This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.
Could the Pokemon series translate into a good MMORPG? For fans, the answer is almost always, "Yes. Definitely. It's perfect for the MMO genre. What's taking so long?"
When Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 arrive next week – a game I've written about before – someone, somewhere will probably writing a column saying that very thing. But I think it's time that we debunk this idea that a Pokemon MMORPG would automatically be amazing once and for all. Here's the completely hypothetical scenario that would probably happen if a Pokemon MMORPG were to actually be announced.
February 2013: Pokemon developer Game Freak and Nintendo announce that they are making a Pokemon MMORPG. It will feature all of the existing Pokemon and every region, plus a new region and more Pokemon to catch. It will be free-to-play in the U.S. on the Wii U, and it will be possible to transfer Pokemon from previous games into the new online experience. The world rejoices. I should mention that in the case of a real Pokemon MMORPG, Game Freak would probably outsource the project to someone like Genius Sonority, who made the atrocious Colosseum game. But I'm being charitable.
March 8, 2016: After years of anticipation, the Pokemon MMORPG finally launches. Users who don't want to buy the handheld version of Pokemon complain that they can't get their favorite creatures. Game Freak says that they will be released along with past regions in future updates.
Game Freak is definitely not above holding back Pokemon, by the way. This was most notably the case in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, when it cut nearly half the existing Pokemon. Eventually, it was possible to catch excluded monsters, but only by purchasing Colosseum, Fire Red and Leaf Green, or trading with friends. Celebi was never released in the U.S. either, making it impossible to get all 386. Thanks, Game Freak!
March 12, 2016: MMORPG and Pokemon veterans blow through existing content and start grinding to get their Pokemon to level 100. Long queues discourage people from trying out the cooperative dungeons that were promised as endgame content. The special player-versus-player Pokemon Tournament Arena is bugged in such a way that players are intentionally losing to earn experience and special items for their Pokemon. Hackers find ways to sneak in their Game Shark-created Pokemon into the MMORPG environment, quickly overwhelming moderators trying to police battles.
April 2016: Game Freak announces a patch that fixes most of the problems with the Pokemon Tournament Arena. It also introduces a special item that has a 10 percent chance of dropping a black Pikachu. It costs one dollar to open the box, and most of the other "rewards" are consumables. People complain endlessly, but they spend hundreds on the boxes anyway, because they want that effing Pikachu.
December 2016: Kanto region is finally released. New PvP areas are bugged out. Veterans blow through the new content immediately. Rinse and repeat.
If you don't think this could happen with Pokemon, well, you don't know Pokemon very well. Having following the series closely over the years, I've seen Game Freak use every trick in the book to get people to try and get people to buy more product (remember: they are the ones who more or less invented the concept of 'multiple versions'). It's possible that a Pokemon MMO would be good, but it's more likely that it would be a disappointment designed to absorb money from your bank accounts.
And here's the thing: Pokemon is basically an MMORPG to begin with. From the very beginning, Game Freak's watchword has been "connectivity." With the advent of Pokemon Black and White, it's been making more and more use of the Nintendo DS' handheld capabilities, and the result has been one of the largest and strongest communities in all of gaming. Even if you don't anyone else who plays Pokemon, it's possible to find people who will trade and battle with you online.
Yes, it's possible to play Pokemon by yourself, much as it's possible to play Borderlands 2 by yourself. But meeting, connecting, and interacting with other people in person and online is a fundamental part of the Pokemon experience.
Players with a desire to see Pokemon venture into an MMO should realize that the games currently on the market are already designed, at their core, to be a massively multiplayer experience.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.