Back when the Pokémon series of video games first got released in English in the mid to late 90’s with Pokémon Red and Blue for the GameBoy, the series was built on a simple core premise, “gotta catch ’em all”. The original games featured 150 standard Pokémon, 151 with the distribution event exclusive Mew, and the whole point of the game was to explore, trade with your friends, and battle until you had one of every single creature in the game. It was a digital equivalent of a sticker book, but more interactive, and that has been a core part of the appeal of the series ever since.
When the series got its first true follow up entries, Pokémon Gold and Silver in 2001, a precedent was set for the series. Pokémon Gold and Silver contained over 100 new creatures to find and battle with, but the game also contained all of the original batch of Pokémon too. You could fight with your old favourites, plus a bunch of new exciting surprises. The idea became that not only could you go on a new adventure hunting monsters, but you wouldn’t have to leave behind your progress on past entries in the series. Your hard work playing Red and Blue could be carried forward into the future.
In terms of video game series where your save data can truly carry forward, across multiple generations of hardware, game format, and software versions, Pokémon has to be one of the longest running examples we have. You could transfer Pokémon from the Gameboy Advance to the DS through a single console by having both games inserted into the handheld at once, you could transfer 3DS era Pokémon to an online service called Pokémon Bank, and pretty much any Pokémon you’ve caught since Ruby and Sapphire in 2005 can be successfully transferred forwards to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon if you want. Bringing Pokémon forwards through generations has been a part of the series since its inception, and for almost fifteen years players collections have been able to grow and transfer all the way through to the most recent entries in the series.
This is all important content, because it helps explain why a lot of Pokémon fans got upset recently by a statement made about the series next major entry, Pokémon Sword & Shield.
Pokémon Sword and Shield is the first mainline entry in the Pokémon series, in terms of being a full length RPG introducing a host of new monsters to add to players collection, being released later this year for Nintendo Switch. The Switch is a special kind of games console, part gaming handheld and part home console capable of displaying HD visuals, and as such there has been a lot of excitement around the title. Players have been excitedly hoping to see all their favourite Pokémon finally playable in high resolution, rather than the pixelated character models and sprites of old generation hardware.
Up until a few weeks ago, it seemed like this was going to be possible. Just prior to E3, there was a Pokémon specific press conference held, and one of the announcements was that a new service called Pokémon Home would allow trainers to move all of their Pokémon from Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee, Pokémon Go, Pokémon Bank, and the upcoming Pokémon Sword & Shield over to one unified storage location. Pokémon moved over to Home would then be able to be sent from there into Pokémon Sword & Shield. Sure, it sucked a little that Pokémon sent to Home would not be able to be sent back later to the games they were caught in (other that S&S), but it didn’t matter, because the ability to send them from Home to Sword & Shield meant that the collections trainers had spent years on could move forward to the Switch, continuing to be playable and accessible going forward.
However, during a livestream of Sword & Shield held shortly after E3, game director Junichi Masuda stated that unlike previous Pokémon games, the development team had decided only to allow Pokémon able to be caught in Sword and Shield, Pokémon found in the “Galar Dex”, to be transferred from Home into Sword and Shield. Any other Pokémon, if sent to Pokémon Home, will for the foreseeable future, be trapped there in a void, seen but unusable.
First off, I get why this is likely the case. When the Pokémon series first released, it was a couple of hundred creatures, drawn with low fidelity 2D sprites. There was no way to know when they first set the precedent that Pokémon would carry forward that a couple of decades later they would be expected to create 3D HD models for well over 800 Pokémon in time to release a single game. I can recognise from an objective perspective that they would have a ludicrously huge task on their plate to try and get every single Pokémon ready for the launch of Sword & Shield.
I also recognise that Pokémon Sun & Moon launched without the ability to transfer the contents of your national dex from Bank, functionality added months after launch. If that happens with Sword & Shield, we have to wait six months or a year to transfer the bulk of our Pokémon collection over, I’m honestly super okay with that.
However, the reason why fans of the series are upset and concerned should be fairly clear, even if the entitled way many of them are asking for change is a little excessive. Pokémon set up a precedent at its inception, the idea of catching every monster, and never needing to leave your collection of monsters behind, and as things currently stand the next entry in the series seems to be discarding that expected part of the series. I get the huge amount of work involved, and I don’t want us living in a world where The Pokémon Company are put into hellish periods of development crunch to change their plans, but as it stands a collection of monsters people have been working on for 15 years may be about to hit a road block, and I think it’s understandable people have intense feelings about that.
I know trainers with full collections of every single Pokémon, including monsters with perfect stats, rare moves handed out at events, or monsters only available through special in game challenges. I know people with hundreds of rare shiny colour variant monsters. I even know people who still have their very first team of Pokémon from Ruby and Sapphire, which has lived on through countless entries in the series.
Hell, I spent 400 hours catching 171 different species of Shiny Pokémon in Let’s Go Pikachu, a collection I wanted to bring forward to Sword & Shield.
A lot of people are facing the fact they might lose the ability to use a collection Nintendo and The Pokémon Company have encouraged them to spend years building, and it’s understandable tensions around that are high.
In no world do I think that the Pokémon unable to be moved over to Sword & Shield at launch will never be able to be brought forward again. It might be a hypothetical Pokémon Yellow style enhanced version of Sword & Shield a year from now, an update to the games six months from now, or a brand new Switch Pokémon game two years from now, but I fully expect the reason Nintendo and The Pokémon Company are allowing you to move your National Dex to Pokémon Home is that they have plans for you to eventually be able to play using that collection again. I think people who are protesting this move as if it’s the end of the world may be panicking a little early, we are bound to eventually get a way to have a nNational dex on Switch, but I do think that there is an understandable reason why players are upset, and I think it would do The Pokémon Company well to pay attention to the message Pokémon fans are shouting out.
We get that it’s a lot of work to bring over 800 Pokémon to a new generation of hardware, one that demands much more work creating the monsters, but this expectation of a full collection being able to move forward is based on a precedent you started. It’s based on the standard you’ve maintained for 15 years, and its based in just how dedicated your audience has become. You’ve created more than just an interactive sticker book collection, you’ve created creatures that players genuinely love, and whether you like it or not the decision to not bring that full collection forward, without a publicly announced plan for what you hope to do about it, is going to result in a lot of people struggling at the loss of a collection they likely poured hundreds of hours into.
I’m not asking you to make it so we can bring all our Pokémon to Sword & Shield day one, I just ask that you acknowledge the reason we’re upset, and openly talk to us about if this is a permenant choice for the series, or something you have plans to change given time.