Herald of Opera asks:

So, apparently the National Dex is going away. For all the Internet riots that have been going on about this, wasn’t it pretty much inevitable that the series would eventually create more Pokémon than it could fit in one game? And I’m saying all this despite knowing my personal favorite is almost certainly getting the axe (sorry Piplup, but you’re a non-Kanto starter, your animal basis doesn’t live in the same hemisphere as Britain, and your anime appearance was an obnoxious spotlight stealer)

Okay, I’m gonna hijack this question to get out everything I think about this and be the one and hopefully only time I talk about it, so here goes nothing:

I have something of a track record of holding verrrrrrry contrary opinions relative to the majority of the Pokémon fanbase (“fewer new Pokémon per generation can actually be a good thing,” “we already have more Eeveelutions than we needed,” “Mega Evolution is fine, but I’m not that interested in seeing more of it,” “the whole ‘XYZ legendaries = Norse mythology’ thing is probably bull$#!t,” “yes, I still think Garbodor is dumb”).  It should perhaps be unsurprising that, when I first saw that Sword and Shield would not include every Pokémon, I shrugged and moved on, naïvely thinking that this wasn’t a particularly big deal.

This is, it turns out, extremely not the case.

Game director Junichi Masuda has said that they decided this was a necessary economy because doing higher-quality animation for the Switch is very labour-intensive, and having too many Pokémon makes the game harder to balance and takes the spotlight away from the new ones.  And… I mean, honestly that seems totally reasonable to me; I myself have even cited the sheer number of Pokémon as an impossible hurdle to ever creating a balanced game, and suggested… well, this.  I wasn’t considering animation costs at the time, but… well, yeah, that too seems reasonable; animation is time-consuming and expensive.  Like, it’s a shame that we can’t have everything we want, don’t get me wrong; I would love to have everything I want.  But given that video game design always involves a mountain of compromises, this seems like one that Pokémon was going to have to make sooner or later.  There are a lot more existing Pokémon than there could ever conceivably be new ones in a single set of games.  That $#!t’s unwieldy.  As long as every Pokémon game has to accommodate every Pokémon, then each game is going to be more difficult and more expensive to make than the last, even if it doesn’t actually try to do anything new or interesting.  There is a hypothetical breaking point where it’s just not worth making the game anymore.

There is this narrative out in the Pokémon community that Masuda-san is just… like… straight-up lying about how difficult it would be to animate all nine-hundred-and-whatever Pokémon.  Supposedly the models from X and Y were in some way future-proofed to make it super easy to keep improving them and adding new animations in the future, so the real reason is just because Game Freak is “lazy.”  I… have to admit here that I don’t know very much about graphics or animation, and if you want someone to debunk this argument from a technical perspective then that’s not me.  Still, “animating 800+ characters is actually really cheap and easy” doesn’t seem to me like a particularly firm reason to accuse a game developer of lying through his teeth to the media and the public, and I haven’t seen that narrative accepted by anyone who actually works in game design or games journalism.  Pokémon has a truly ludicrous number of playable characters, and can’t reuse a lot of animations between them because their models are just totally different shapes.  Meanwhile, any new feature that involves Pokémon has to be open to all of them (like, say, Pokémon Amie was), so as long as we want to keep every damn Pokémon there’s ever been, there are some pretty hard limits on how interesting or creative those features can actually be.  Doing anything new is, like, eight times harder for Pokémon than it is for any other game that isn’t committed to this massive cast of legacy characters.

There is an argument, of course, that you can make a fantastic JRPG with 8-bit graphics, which… kind of gets into the whole “graphics arms race” issue that is frankly bigger than Pokémon, and I don’t want to touch it.  Honestly, though, I am still kind of enamoured with the sprite graphics of the generation IV era, so personally if that were what it took to support every Pokémon indefinitely I might be okay with it.  People love the 3D games though.  People loved Pokémon Amie not just because of what it mechanically did, but because it let you interact with your Pokémon in this new and more realistic-feeling way that sparked the imagination.  And… y’know, I think Game Freak’s developers are probably in the same place on this one.  They could pour their heart and souls into Pokémon designs that are going to be rendered as sparsely-animated sprite graphics, but I think they probably want to see their creations in 3D too.  That seems valid to me as a creative decision; I have trouble seeing it as just wrong.

I also see people reacting under… what seems like the assumption, though it’s never explicit (probably because anyone who actually says it out loud realises how stupid it is), that the Pokémon who aren’t in Sword and Shield are also never coming back.  And… I don’t think there’s any good reason to think that; I mean, not every Pokémon that was left out of the Unova Pokédex was left out of the Kalos Pokédex or the Alola Pokédex, so why would every Pokémon that’s left out of the Galar Pokédex be left out of generation IX or beyond?  I don’t think anyone’s said that Pokémon Home won’t support all Pokémon (just that it won’t be able to send them to Galar if they aren’t in the regional ‘dex) so clearly Game Freak is working under the assumption that there will still be roles for these Pokémon in the future.  Total Pokédex completion isn’t tied to a single game anymore, so it’s not like you need to keep migrating every Pokémon you own along to the latest games every time.  Even if there’s never another Pokémon game that has the entire ungodly complement of the blasted things, why would every future game include exactly the same subset of them?  Apart from anything else, it would just be throwing away perfectly good IP.

