Pokemon Sun and Moon have been announced recently, confirming a Seventh (!) generation of the series, and we are likely to see the 900th (!) Pokemon. When Pokemon first launched 20 years ago, it was two games, entitled Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. At that time, there were only 151 Pokemon. But game after game was made, as well as trading cards, a television series, and several movies, and Pokemon gradually became more and more than its original 151.
With tweaks here and there, the gameplay across the first six generations (and likely the seventh) remained the same. Sure, there were new types here and there, as well as abilities, and eventually Mega Evolutions, but it was mostly unchanged. A starter pokemon is given, and more are caught along the way, until the player has assembled a team that can beat all eight gym leaders, defeat the Elite Four and their champion, and presumably, save the world. Over the years, this formula has sold almost 300 million games, so it’s no wonder that they haven’t changed the gameplay much at all.
The Pokemon formula, in its main series, (if we aren’t talking about the spin-off games like Pokemon Snap or Detective Pikachu or similar games,) is clearly defined. The Pokemon franchise has always been about expansion, as opposed to being about innovation. When Nintendo starts creating pokemon like garbage bags or ice cream cones, people say that they’ve lost all creativity. But haven’t they lost all creativity by making silly pokemon, but instead by constantly reproducing the same game.
So what, then, is the point of publishing new games? Certainly, money, yes, but let’s pretend that that’s not just it. Is the goal to continue showing this massive world and build interest? Keep new generations of gamers interested? Then wouldn’t it be more practical to keep releasing slightly-updated versions of Pokemon Red, as they did in 2004? Wouldn’t it be better to take a region everyone loves, like Kanto from Generation I, and just re-release it with better graphics and slightly changed gameplay once in life of every console?
Pokemon isn’t the only franchise that seemingly will never end. In this video by IGN, people discuss the fact that most (if not all) of the people who are fans of the Star Wars franchise will likely never see the end of Star Wars. Bringing up Star Wars’ similarities to the Marvel Comic Universe, IGN’s Daniel Krupa likens these never-ending stories to an unweeded garden; at one point pretty, but now chaos. Is that a good thing, or is it a bad storytelling technique to have a story that never truly ends?
One of the other points made in the video is that The Force Awakens has established a new era, giving us Finn and Rey as heroes for a new generation to get attached to. By having different heroes for different generations, the studio creates a beautiful epic that could plausibly last forever, and be something special for different people, decades apart.
I like to think that Nintendo doesn’t just make it the same game for the money. By having the same gameplay for seven generations and twenty years, Pokemon creates a cultural mythology which can be enjoyed by fans for years and years. Playing the Pokemon games could be the same for me as it will for my children, and for their children. And if you ask me, that’s pretty cool.
Modern media doesn’t seem to have a starting and ending point, but instead seems to continue forever. Pokemon will, for the foreseeable future, always exist as it has. Star Wars will, for the foreseeable future, always exist, and the Marvel characters will likely always exist. This raises a big question that I can’t possibly answer in this short a time; do we want our stories to have a complete narrative closure, or do we want them to outlive us?