Soooooooo, how was everyone’s daaaaaay?
Yeah, yeah, I know, let’s talk about the thing
So, not counting the usual self-indulgent montage of Pokémon’s history, there’s three Things in this here broadcast:
- More gameplay footage of New Pokémon Snap (which… okay I somehow didn’t realise this before but apparently it’s literally called New Pokémon Snap, and that is certainly… a choice?).
- Announcement of the long-anticipated remakes of Diamond and Pearl, which, in keeping with the style established by previous remakes, will be titled Pokémon: Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon: Shining Pearl.
- I’m gonna keep calling them Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl though; try and stop me.
- Announcement of a totally different game, also set in the Sinnoh region, titled Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
Snap first. I think there is a real demographic of Pokémon fans who sincerely just want to chill and watch beautifully-animated Pokémon move around in a pretty environment, and… frankly, more power to them. In fact, I’d honestly go so far as to suggest that this is a better use of the open-world format than anything that’s also simultaneously trying to be another entry in the traditional Pokémon series. The photo-editing and online sharing features should do a lot for the games’ longevity too; there’s plenty of examples of games that do really well by just giving players the tools to be creative and share what they come up with. I know this news isn’t as big as the other stuff in the broadcast because we already knew about this game, but I’m… actually extremely low-key excited about this one. Heck, Jim the Editor is excited about this one and I don’t think he’s been sincerely excited about anything new Pokémon has tried to do in the last 7 or 8 years. I genuinely like the idea of a Pokémon game that just wants to be pretty and relaxing and will do those things without taking resources or development time away from all the other stuff Pokémon games are normally trying to do. Pick your lane and stay in it, you know?
Anyway, let’s talk about the bit everyone was really waiting for.
Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl are explicitly billed as “faithful” remakes of the original games and look like pretty close one-to-one reproductions of Diamond and Pearl, albeit with a bunch of “conveniences” from later generations. Exactly which modern features will be implemented is hard to say at this point, but we can make some reasonable guesses – reusable TMs, some kind of explicit streamlining of the EV training mechanics, experience sharing on the model of generations VI-VIII, easy access to move relearners, a less cumbersome replacement for HM field moves, potentially even a Sword and Shield-style portable PC Box connection. I’d also assume that the games will use the modern type chart, with Fairy-types and the other balance tweaks of generation VI. I think that calling them “faithful remakes” is probably meant to dissuade us from expecting too many big sweeping changes to the story. It’s pretty clear from what we’ve seen of the art style that these games are meant to look like Diamond and Pearl; they’re obviously much higher-res and use 3D models, but those models look like they’re very closely based on the original generation IV-era sprites (hence the characters’ enormous chibi heads in their overworld models – I think that’s a deliberate imitation of the outsize heads of the pre-generation VI sprited characters, although the, uh… the jury is out on how well it works in practice), not ground-up reimaginations like a lot of the assets in Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee or even Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. There’s also no sign of these games trying to incorporate the most distinctive features of Sword and Shield, namely Dynamaxing and the Wild Area (which, to be clear, I am just fine with; I don’t dislike those features but trying to shoehorn them into Sinnoh doesn’t make a lot of sense to me). The point of this project is to let people play Diamond and Pearl on the Switch and have it look and feel like a modern Pokémon game. Not much else.
That being the case, I don’t think we’re going to see rewriting of the story on the level of what Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby did: substantially improving the characterisation of the villains to explore the central conflict more effectively, adding several entirely new scenes, while also writing in a significant amount of extra epilogue content that drew on Emerald’s revisions to the plot of the original Ruby and Sapphire. I’m not… sure about that, though. The trailer we saw shows a few scenes of towns in Sinnoh, and others have already pointed out that we can see a couple of townsfolk NPCs in those scenes who only appear in Platinum, not in the original Diamond and Pearl. That’s the kind of tiny detail that you feel a bit stupid for reading too much into, but it does suggest that these games – like the Johto and Hoenn remakes with respect to Crystal and Emerald – have at least one eye on the changes that Platinum made. And Platinum is more like Emerald than Crystal; the events of its climax don’t readily mesh with those of the climax of Diamond and Pearl, or indeed with the concept of a pair of games that spotlight Dialga and Palkia. So there’s two obvious choices: keep the story closer to Diamond and Pearl and relegate Giratina to the Turnback Cave with no significant role, or totally rewrite the epilogue around Giratina, like Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby did for Rayquaza.
