As much as I love Game Freak and the fantastic titles that they put out every so often, I can’t pretend that I’ve been particularly intrigued or captivated by a lot of their design choices over the past few generations of Pokemon Games.
And by design choices I don’t meant the art style and graphics of the games themselves, those have just been getting better and better, but rather the designs of the Pokemon themselves.
This might not be that controversial a stance for a lot of us older fans, but this franchise inspires loyalty like few things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve had some pretty heated arguments about this issue online. But I’m going to say this not as an onlooker, but as someone who has been invested in this franchise for over two decades: Pokemon designs just don’t look as good as they used to.
In fact, I’m gonna go a bit further and say that the last time I actually felt hyped up about getting invested in a starter Pokemon for upwards of 100 hours was during Generation 4 in the Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum games. Because that’s the last time that they were actually good across the board in my opinion.
From this point onwards you can see a very noticeable and gradual decline in the art styles of the starter and wild Pokemon. legendary Pokemon designs have fared a lot better than the other two types though.
Generation 6 Starters in particular are in a league of their own, with the Grass starter Chespin and the Fire starter Fennekin having some of the worst looking evolutions I have ever seen. Just look at how uninspired their designs are:
The Water starter Froakie and its evolutions are great on the other hand, and it’s not even alone in that regard. There are some fantastic looking Pokemon in this Generation like the two fossil Pokemon Tyrantrum and Aurorus (Yes Aurorus looks awesome, fight me), but more often than not they just don’t hold a candle up to previous generations.
I know it sound silly, but players grow attached to their Pokemon in these games, and their designs play a massive role in why they do. As I mentioned above, Pokemon appearances haven’t taken a plunge all across the board, but the designers have really dropped the ball way too often.
I distinctly remember when the Pokemon Sun and Moon (Generation 7) games were announced and people started getting all excited for the new entries in the series, especially for the new starters Rowlet, Litten and Popplio.
Fans started putting up art on websites like Twitter, Tumblr and DeviantArt of their own depictions of what their evolutions might look like, and I personally got all hyped up looking at these illustrations, especially after the disappointment of Generation 6.
And then the actual evolutions were revealed, and there was this sense of crushing disappointment that I still feel to this day, even as I play through Pokemon Ultra Sun for a third time. How could fan art look better than what the actual creators have made? It was baffling to me.
There seems to be a real shortage of creativity at Game Freak, and their games are suffering because of it. I can’t even remember the number of time people have made jokes and memes about the unimaginative names and appearances for Pokemon that the company often comes up with.
You might not agree that these are unimaginative designs, and I respect that. Art is subjective, and I personally know some fans, both young and old, that think that Incineroar is the coolest looking Fire Starter evolution in the series’ history.
I don’t think that’s true, but who am I to tell someone that what they like is wrong, especially since I’m of the opinion that that title actually belongs to Typhlosion (Generation 2). I can’t defend that claim as well as I would like to, but that’s just how it is for me.
So when Pokemon Sword and Shield was revealed late last month during the Nintendo Direct , I found myself getting excited once more. The new starters this time around, Grookey, Scorbunny and Sobble look really cute, and fans have already started picking favorites.
But I’m trying to keep my expectations low. Not for the games themselves, they’ll probably be great like they always are, but for the Pokemon themselves. I’ll give these starters a shot, like I always do, but I just hope I don’t end up using a feature like the Island Scan from Pokemon Sun and Moon to get another Charmander as my main.