Having said all of this, though… if you are upset about this, don’t buy the game!  You don’t owe Game Freak or Nintendo your money, and frankly it would be good if more fans skipped the first Pokémon game of each generation.  After all, there’s probably going to be another one set in Galar, with about $30 worth of new features and story material (and maybe 3 or 4 new Pokémon, à la Ultra Smoon), in 1-2 years, and that’s way more of a problem than deciding that maybe not every game needs to feature every Pokémon.

12 thoughts on “Herald of Opera asks:

  1. I don’t know about “future-proofing”, but I know Masada is blatantly lying because all the models AND animations in sword and shield are exactly the same as in sun and moon, if not all the way back to x and y. On top of that, sword and shields graphical fidelity is BARELY better than the 3ds games, and on some cases, actually seems to be WORSE. The game also seems rather unstable, with lag, long load times, and pop-in.

    None of these things would really be a problem, but game freaks assertion as to why they’re cutting the national dex is so they CAN make the models and animation better, make the game prettier and more stable.

    I’d be fine with that, but….they didn’t do it. They did NOTHING. So, if they didn’t use the time and resources “saved” (even though, as stated, since they’re just reusing the models and animations from Sun and moon, putting all of them in would take a single person A DAY), by cutting the national dex to improve the game in ANY WAY, then what’s really going on? And why is Masuda lying to us?


    1. And we know that whatever graphics you’re talking about are the actual final graphics and not placeholders because… because that lets us get outraged, I guess? Hell and a half, there’s a decent chance that the difference in platform means that even directly porting the graphics is potentially a nontrivial task.

      Seriously Pokémon Let’s Go came out like six months ago; the fact that they’ve announced the next game at all is actually insane.


    2. As I said: it is a line of thinking I am familiar with. I don’t know anything about graphics or the relative capabilities of the 3DS and the Switch, but I do know that I have yet to see a games journalist or game designer (people whose business it is to know) accept the conclusion you describe – that we are being lied to.


      1. As someone with some game design experience, I can confirm fans that seem to think it’s a simple process to import the Pokémon, it’s not. Even if they are reusing the same models and just doing minor upscale… well, you can’t just copy and paste things from one console to another, that would only work if Pokémon Sword & Shield are emulating the 3DS like a Virtually Console game, which they certainly aren’t. Even reusing content, it’s a lot of work. And if it WAS that easy, I don’t get why any players would think Game Freak WOULDN’T. This causes a backlash and loses sales (though probably less than people think), while having the entire Pokédex only benefits its receptions. That would definitely be worth the supposedly small effort people think it takes rather than just “lying” to fans.

        The truth is yes, it’s time consuming and expensive and would delay the game’s release significantly, and releases will just get longer and longer between.

        Overall, I think it’s unlikely my favorite Pokémon (Malamar) will be in this one. Oh well. Life goes on. I’d rather they focus on making a polished game and it’s a GOOD sign that they aren’t wasting the time to add every Pokémon into the game, that’s time they could use elsewhere.

        Also it’s crazy some people think the E3 demo is reflective of the full release. It’s a prerelease demo and the game is still 5 months from release, and this is precisely the part of development spent on getting it to run smoothly and relatively bug free!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Called it, on all counts. Good to see that sometimes I’m right even when I don’t know what I’m talking about. >_>


          1. You people honestly think that what we see in demo only 6 months from release isn’t an accurate representation of the final product? When has that EVER been the case, with ANY game?

            Why is this so hard to understand? Game freak, a multi BILLION dollar company, claimed that they couldn’t put the national dex in because it would prevent them from improving everything else. THEY HAVEN’T DONE THAT. So you tell me, if that’s not a lie, what the hell is?