Something that I think is kind of a big deal here, but might have gone over your head if (unlike me) you’re lucky enough to still have some vestige of sanity, is that Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl are not being developed by Game Freak, the studio behind all of the mainline Pokémon games from ’96 Japanese Red and Green right down to the Sword and Shield expansions. Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda is co-directing and I assume there’ll be lots of cross-pollination of ideas, but Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl are officially the work of ILCA Inc., a small Japanese studio that helped build Pokémon Home (they’ve also been credited on a number of other fairly high-profile SquareEnix and Bandai games, including the award-winning Nier: Automata, although I don’t think they’ve ever been the primary developers on any project as big as a traditional Pokémon game). Which…. makes a lot of sense to me. As far as I’m concerned, the best argument for remaking the Sinnoh games at all (as opposed to creating a virtual console re-release for the Switch) is that Nintendo DS games are really awkward to port to anything else because of the separate touch screen. Producing Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl is a chore, it’s something everyone expects and something that, upon reflection, probably needs to be done, but there isn’t a great artistic reason to do it unless you want to really heavily rewrite the story to address some of Diamond and Pearl’s failings, which would be messy and complicated and difficult. So… yeah. Give it to another studio that’s worked with Pokémon before and might be looking to cut their teeth on a bigger project.
That means Game Freak’s free to do the other thing that this broadcast announced.
The other thing is Pokémon Legends: Arceus. This game is also set in Sinnoh, but it’s set long ago – according to the promo website, before the concept of being a Pokémon trainer even existed, which is a pretty bold claim considering that the protagonist is definitely a Pokémon trainer (the protagonists also look suspiciously similar to Lucas and Dawn, which I suppose is meant to imply that they’re the ancestors of the Diamond and Pearl protagonists). Sinnoh in this age is “a vast wilderness” that we’re told may look very different to the region we remember. Only one town is shown in the trailer – walled, with guard towers at the gates – and I think it’s implied that that’s the only one, founded by people from many different regions who have only recently come to Sinnoh and begun to explore; Pokémon ordinarily don’t live there with humans. Pokéballs exist, but they’re made of wood (not apricorns, because… look, Pokémon doesn’t give a $#!t about cross-generation continuity, okay? Accept it and move on), apparently steam-powered and fastened with a mechanical catch rather than a button.
Your mission in this game is simply to explore the region, create its first Pokédex and uncover its secrets – including the secrets of the game’s headliner Pokémon, Arceus. Despite Arceus having apparently quite a lot of background lore significance, it has no role in the plot of any of the core games that I know of; the only time we ever really see it do anything is in Heart Gold and Soul Silver’s Sinjoh Ruins event, when it literally fµ¢£in’ makes a Dialga, Palkia or Giratina for you, just to show off. This will be the first game to centre Arceus, which is quite exciting since it will finally show us how wrong we’ve all been about everything we’ve said about Arceus over the last 15 years. The time period is… interesting. It doesn’t seem like it’s all that long ago; the Pokéballs don’t look particularly primitive, the architecture and clothing are not, at a glance, obviously earlier than 19th century (in particular, the streets of the town look like they have European-style gas lighting, which came to Japan no earlier than the 1870s), and the starter Pokémon – Rowlet, Cyndaquil and Oshawott – have apparently been brought together by the game’s professor character from their respective regions of origin, so we’re talking about an era when travel between fairly distant regions of the world is perfectly possible, it’s just that this particular region hasn’t been built up yet. But Sinnoh itself is old. The newcomers of the town featured in this game are not the same people who built the marble-columned, vaguely Greco-Roman-inspired ruins that we saw on Mount Coronet in Diamond and Pearl. I think in exploring this region we may discover that there were people there already, long ago, who have since vanished.
Legends is billed as an “action RPG adventure.” It’s an open-world game – far more so than Sword and Shield even attempted to be – and the trailer shows a couple of action-game elements; you catch Pokémon by aiming and throwing Pokéballs, you can hide in long grass to sneak up on your targets and the protagonist has a dodge-roll animation that kinda implies you might need to… well, dodge things. When you run into a wild Pokémon, it initiates what seems to be a traditional turn-based battle with your own Pokémon. Since trainers aren’t really a thing in this version of ancient Sinnoh and wild Pokémon seem to be avoidable to some extent, it’s not really clear to me yet what the actual core gameplay is going to be like. It may be primarily an exploration game, which sort of excites me in the same way as Snap but for different reasons. Pokémon has cared about the ancient past of each of its regions almost since the beginning. Every game since Gold and Silver has featured ancient ruins and myths about legendary Pokémon, and these elements of the ancient past are almost always critical to the plot; this is clearly a topic that Game Freak’s developers have always had something to say about. Having trained as a historian and archaeologist myself, I’ve always kinda wanted Pokémon to make a game that explored the ancient past, but I never thought it would actually do it; it seemed like too wild a concept, too big a change for a series that has always thrived on well-rehearsed formula.
To be honest I still don’t know if they can pull it off.
Can’t wait to find out, though.