Game Freak's decisions hurt its games, which doesn't bode well for Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Pokemon Legends Arceus Hero
Pokemon Legends Arceus Hero (Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Head to any internet forum, and you'll hear Pokémon fans complaining about the quality of the latest Pokémon games. For example, the decision for Game Freak to outsource Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl to another company, ILCA, mostly received a mixed response. Some were happy that Game Freak wasn't spreading itself thin and was instead focusing on Pokémon Legends: Arceus, while others were skeptical of how well ILCA would handle Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, which were remakes of two very beloved Nintendo DS titles.

I wasn't the biggest fan of Diamond and Pearl when they first released, but I gave the remakes a try anyway and was disappointed with the results. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one who expected more from these games.

However, it did get me thinking, and I'm starting to feel unnerved by how Game Freak's recent decisions are affecting the quality of its games. With so many looking forward to Pokémon Legends: Arceus in January, I'm a bit more cautious.

What's in a remake?

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond Shining Pearl Amity Square

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond Shining Pearl Amity Square (Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

The more I talk to other people about remakes, the more I realize that the lines between remakes and remasters are quite blurred. Remakes, from my understanding, are games built from the ground up to offer players a new experience with an older game. They often offer a change in art style, improved mechanics in line with other games in the series or genre, and new content to draw in players who played the originals. Pokémon Let's Go! Pikachu and Eevee are an excellent example of this, revamping the original game and taking advantage of the fact that the Nintendo Switch isn't held back by hardware limitations like the GameBoy was.

Pokemon Omega Ruby (Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Remasters, on the other hand, are similar to what most people's idea of a "port" is — a game brought over to a more modern system with a new coat of paint. Visuals and audio are often improved, tweaks in gameplay mechanics can be made, and while new content is welcome, it's not necessary. Think Miitopia, for example, which brought the game over to a console with a wider audience to make up for those who may have missed out on it the first time around.

Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl lacked in a lot of areas that remakes are supposed to improve.

When I ranked all the Pokémon remakes, I mentioned how stellar Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver were. The updated mechanics, improved graphics, and added features make it a joy to play even today. It just about beat Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, which brought the GameBoy Advance games into 3D without taking away from the core games, and added huge things like the Delta Episode and opportunities to catch tons of legendaries. While some forgave ORAS's exclusion of the Battle Frontier, none of us would know that it would be a precedent for how new games would be made.

Unfortunately, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl lacked in a lot of areas that remakes are supposed to improve. The available roster of Pokémon (above ground) was still as unbalanced, with Fire types being underrepresented, no new areas introduced outside of Ramanas Park, and a lack of Platinum content like the Distortion World. I'm not ragging on ILCA, as it did its job to the letter in creating a faithful remake. I just wonder whether more quality-of-life content or new gameplay or story elements would have been added if it was given more time or went to a studio with more Pokémon experience.

What's in a game?

Pokemon Sword and Shield starters

Pokemon Sword and Shield starters (Image credit: iMore)

I know that people had complaints about Pokémon Sword and Shield, but I didn't expect much from the series' first game on the Switch. Game Freak has shown that it usually doesn't do its best work the first time around, and grows more comfortable the longer it has with a system. Think of the way Diamond and Pearl look compared to Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. Both games are worlds apart in their presentation, despite being on the same system.

The annual cycle of Pokemon as a franchise is hurting the games that are its driving force.

What I do take issue with, though, is how the annual cycle of Pokémon as a franchise is hurting the games that are its driving force. Pokémon isn't just the video games; it's the anime, the Trading Card Game, merchandise, plushies, apparel... it's a huge deal and markets itself to tons of different demographics.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of how we consume content and media, corporations try their best to continue to produce new and enticing content every single year. This means that even if Game Freak wanted to delay a Pokémon game because it needed polishing, it can't, because it would fall out of line with the scheduling of the anime, TCG, and other merchandise. So while the Pokémon games have started it all, they're now at the mercy of everything else that makes the Pokémon merry-go-round go 'round. That's why it's difficult to even be mad at the N64-looking trees in Sword and Shield.

Pokemon Sword Shield Berry Tree (Image credit: iMore)

Plus, with so little experience on home consoles, the company needs to put something, anything, out onto the market. A combined 1,000 people ended up working on Sword and Shield, from programming to debugging to marketing. Still, the animations that were supposedly the reason behind them being unable to include all previous Pokémon in those games were stiff, and the graphics in some areas felt dull. Of course, I wouldn't do what I saw some fans do upon the game's release, which was compare the Wild Area in Galar to, say, Breath of the Wild, which was developed over the course of over half a decade. Game Freak seems to be doing its best and has shown that first steps onto a new console can be rocky. I think gamers should show the company behind this beloved franchise a little more grace.

Legends abound

All of this makes me somewhat nervous for Pokémon Legends: Arceus. It'll be the fourth Pokémon game on the Switch, following the Let's Go games, Sword and Shield, and the Gen IV remakes. The game certainly looks better now than it did in its initial announcement trailer, though some textures and models still look muddy.

What's crucial is that players are really given the opportunity to feel like they're exploring the Hisui region.

Game Freak did disclose that the entire game wouldn't be open world despite Arceus being described as an open-world game upon announcement, which leads me to assume that there will be multiple open-world-like areas, similar to the kingdoms in Super Mario Odyssey. I already anticipate players complaining that the entire game isn't open world, but that isn't so much of a concern as the potential for it to be devoid of exploration opportunities and non-linear gameplay like in Sword and Shield. The Gen VIII games released on time, but at the cost of hundreds of Pokémon and so much content that it was sold to players later as an Expansion Pass.

I believe that Legends: Arceus will work, and I'm really happy that Game Freak was able to spread its wings and take a risk with a new Pokemon game. There are enough new mechanics that make the classic Pokémon formula feel fresh, similar to how Sun and Moon switched up the way you progress with island trials. What's crucial, however, is that players are really given the opportunity to feel like they're exploring the Hisui region and discovering new things, similarly to how they're tasked with compiling the very first Pokédex.

Nervous as a Sobble

There are three constants in life — death, taxes, and new Pokémon games in November. I may be holding my breath for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, but what makes me even more nervous is what comes after. Will there be time for an entirely new game? Do we get another Expansion Pass for Legends: Arceus instead? There's no way to tell.

With Pokémon being the absolute powerhouse that it is, I think a Gen IX announcement in 2022 is inevitable. I just hope that Game Freak starts making better decisions, hiring more people, and giving adults and children alike more of an opportunity to explore nature in a fantasy world, just like the developers of Pokémon Red and Blue originally intended.

Nadine Dornieden

Nadine is a freelance writer for iMore with a specialty in all things Nintendo, often working on news, guides, reviews, and editorials. She's been a huge Nintendo fan ever since she got to pet her very own Nintendog, and enjoys looking at Nintendo's place in the video game industry. Writing is her passion, but she mostly does it so that she can pay off her ever-growing debt to Tom Nook. Her favorite genres are simulation games, rhythm games, visual novels, and platformers. You can find her at @stopthenadness on Twitter, where she'll more than likely be reposting cute Animal Crossing content.