The mainline Pokémon franchise is in an interesting place as it approaches its 25th anniversary. At its core, Pokémon is designed with children in mind as the target audience. But Pokemon is one of those exceptions that is seemingly immune to the consequences of aging and growing up.
With children discovering Pokémon for the very first time every year, and adult fans who have been with the franchise since the very beginning, The Pokémon Company is fighting an uphill battle to cater to everyone. And Pokémon fans don’t hesitate to let the developers know when they’re not pleased.
The Pokémon Company has faced a great deal of criticism throughout the last few Pokémon releases, and now the company is responding to the fan outrage. Speaking to Axios, Pokémon Company Director of Consumer Marketing, J.C. Smith, says the developers have heard fan complaints, and are forced to balance the wants and needs of fans of all ages.
“We have a group of creators and professionals working at the Pokémon Company that have been through a lot — seen, heard [a lot],” Smith said. “They have thicker skin than many people do because they’ve heard it.”
Much of the criticism levied at the new Pokémon game releases are for not having the content that longtime fans have come to expect. If you check out the discourse on Twitter or Reddit, it doesn’t take long to see what Smith is referring to.
Certain segments of the Pokémon fanbase are constantly complaining that the games aren’t what they used to be, that Game Freak is lazy, and that the games are cash grabs. As the franchise continues to grow, the problem turns into just how many different generations of Pokémon, and in turn, Pokémon fans, there have been.
Smith says the developers of Pokémon work to, “make sure that all the generations are getting some attention” when it comes to picking which Pokémon are represented on modern gaming platforms. This, of course, is a reference to Sword and Shield, which received an unprecedented amount of backlash over the decision to not include some legacy Pokémon from older games.
2018’s Sword & Shield marked the eighth generation of Pokémon. The humble 151 creatures the franchise started with have been dwarfed by the current roster, which is beginning to approach the 1,000 mark. In an era where crunch is on the forefront of developers’ minds, it seems Game Freak believes it makes logistical sense to trim the roster for future entries, as long as every type of Pokemon fan is getting at least some love.
Producer Junichi Masuda has said the Sword & Shield developers needed to trim the number for balance reasons, and because of the time it takes to create higher fidelity models for Nintendo Switch. Smith echoed these sentiments by saying it all comes down to balance.
“But there’s also a vision for what the creators want to provide, and it’s [a matter of] finding that delicate balance throughout,” Smith said. He also said that The Pokémon Company is well aware of fan requests to push Pokémon in a new direction, which we’re seeing with next January’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a bold new vision for the series that breaks many of Pokémon’s known conventions.
“We hear it. And I think the creators definitely understand that there’s a desire for maybe something,” Smith said. “But we try to focus on making the core accessible to everyone.”
And yet, as the franchise continues to age and reaches new audiences, it becomes impossible to please every type of Pokémon fan out there. And, it seems many Pokémon fans think the series is declining over time.
A Tweet that gained some traction over the weekend poked fun at this idea. The image says, “What your favorite Pokemon generation REALLY says about you”, and is followed by images of each generation, along with the ages next to them. The point is to say that fans think Pokémon was at its best when they were seven years old, and likely being introduced to the franchise.
🤯 this was pretty spot on for me. How accurate is this for you? pic.twitter.com/hYxAivxSRa
— StarSeek (@star_seeking) November 3, 2021
Even the upcoming remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, are facing heavy criticism online just a week ahead of release. After the remakes leaked, pictures and videos from the game started circulating, and it wasn’t long until some complaints started rolling in. Fans began calling the games lazy, ruined, and more before they’ve even come out. Of course, it’s not all negativity, as many fans are still excited even after seeing leaked details of the games.
Prerelease negativity is starting to feel familiar for the Pokémon franchise. The aforementioned Sword & Shield endured a similar firestorm of backlash and hate before launch after fans learned not all Pokémon were making it into the new games. This led to the “Dexit” outrage on social media, which was only worsened after leaks confirmed many of the creatures that had been cut.
Like many internet controversies, it’s hard to know how much of the fanbase is outraged, and how much of it is the vocal minority. In Sword and Shield’s case, the games sold well over 20 million units, and are the best-selling Pokémon since Gold and Silver way back on the Game Boy Color. And as for next week’s remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are already both in the top ten best-sellers on Amazon.
It remains to be seen how the fan and critical reception of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will shake out next week, but we were impressed with the remakes in our hands-on preview. It also may not be long until we go through this cycle again, as Pokémon Legends: Arceus is due out in January.
Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN. You can find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.