            1. Everything is just… more complicated than that. Anything worth arguing about usually is.

              Games generally do change between demo and final release, because a demo is a very contrived attempt to present something that isn’t finished and make it look as though it is (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vecHJW-tFs). Some games even look worse than their demos (https://www.gamesradar.com/games-that-changed-dramatically-after-their-e3-demo/). And Joe Merrick, who runs Serebii.net, has been cataloguing ways that, even in the extremely limited view of the games we’ve had, the animation is noticeably better than in Sun and Moon (e.g. https://twitter.com/JoeMerrick/status/1141048846598004741, https://twitter.com/JoeMerrick/status/1141057256118767616). We don’t know what else is in the game or what they’re talking about when they say “new animations,” and pretending that we do is… well, exactly the kind of blind ranting prognostication that normally makes me stay the hell away from all pre-release material (this is a take on the whole thing that I feel is reasonably sober https://www.polygon.com/e3/2019/6/13/18677717/pokemon-sword-shield-national-dex-pokedex-galar-e3-2019). Whether anything else that might be in Sword and Shield is “worth it” is just… in my opinion, not going to be possible to say until long after the game is released, and isn’t the same calculation for all players, because we don’t all care about the same things. If that makes you uncomfortable, don’t buy the game at launch (honestly, I recommend that anyway; the whole culture of compulsively buying games on launch day is… in my opinion just weird, and kind of anti-consumer). Wait for a review from a source you respect, who seems to value the same things as you; it sounds like that’s not me, but there must be someone out there. If that comes up negative, don’t buy it at all.

              Also, Game Freak isn’t a multi-billion dollar company; that’s just plain not true. *Nintendo* is, but Game Freak isn’t a publicly traded company, so no one actually knows what they’re worth. They have fewer than 200 employees, and their most valuable asset is the Pokémon brand, ownership of which is split between Game Freak, Nintendo and Creatures Inc. in an arrangement that is… well, complicated, and not all the details are publicly known (https://toucharcade.com/2016/07/28/who-owns-pokemon-anyway-its-complicated/). If Game Freak broke with Nintendo, they probably *couldn’t* take Pokémon with them, and probably wouldn’t be a particularly big fish as a wholly independent studio. I mention this not because it proves any particular point, but to illustrate that, again, *things are complicated*.

              This has already been much more time than I really care to spend on this topic. If anyone else wants to continue this argument without me, they are welcome to it.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. So I think going to 3D was a good decision, I think we’d run into the same issues if we’d stayed with sprite art, and I think we’d not have gotten a whole lot of beloved features without 3D. So agreed there, it absolutely has merit.

    That said, I do think there are a fair amount of complaints as to why this is a bad decision. Because it’s easier for everyone involved, I’ll just make a list in no particular order:
    – In the footage we’ve seen so far, there is a lot of re-used animation. New pokemon obviously have new animation, and machop got an update, but other than that, animations are the same as in Gen VII
    – People at the very least feel like a lot of content has been cut in the last few generations, content that should have become or stayed a staple of the main series. Often cited things are Contests, the Battle Frontier, and PWT. These have been ways of adding regional flavour, but the former two have been found in more than one region. So when GF says they’re cutting pokemon to focus more on what’s in the game, people don’t necessarily trust them to deliver
    – HOME is a… thing. Personally, I have no gripes (yet) with HOME and I think it’s a more or less logical follow up to Bank. That said, Bank was supposed to future proof transferring and it did that for only two generations. That’s only a tiny bit longer than previous generations’ transfer systems. But we’re on a new system entirely, so a new app is justified I think. HOME will be well the home for Pokemon that can’t enter a region. But… let’s take glameow as an example. It hasn’t been in a regional dex since its introduction. Platinum was the last game where it was part of the regional dex, which was released over a decade ago! And HOME is a one-way transfer. People don’t want to have to subscribe to HOME for years upon years, jus to be able to keep their favourites
    – GF has been aware of the problem with so many pokemon since the development of SuMo at least, where they’ve said they were having trouble already. So that’s what, 5 or 6 years ago? GF is not a little start-up indie company, they’re part of one of the largest multi-media franchises in the world! They arguably can’t lack the resources to expand their staff, especially not since they’ve been quoted to also want to create more exciting games than Pokemon
    – If it’s the 3D modelling they’re still having problems with, they could (partially) outsource.
    – The Switch should be more than capable of handling the amount, and data storage shouldn’t b e an issue either. There are calculations on both reddit and bulbagarden for different scenarios and none of those get anywhere near cartridge limits
    – I personally think the Galar region looks quite nice, even if it’s not the most visually stunning game out there. That’s fine, graphically GF has never been on top of the game. I do get people criticising parts of it though, including move animations and textures for the environment, but I don’t think it’s really fair to judge that till the final product has been released

    I think those are all the major complaints. I’m just listing them here, regardless if I really agree with them or not. But for all of these I can pretty much see where people are coming from


    1. The thing is, “where they’re coming from” is a point of ignorance. They don’t know what they’re talking about, and among other things are basing it on what has a good chance of being a placeholder while the real assets are being made.


      1. Oh wow, you sure are good at generalising. That aside, what are you exactly referring to? A point in specific? all of it? Cause in case of the later I don’t think any kind of discussion would be fruitful.


    2. I just realised I forgot to mention another commonly voiced complaint. It’s wholly unsure if removing Pokemon will in any way actually balance the metagame more. Because you’re just creating a new metagame, with very possibly unexpected outcomes


  3. All I’ll say is this. They were able to fit 800+ Pokémon on 4GB 3DS cartridges. Switch cartridges are 32GB.


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