do Game Freak and the Pokémon Company take the franchise next?
To the Switch
The Nintendo Switch is the most obvious answer, and the one most Poké-fans seem to be clamoring for. Admittedly, Game Freak has been historically slow to adopt new hardware, waiting for a console to prove itself before developing a main series Pokémon game for it (though this could just be that the games are developed slowly). The Game Boy Advance had been on the market a year before the release of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and both the DS and 3DS had been two years on the market before a Pokémon game was released on each respectively. Despite Sun and Moon seemingly utilizing the 3DS to the full extent of the hardware’s capabilities, it may be a while before Game Freak and TPCi (the Pokémon Company international) develop for the Switch, assuming the Switch is the future of Nintendo’s portable market, which is a safe bet.
Nintendo has been doing their part. The Switch is off to a stellar start, selling over 2.74 million units in under a month according to Nintendo’s end-of-the-year earnings report back in April. While that’s a far cry away from the 3DS’ 66 million units on the market, that’s a very promising beginning for a new console, a console that would undoubtedly sell better with new Pokémon software on it. It’s understandable that Game Freak might not want to abandon the 3DS ship just yet, as more hardware means more potential sales. Even with the higher cost of software on the Switch, it will be some time before a Switch exclusive Pokémon game can even be as profitable as a 3DS-exclusive one – after all, how can a new game sell 13 million units like Sun and Moon when there aren’t 13 million Switch consoles out there? Even if Nintendo’s estimations about 10 million Switch units on the market by the end of the next sales year prove true, that would still involve a massive install rate of 86% for a Switch-exclusive Pokémon entry to be as profitable as Sun and Moon.
Perhaps the best solution initially is a non-exclusive, main series entry on the Switch. Recently, Capcom held its Monster Hunter Championship 2017, at which they announced a Switch version of Monster Hunter XX, an already-announced 3DS title in a massively successful franchise, particularly in Japan, which immediately impacted Nintendo’s gradually-rising stock in a positive way. Capcom continued to reveal that the title would feature 3DS and Switch cross-play online, as well as allow players to transfer their save data between versions. Perhaps this is the exact format Pokémon can take with its next entry, allowing early adopters of the Switch to utilize their new console, while also not abandoning the established fanbase on the 3DS. This could serve as an excellent way to bridge the gap between the platforms, while simultaneously promoting the new console and new direction the franchise is headed, and maybe even result in extra sales for those interested in owning the title on two platforms. This could prove especially reassuring for Pokémon fans who continually have to wonder whether their collections will be lost with the transition into a new console, not to mention fulfill the longtime dream of many fans wishing for a home console main series game.
Back to the Beginning
Developing on new hardware may alleviate a lot of the restrictions of developing for an older, more limited console. It may also take more time. Game Freak’s tendency has been to introduce a new generation of Pokémon as their first effort on a new console, meaning that a Switch exclusive, main series Pokémon game is probably still a ways into the future. Hopefully this trend is set to change, as I don’t think the new Pokémon from Moon and Sun have gotten their due sunlight – er, spotlight. Lately, according to game director Junichi Masuda, Game Freak has been trying to defy expectations, foregoing “Pokémon Grey” in favor of Black 2 and White 2, and then again by skipping the expected “Pokémon Z“ after X and Y, instead leaping straight into a new generation. By once more avoiding the norm, Game Freak could give themselves more time to develop a Switch-exclusive generation. Should Game Freak truly want to bide their time before developing for the Switch at all, or whether they want to use the Monster Hunter XX formula and offer relatively the same experience on the 3DS (with a higher resolution experience on the Switch), the next game should again avoid the typical third version status quo (Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Platinum) and instead be a proper sequel, though less like Black 2 and White 2 and more like Gold and Silver.
Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver operate as direct sequels to Blue, Red, and Yellow (RBY), featuring all new Pokémon while offering the player the unique opportunity to not only become a Pokémon master in the new Johto region, but to then travel to Kanto and master that region as well, making for unforgettable experiences that may be the franchise’s best to date. While other entries featured more Pokémon overall, Gold, Silver, and Crystal are still the only entries to allow players to travel between regions. While I don’t think the sequel to Sun and Moon needs to feature any new Pokémon like Generation Two (beyond the expected, mythical, distribution Pokémon), allowing players to traverse the new Hawaii-themed Alola region – as well as maybe another – might make it a memorable standout in a long-running franchise, truly offering players a reason to buy in again. And what better direction to head than back to the beginning, to Kanto, where it all began with Red, Blue, and Yellow.
*WARNING: Slight Spoilers Ahead!*
This move isn’t without precedent. PokéSun and PokéMoon (I’m getting tired of typing out all of these names) were developed as part of Pokémon’s twentieth anniversary and featured countless callbacks to the original games, including recurring characters, Pokémon from the original generation, redesigns of some of those same Pokémon, and more. At the beginning of the game, the protagonist moved from Kanto, and in the end, Lillie, another essential character, moves to Kanto to help her family. Like Gold and Silver, the sequel to Sun and Moon (“Stars,” “Eclipse,” “Black Hole,” “Super Massive Black Hole,” or whatever it ends up being called) should allow players to play through Alola, encountering the characters of Sun and Moon before shipping the player off to Kanto to meet Lillie and the original cast from RBY. In that way, players would get the pleasure of seeing old favorite games running on current engines, and Sun and Moon could continue their celebration of twenty-plus years of Pokémon in the strongest fashion, while still subverting expectation of what a third version should be.
