The Pokémon Controversy

Pokémon Sword and Shield are some of the most buzzed-about games this year, for all of the wrong reasons.

All of the hype around Sword and Shield was incredibly positive until E3, when it was revealed that not every single Pokémon in series’ history would be featured in the game.

While this was upsetting to fans, the breaking point was when USGamer reported that some Pokémon were cut due to things such as refining the battle system and making higher quality animations, as producer Junichi Masuda put it. This statement immediately came under fire as footage of the game revealed that many animations and models seemed to be reused from previous titles, along with textures that didn’t come anywhere close to the quality of a console game. From there, things spiraled.

Animations seemed to be reused, the cutting of Pokémon from the series (now referred to as #Dexit) seemed to the fans as a lazy move on the part of Game Freak (the developers), features from previous titles were getting cut, new restrictions were implemented into the game, everything seemed horrible. And then, the games leaked in full onto the internet. A spiral couldn’t even come close to describing how things were going now.

Everything about the games from beginning to end was now available on the internet, and the angry, and very loud minority, of fans who were already upset, had more ammo to use.

Over the past week on Twitter things such as #GameFreakLied, #ThankYouGameFreak, #Dexit, #BringBackNationalDex, #BoycottPokemon and all sorts of other hashtags have all been trending. Save for that lone #ThankYouGameFreak, it’s vitriol.

While there are a good number of people who are levying criticism for design choices, which is 100% okay and needed so developers know what to work on in the future, it goes far deeper than that. Twitter users have stooped to attacking the development team personally, with one account going so far as to allege rape allegations against Masuda. While it is perfectly okay to give critiques and air grievances about games, the attacks against Game Freak employees are taking it way too far.

Game Freak clearly isn’t in the best situation that they’ve ever been in, according to WayPoint Radio’s Austin Walker, the studio’s morale is lower than it has ever been, and that makes sense. The developers are being attacked by fans with claims of “lazy” development and the aforementioned personal attacks. A quick look at the official Pokémon Twitter account reveals waves of negativity in their responses.

How can a studio in such a position stay positive?

Criticism for sweeping decisions in how the Pokémon series is being handled should be directed at the studio heads, not every single developer who doesn’t necessarily have a say in things like the removal of the National Dex. That criticism should also be levied in a professional manner, not through personal attacks.

The reality of the situation is that there were shortcuts taken with these games, and they could have a much higher quality level than they do. Here’s how it will go: the game is getting some mixed-to-positive reception, but pretty much every major publication has given it a high score, with many 9/10 scores being awarded by the likes of IGN and GameSpot, two highly credible games media outlets.

Pokémon is and will continue to be the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, Sword and Shield will sell an astronomical amount of units, as every game in the franchise does. It’s what happens every single year. Some fans will love the games, some will hate it, and most will likely be somewhere in between.

The big question is what’s going to happen after Sword and Shield?

Pokémon has been on an annual release cycle since 2012, and no games in the series have gone with two years between them since Pokémon Emerald and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, which released in September of 2004 and 2006, respectively.

The team needs a break. They need a year off to recharge, come up with new and creative ideas, and polish the games to a higher degree than we’ve seen in the past few releases. This time would also allow for every Pokémon to be included in the next set of games if the developers so choose. They just need some time. There’s always something new being released to quench fans’ Pokémon thirst, there can be more than 12 months between game releases.

The problem of annual releases clearly affected development in more ways than one. Decisions were made and features were cut in order to keep Sword and Shield’s development time to a minimum. This isn’t to mention that the biggest media franchise in the world is handled by a development studio with only 143 employees, according to Owler.

While there are other companies that assist in the development of Pokémon games, the developers are clearly more than wealthy enough to hire more talent. Game Freak’s team is continually being put into a position to fail, year after year. The team needs more employees and more time, and the criticism that they're receiving should be taken into consideration (the constructive criticism, that is) and evaluated when crafting the next entry into the series.

Things need to change at Game Freak. Hopefully, in 2-3 years the next entry in the Pokémon series is receiving universal acclaim as a return to form for the franchise, but for now, we couldn’t be farther from that ideal scenario. 

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