Back to Sinnoh
An alternative to all of this is to develop remakes to Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Since Game Freak remade Red and Blue (or Green in Japan) with FireRed and LeafGreen on the Game Boy Advance, there’s been an expectation that all generations would get a remake in due time, an expectation that has been upheld by Game Freak, most recently with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire on the 3DS back in 2014. Over ten years after the initial release of the DS’ Diamond and Pearl, nine years after the release of the fourth generation’s “third version,” Platinum, three years after the latest remake, and a year after the most recent generation, I think the world is ready to return to the Sinnoh region.
The gap between the DS’ first original generation, Diamond and Pearl, and the 3DS’ X and Y is enough of an expanse both technologically and design-wise to justify a remake. Remaking the fourth generation of Pokémon in the manner of the seventh would make it feel like an entirely new game. Though featuring a more polygonal world, Diamond and Pearl operate more like the pinnacle of the standard, top-down, grid-style game – not a far cry from Red and Blue‘s overworld gameplay. Though less animated than those in Black and White, Diamond and Pearl feature Pokémon sprites at their height – crisp, clean, and incredibly detailed, something lost with the extra animation of Black and White‘s sprites. The world of X and Y, though sprite-like, was fully rendered in 3D, and battles featured Pokémon fully rendered with clean polygonal graphics, adding new dimension.
Sun and Moon took things to an entirely different level, with a richly-detailed world, fully rendered in 3D, and the same art style both in battle and out. The overworld and gorgeously-detailed battle animations of Sun and Moon make it feel like the home console Pokémon game fans have always dreamed of. Remaking Ruby and Sapphire in the manor of X and Y was a treat that reshaped my opinions of the generation, not unlike a Pupitar becoming a Tyranitar (who’s way cooler than Salamence, the ideal comparison in this situation since it’s generationally relevant – but whatever, screw Salamence). Remaking Diamond and Pearl to be anything remotely near Sun and Moon would be like evolving Magikarp into a Gyarados – staggeringly new and breathtakingly rad.
This goes without mentioning all of the new features that hadn’t made their debut by the fourth generation of Pokémon, including Fairy Pokémon, Mega Evolutions, and the more recent Z-Moves and SOS System, where wild Pokémon can call for allies. I’d love to see the Sinnoh starters receive Mega Evolutions, and Palkia and Dialga become even more menacingly powerful. Equally as enthralling would be returning to Platinum’s Distortion World, perhaps in a sequence like Alpha Sapphire, Omega Ruby‘s Delta Episode, now rendered in full 3D. Or, perhaps Game Freak can continue their subversion of expectation, and the sequel to Sun and Moon will be remakes of Diamond and Pearl where players play through Alola and then travel to Sinnoh, or vice versa. Giratina Origin and Altered forms, and Shaymin’s Sky and Land forms, will have different Mega Evolutions (and I’m totally kidding – that’d be more garbage than Garbador). Still, a remake of Diamond and Pearl could be more spectacular than the stones they’re named for!
Finally, the Pokémon franchise needs proper DLC. In a world where Zelda has a season pass, there’s little to no excuse not to make memorable expansions for Pokémon titles. During the Diamond and Pearl era, Pokémon distributions triggered cool in-game events, like saving a child plagued by nightmares by encountering Darkrai on New Moon Island, or the event Key Items that triggered other memorable events, including the elusive Azure Flute, which was never actually distributed, granting players access to Arceus. Arceus then in turn generated another event in HeartGold/SoulSilver in which players could create a Giratina, Palkia, or Dialga. Bizarre? Yes, but incredibly unique and rewarding. Finally, players had to work for a Victini in Black and White, rather than hopping online and simply downloading it, or worse, going to GameStop to get a code. No one wants to do that, Game Freak and TPCi!
Personally, I’m tired of simple distribution Pokémon, especially those dropped at level 100. I want meaningful experiences that extend gameplay, and I want Pokémon that I can train up and truly make my own. I want unique events, like encountering Darkrai on an eerie island or battling my way to Victini. I want alluring post-game content, like in Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby‘s Delta Episode or Sun and Moon‘s Ultra Beast missions, with the promise of more to come, more adventures, more to catch, and more to train. That’s what it means to be a Pokémon trainer, right? Hopefully that’s a trend that begins with the announced-but-not-released Marshadow, the only known mythical Pokémon for Sun and Moon, and one that I’d like to continue as Game Freak makes the inevitable switch to the Nintendo Switch.
Regardless if the future of the franchise is remakes, sequels, new adventures, or extensions of other adventures, I’m excited for the future of Pokémon. Hopefully that future isn’t too far away, though it’s unlikely anything will get revealed at E3 2017, as the Pokémon Company tends to operate completely separately from the rest of Nintendo. But who knows how far away the future is? There’s already rumors about tomorrow’s eight minute Pokémon Direct. What could that mean? More details on Marshadow? The release of Detective Pikachu for the rest of the world? In the case of the general future of Pokémon and the Direct both, only time will tell. In either case, after Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, the future of the franchise is brighter than ever.